Kabalagala, a Kampala suburb, is awake, twenty-four hours.
When I was still a University student, I used to subscribe to night clubs’ happenings in the manner of admiring Mark Twain’s saying: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Then, I barely got enough of it, but recently I re-visited the practice when I was invited for a beer.
Faridah, my female friend, and I, met Julius Buyinza, a long time friend, who had suggested that we go clubbing in Kampala. Faridah declined the offer saying that she couldn’t compete for a dancing floor and seats with University students.
So, Buyinza suggested Capital Pub in Kabalagala, a place he last visited five years ago. It is just steps off the main road on the Kansanga-Gaba Highway. As we were footing past several different people who seemed stuck on the roadside, a woman pulled my hand saying “Dadi sooka ojje tuteese” meaning (Dad, come and we negotiate). None of those hanging by the roadside would question, why the situation is like that.
I denied her the attention she sought from me. I thought she was like the usual women in down- town Kampala who wrestle for customers in a bid to selling their goodies; like clothes, with chants like, Bitaano, Bitaano ejjirita…wuzi nempiso.
We proceeded to the location where we were asked to pay three thousand shillings, each, entrance fee. Faridah wanted to know why she, too, was to pay yet the posters indicated that women entered free of charge. The ticketing officer claimed; gwe toliwawano: that Faridah wasn’t one of those women exempted. We paid for the three of us.
It was eerie inside the pub: the mood was unusual, bizarre in the ghost-like atmosphere. It was fully-packed with women with gleaming eyes, the majority staring at whoever entered. One pulled my shirt to tell me; “Uncle, sooti ya kasanvu,” as – seven thousand shillings for sex.
At that point, we realized that we were in the biggest brothel we had ever been to. Buyinza suggested that we had to move in order to avoid embarrassments. I insisted on staying for sometime; I had got a story to tell; that without a note book, camera or recorder I would use my head to collect and store the information right from source.
Inside Capital Pub
“Freely you have received; freely give,” as Mathew 10:8 inscribes. That is a sentiment that will sound wasteful to women in Kabalagala. To my amusement, despite Ugandans complaining about product prices, inside Capital Pub, women negotiate prices ranging from seven to ten thousand shillings, depending on the available complimentary services (after sales services) – satirical – language only known to themselves and their usual clients.
At the top of a grass thatched bar inside the pub, is an artistic mannequin, a sculpture of a woman recklessly sitting holding a glass of wine and posing in a seductive manner? Drugs, alcohol, shisha, all welcomes one at a glance, with women aged any where between 16 to late 30s enjoying, as if there is no tomorrow. A few men (locals) were trying to negotiate with the women for s*x, however the biggest number are Indians, Somalis and foreign tourists. Some were dancing and touching the women – for a fee.
Who are this “good-hearted” women involved in such transactions? I took a step to interact with a few of them. The majority are Rwandese nationals who have come to Kabalagala for “greener pastures”. There are still a few Ugandans, mostly with a western Uganda ascent.
Forget about the stereotype that prostitutes are those indecently-dressed women. I saw women of all types with all sorts of body sizes, colour, and every kind of dress you might think of, except, may be cultural wear.
From Capital Pub, we trekked to another De’ Posh Pub; this looked more of similar in character, but we learnt that here, the prostitution business targeted foreigners. Most of the women seemed more like cooperates emerging from sleek cars. “If you want one, I can get you the most beautiful of all. But, you will have to negotiate the price yourself,” the bar attendant told me as I kept bombarding him with questions about the girls.
He even showed me a nearby lodge where, in his words, ‘things are done’. But, that’s not what I was there for. Apparently, the girls “charge” between seven to ten thousand shillings per session. Technically, it is either a; long and short as the girls call it. Foreigners are charged differently. I also learnt about the take-home version that costs around fifty thousand shillings.
These ladies-of-the-night have something about them. They are not afraid to make the first move, when they have not been approached by a client. Yet, clients in Kabalagala are not scarce; the ladies show up every day; business is booming.
I learnt that with Ugandans complaining about product prices like sugar, food and fuel, in Kabalagala, women price is lower than a kilo of meat. The women earn“free” un-taxed money as Government struggles to build a sounding economy.
About 570 Ugandan girls and young women aged 15 to 24 get infected with HIV every week, to the HIV/AIDS statistics analysis by Uganda AIDS Commission. Dr. Zepher Ranyabokabo, from Ministry of Health, says the trend is due to cross-generational sex and the use of money to lure unsuspecting young girls.
In 2012, an international health student of Boston University, Debra McNeil, doing research in Uganda found out that nearly four out of ten sex workers are HIV positive, five times the normal risk rate of women of reproductive age in Uganda. The 37% of women infected in the sex industry are part of a vicious cycle of infection and re-infection due to multiple sexual partners. HIV prevalence in sex workers is expected to rise another 15% if the Government does not stem the tide.