Mayor Aladwa, Nairobi is the bottom of the league

Photo/FILE  "Come sun down, K-Street sheds off its business suit for twilight girls sporting skirts the size of postage stamps, high stilettos and bare backs": Kamau Mutunga.

Photo/FILE “Come sun down, K-Street sheds off its business suit for twilight girls sporting skirts the size of postage stamps, high stilettos and bare backs”: Kamau Mutunga.

Posted  Wednesday, February 15  2012 at  00:00

Should you google ‘Red Light Districts’, you will be shocked to realise that Kenya’s Koinange Street sits pretty alongside Point Road in Durban, Kabalagala in Kampala, Marcory Zone 4 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Soho in London and Gang Dolly in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Nairobi, though, does not officially recognise its controversially amorous zone, and the question whether the city should have a legal red light district has been the subject of recent debate after Mayor George Aladwa revealed that commercial sex workers had requested his office to carve out a section of Koinange Street to them.

His attempt to extract himself from the controversy he had kicked up by that revelation was as comical as it was unconvincing, but it still managed to bring to the fore, once again, the industrial concerns of those engaged in the age-old trade.

Like in Rue St Denis Street in France, Nairobi twilight girls wanted to earn a living in peaceful high heels without harassment from overzealous policemen. Although prostitution is illegal under Kenyan law, ‘K-Street’ remains the city’s “official” red light district by virtue of its highest concentration of hookers per square metre.

The term ‘red light district’ comes from the red lights used to direct men to brothels, and a typical district has sex shops, strip clubs, stag night bars, coffee shops, hotels, hostels, sex and cannabis museums and adult theatres.

Most are normally located on the seedier sections of a city.

But not so “K-Street.”

That famous thoroughfare basks in the glory of a shiny part of Nairobi.

Come sun up, one can transact business in any of the street’s 13 banks, rent a swanky, self-contained apartment, lodge in what is Kenya’s “all-suite hotel,” pay a courtesy call to any of the world’s leading news agencies, buy a Mercedes Benz, sweat the small stuff in a gym, sip world-class cappuccino or go clubbing in one of Nairobi’s famous night spots along the street.

You can also buy a loved one flowers, excite your palate with nyama choma or pray for Kenyan soldiers in Somalia at the Basilica on the ankles of the street.

Have a headache at 2am? No sweat. There is a late-night chemist that has never closed for almost two decades. Hungry at 3pm? Just cross over to Kenchic Fish and Chips on Muindi Mbingu Street.

That eatery has never closed since it opened in 1968, the year Manchester United won the European Cup Final, becoming the first English club to do so.

But come sun down, K-Street sheds off its business suit for twilight girls sporting skirts the size of postage stamps, high stilettos and bare backs ready for the more bare-knuckled business of chasing clients out to do stuff strongly frowned upon by the seventh commandment.

Whistling and jostling along this double-lane Sodom continues until the devil hours, and some can be daring — like the lanky ‘Leggy Rover’ standing on the road, who at the full glare of headlights, drops her shawl to reveal what mama gave her.

The driver in the blue Beamer stops. You would too. She picks up her shawl and off they vroom.

Such are the nocturnal escapades — on willing-buyer-willing-seller terms — that the night nurses of K-Street want the Council to legalise. That would make it easy to tax them, right?

Besides that small matter of inspecting their health and business certificates?

Mayor Aladwa clarified that unless the City by-laws were amended to legitimise the oldest trade, Council askaris would still arrest sex workers and their clients.

“The Council will not allow sex trade to flourish under any circumstances as it’s against the law,” he piped, adding that when the swoops are extended to upscale estates, “Kenyans will be shocked by the list of clientele (sic)”.

There was a swoop on Koinange Street on the night we ventured out to file this report, which explained the sudden single-file rush of lasses towards dark alleys, stilettos making a staccato of cluck! cluck! noises. A scream here, a thud there.

The fallen mother, sister, friend is not lucky. The askaris, who call her by name, whisk her to a waiting Land Rover to join others who will later say “biashara jana ilikuwa mbaya”.

Such police pounces can’t happen in Germany, Turkey or Switzerland, where red light districts are regulated. In Netherlands, sex workers are considered self-employed and file tax returns, can join unions and have access to social security.

Give or take, red light districts embody a portrayal of women that is intrinsically dehumanising, if not predatory. Such ‘tolerance zones’ can become areas for sex tourism and human trafficking, besides generating untaxed revenue.

Indeed, red light districts, it seems, do not help, but dump commercial sex workers away from respectable folk.

Hookers approaching menopause — and thus closer to pension — are forced to strut to lower K-Street and leave the upper side to competition that hardly requires a cake of make up to disguise crow feet or reptilian eyes.

Koinange Street was once called Sadler Street before and shortly after Kenya’s independence, when multi-nationals opened shop. That’s why an oil giant and a mortgage lender still operate there.

With offices of blue chips teeming with local and foreign white collar jobbers, well, can we say it was easy for business to mingle with pleasure at some point?

When one firm opened an underground staff club — which later became Club Dolce — the good times continued rolling. Call girls started camping, and before anyone could say “hoooney!”, Koinange Street had become the place for locals, expatriates, soldiers, tourists and university students to pass by in search of pleasure.

While the street had clubs like the Florida Night Club (Mad House), Dolce, and later Kengeles and Fiesta, there were other nightspots on adjacent streets that fed revellers to the street’s ubiquitous felines.

Like the defunct Hollywood Club opposite Nakumatt Lifestyle, the Irish Bar inside Anniversary Towers, Sunset Grill on Kampus Towers and Afro Unity — a dingy sheeben resembling a classroom that was a favourite of doctors, lawyers, coppers, journalists on the beat, artistes and not a few crooks on their way to, and from, having stuff change ownership.

A story was told of the thug who, high like a kite, unleashed his revolver only to sober up at the 10 muzzles cocked at him.

Anyway, as time went by, the population increased, and so did market dynamics. Wearing panties that are longer than the skirt, open sourcing, pimping and predatory aggression became the currency of survival up Hooker Avenue.

Nairobi has other hot pants streets in Hurligham, Westlands and Parklands, but only Koinange Street remains listed in the ‘World Sex Guide’ catalogue. To change the Gomorrahesque perception of this street, the Koinange Street Business Association organised a carnival to celebrate the more positive aspects of it in 2007.

On the cards were a live music show, cultural performances, a beauty contest, a fashion parade, an exhibition and some comedy. But the 20-hour party, starring music, dance and beer drinking competition, never took off as an annual event for the street named after Senior Chief Koinange.


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