What you need to know:
- Sponsors and the women they support have been a hot topic since the death of Sharon Otieno, who was murdered by killers affiliated to her rich, married lover, Hon. Okoth Obado.
- This week Soni Kanake has candid conversations with women who have sponsors to understand their motivation.
The Nigerians call them 'mentors'. In South Africa they are referred to as 'blessers'. Here, we call them ‘sponsors’.
They tend to be married men of substantial age – in comparison to the women they date – who have girlfriends who they finance in exchange for sex and bragging rights.
We all know what is in this arrangement for the men – sexual variety on demand and someone to show off to his friends.
There is the assumption that all women get into such relationships to eat life with a big spoon. Is this always true? Clarissa* grew up in the village in a poor family.
When she found herself a sponsor, her daughter was two and the man responsible had walked, leaving her with the responsibility of raising their child alone.
And not just that – she was also expected to send money back home to support her parents’ monthly medications and hospital reviews as well as chip in her siblings’ education. Although she had just landed a new job, the pay was meagre and it would not support all her obligations.
Her fortunes soon changed when she met Musa, an old, wealthy man who had businesses both locally and abroad. "I wasn't looking for a sponsor but Musa was kind and was genuinely interested in the plight of my family," she says. "The first thing he did was give me money to rent a cab to ferry my parents to Nairobi for a review. He also made sure I had enough money to put them up in a good, classy hotel in town, pending their lab results, as my house was too tiny to host them."
Five years later, Clarissa says she has no regrets. "I've been to nearly every continent in the world. I guess the only place I've never visited is Australia," she says. Her sponsor, who was about 65 when they met, moved her from Eastlands to the leafy suburbs of Kileleshwa.
She always accompanies him on all his business and leisure trips abroad. Musa also bought his PYT (pretty young thing) a car though she complained that he had it installed with a car tracking device to monitor her whereabouts. "He's quite possessive and wants to know my every move," confesses Clarissa.
With a monthly allowance of Sh200,000 and a thriving business, her daughter enrolled in one of the prestigious schools in the country. Clarissa relaxed and soon started adding weight. "I didn't like the way I looked, especially since I had put on too much weight around my waist," confesses Clarissa.
The former village girl was introduced to plastic surgery by one of her friends and she managed to convince Musa to pay the surgeon's fee of US$5,000, accommodation and travelling expenses to the US for a liposuction.
Today she owns a home in Riverside, thanks to Musa. Clarissa, however, confesses that a sponsor makes you dependent on them so much so that even when you make your own money you still want them to continue helping you financially. Now that Clarissa has her own money and is financially stable, does she have plans of detaching from Musa? "It is hard to let go because you have also become emotionally attached to him," she says.
Florence* found herself a sponsor for almost the same reasons as Clarissa. "I have two children,” she says. "The father of my first child, a girl, relocated abroad and absconded his parental responsibilities. I met Tim when I was in my early 20s and he was in his late 50s."
Since then, he has helped her get a leg up. "The man opened doors for me,” she says. He not only took care of her but also her daughter, and gave her an opportunity to access quality education. And even when she sired him a son, Tim continued to provide for both children without discriminating, she says.
Florence now runs a successful business and travels frequently to the US and Europe. "I'm not your typical 'slay queen' who's looking for a sponsor to rescue her including buying her credit for her phone. It's more like a partnership and I'm doing this to secure the future of my kids. I have done all the heavy lifting (it takes to secure my income)," she says.
'DON'T PUT US DOWN'
"Women should not put us down just because we want a little better for ourselves. It's not as easy as it looks, too. Being beautiful and looking presentable will open doors for you but you also have to be an intelligent woman to have a man at your beck and call," Florence explains. "You have to look the part. Don't wear cheap clothes or perfume and expect him to take you on his yatch," says Florence. I'm also a hard-working woman and not just expecting a man to come and rescue me from poverty," she continues.
It would appear that men are always willing to come to the rescue of a damsel-in-distress. Carol narrates how she met a certain local law maker in New York, USA, during a business forum. "We shared a few drinks and I mentioned to him that I needed to buy a few things for a project I was working on back home," she says. "He asked me how much I needed and I looked him in the eye and said US$3,000 (Sh300,000), which he assured me he would give me the following day... and he did!"
Linda,* now in her mid 30s, says she had a time of her life when she dated Tony, in his 50s, for the two years they were together. "He was an understanding man and told me that if I ever wanted to get married, he would support me," reveals Linda.
Having been dumped for an older woman in her previous relationship, Linda was heartbroken and her self-esteem plummeted. "Tony was just what the doctor ordered. He was always available for me, treated me right and helped rebuild my self-esteem," she confesses. "When his wife discovered about me, I opted out. Tony was such a generous soul that he gave me enough money to settle," says Linda.
As much as these ladies say their lives have overall improved and it probably would have taken a lifetime to achieve what they have, they maintain they do not do it out of greed but to enhance their lives.
That said, we cannot turn a blind eye to the possible negative outcomes of such relationships, including murder of the young women and we are left wondering whether it really is worth it. Probably the bottom-line is to realise that everything we do has consequences.