Why 'your' favourite twilight girl is being chased out of Thika town

Twilight girls

Commercial sex workers waiting for potential clients along Wood Avenue in Kilimani, Nairobi last January. Kiambu County government says it has launched a clean-up exercise to rid Thika town of commercial sex workers.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

If the government is to be believed, men who seek commercial sex services in Thika Town might be walking into the next government ‘very’ frustrated.

This is because the government says it has launched a clean-up exercise to rid the Kiambu County town of commercial sex workers.

But there is some hope the move will be resisted by both the targeted women and the client base that mostly comprises men.

The diverse town is divided but tradition still lives in it.

The town’s bottomless pit for the reckless can be felt in the streets — a beautiful place to visit but living in it is a different ball game altogether.

“This is a town that can make you great and at the same time ruin you. It is a town of industry, enterprise, lifestyles and a wholesome package of hell and heaven rolled into one,” says Julius Gitau.

Mr Gitau is the man who recently hit the headlines for staging his own kidnapping to escape the snare of auctioneers after his wholesaling business suffered a cash crunch because of the Covid-19 pandemic, bad liquidation decisions and living on the fast lane of life.

In 2020, he penned a suicide note announcing he was tossing himself to die in the nearby Thika River. But he went into hiding, only to emerge 11 weeks later broke and with most of his assets auctioned. Today, he runs an iron-sheet kiosk in the town.

This is the town where the self-confessed vampire, Phillip Onyancha, said he killed eight female commercial sex workers in 2010 as he pursued his cult dictates that he should kill at least 100 souls so that floodgates of his riches could be unlocked.

Now languishing in jail, where he is a Christian preacher, Mr Onyancha confessed that he picked Thika because "it has a big population of commercial sex workers easy to lure to death at the promise of quick business".

Now, Thika West Deputy County Commissioner Mbogo Mathioya says the authorities are "determined to get rid of these women who are giving our town a very bad name and image".

Mr Mathioya ruled out negotiating with sex workers, saying "the law simply discourages public display of body parts as wares of trade".

Serious influx

“We are just sanitising the town,” he added. "The serious influx of these ladies of late has to be managed".

He said there are a dozen ways that the sex workers could beat the crackdowns "but our work as government is not to coach you on how to avoid the law".

Lawyers have argued that sex workers could be off the hook if they resorted to on-call operations, reporting to town 'decently' dressed, keeping themselves busy as active customers in eateries or bars and waiting to be called by clients who have already booked rooms.

But the sex workers have trashed the arrangement as "too costly and impractical and that it eradicates competitiveness".

Mr Mathioya said women who openly display themselves as sex workers in the streets will continue to be arrested, charged and convicted.

"The reason we are going after this trade is simply a security one. There has been a serious influx of these women in our streets. Cases of robberies, spiking of drinks, muggings and extortion have risen and these women contribute to more than 70 percent of the town's crime," Mr Mathioya said.

He said sex workers help serious criminals hide, while other women are accomplices in crime, where they pose as sex workers, spy, raid and transport contraband.

"The only part that I will address is the claim that there are officers demanding bribes from them once arrested. But the best way to avoid that outcry is to keep off prostitution," he said.

He said the government will not sit by as the industrial town gains global notoriety as having the best menu that serves commercial sex, alcohol and money deals that know no morals.

He added that some of the sex workers transform themselves into bogus pastors, offering prayer-for-cash con games, spiking drinks to rob men and preying on men who withdraw cash from banks.

"These women targeting males surround you after you have withdrawn your cash from ATMs and one of them accuses you of refusing to pay her the previous night for illicit sexual service rendered. She would claim about Sh5,000 plus interest ... You end up robbed,” Mr Mathioya said.

But the women have hit back, accusing Mr Mathioya of being too moralistic and eager to condemn men and women involved in the trade to physiological and economic frustrations.

"Our trade is as old as the heavens and earth ... The Bible mentions and profiles us. We are recognised in both heaven and hell,” said Thika Town Sex Workers Association chairperson Beatrice Mwende.

“It is not a wise move to target us, because we will always be there and many security officers who are our customers resist plans to kick us out."

Police cells

She told Nation.Africa that the government has been harsh on them in the past two months, rounding them up and putting them in police cells.

"Starting at 8pm, police officers in uniform and civilian clothes descend on us and after arresting us, we end up being locked up in police cells and bribes are demanded," she said, adding that they want talks with the government ahead of August 9 General Election.

They want it known that they are unhappy with "harsh crackdowns in the town and other salient welfare issues".

She added that the arrests are gender-insensitive because "we have about 200 active male sex workers who operate openly and no one arrests them".

Ms Mwende said that for one to be set free, "a bribe of Sh1,000 is demanded (Sunday to Thursday) and Sh2,000 if someone is arrested on Friday or Saturday to avoid spending the weekend in the cells".

Mr Mathioya admits that the crackdown is being undermined by corruption.

"These women appear well organised because, in some instances, after we arrest them and take them to police stations and the courts, mobilisation of cash is done so fast that [soon after, they are released],” he said.

Some sex workers told Nation.Africa that some of their colleagues smear their bodies with potions that enable them to transform a man into a statue and rob him clean as he stands at attention without raising the least of alarms.

“The charm is in the form of a special oil they call ‘karafuu’ or ‘shine’. There are 1,001 potions to nab clients … And if you happen to be too much a favourite to clients, you are bewitched to make demand for you go down. This is an evil and a holy paradise rolled into one,” one of them said.

Besides arrests, sex workers claim the government has deliberately withheld condoms in the town as a strategy to discourage them from the engaging in this livelihood.

"The government is telling us that there is a national shortage of the vital protective latex in our trade. We do not believe them and we are suspicious that the shortage is deliberate," Ms Mwende said.

Earlier this year, it was reported that 1.1 million pieces of condoms had been stolen from the Kenya Medical Supply Authority (Kemsa). The Global Fund, a Switzerland-based organisation that funds governments to combat HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, reported that the condoms, 908,000 mosquito nets and tuberculosis drugs worth Sh10 million had gone missing.

Ms Faith Ndung'u, an Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF-Kenya) Programmes development and advocacy manager, told Nation.Africa that the shortage is real and many sex workers are resorting to using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as protection.

PrEP tablets

"But there is a risk too. While the PrEP tablets will protect them against HIV/Aids, they remain exposed to the dozens of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. It is a crisis," she said.

She urged the government to address the acute shortage of condoms "that now has become routine".

She said officials should also tame corruption at Kemsa and bring down high taxes imposed on those willing to step in and help the country restock.

"There are many partners who would voluntarily step in and help the government fill the deficit. Unfortunately, the aggregate tax regime slapped on condom procurements is shilling for shilling. The government should come up with friendly collaborative policies," Ms Ndung'u said.

Central Region Sex Workers Union chair Mary Wanjiru told Nation.Africa that Thika remains one of the prime markets for her members and the crackdown is impoverishing them.

"In one day, Thika becomes home to more than 1,000 sex workers from Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos, Murang'a, Kirinyaga, Embu and Meru counties,” Ms Wanjiru said.

“We have the day and night shifts where about 400 prefer the day trade while the rest hustle during the night. If each of us was to earn at least Sh1,000 per day, the gross worth of our enterprise is at least Sh1 million."

She said sex workers are a critical economic pillar in the town because "we motivate business in hotels and bars, we shop in Thika shops and use area transport services besides promoting hawkers".

The two officials said that "we do not engage in commercial sex because we are lazy vipers, but it is because the government has failed to create jobs and stabilise families through wealth creation opportunities and has not done anything to ensure widows are empowered".

They said that "if one cared to listen objectively as commercial sex workers honestly tell their stories about their journey to the streets, you would sympathise and cease stigmatising and criminalising us".

Mr Mathioya said security agents were struggling to contain armed young criminals who use the commercial sex trade as a cover.

“Policing Thika is difficult because mostly we are dealing with a very streetwise population. We are dealing with tycoons and youngsters whose adrenalin is at its peak,” he said.

“But by coming up with security packages to address the dynamics in it, we have been able to give it the [reputation] of a live town that never sleeps.”

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.