Nairobi Nights

Kenyan blog Nairobi Nights reveals the daily life of prostitutes in Nairobi, and gets the nation talking about its secret sex trade.

| March/April 2013

In 2009, an undersea fiber optic cable linked Africa’s east coast to broadband internet for the first time. The giant sea creature provides high-speed internet to South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, and Djibouti—the countries along what was previously, according to Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, “the longest coastline in the world without a fiber-optic cable connection to the rest of the world.”

In Nairobi, the impact was immediate. Just about everyone in the city already had a cell phone, but web access suddenly sped up to global norms. In the years since, Nairobi has become a genuine rival to tech clusters from California to Bangalore. Young Kenyans spend their days glued to social media—mall rats for the web age. And, more impressive than the slick apps and hardware coming from the new e-Africa, technology is sparking the democratization of voice.

When Nairobi Nights appeared in 2011, it was unlike anything else that has appeared in Kenyan media. The blog was a running conversation on selling sex in East Africa’s most bustling city. Purportedly written by a Kenyan prostitute who calls herself “Sue,” the blog chronicled her adventures working Nairobi bars, backrooms, and hotels. It quickly found an audience of ultra-wired and sex-curious youth—which is to say everyone with a pulse and a phone. “When it came out, it blew up. If you were connected, you found out about it,” says Kennedy Kachwanya, a blogger with a large following. “Everyone wanted to know what this was about.” Another Kenyan blogger named Harriet Ocharo recalled when she first heard of the blog: “Somebody circulated a link from Twitter and it went viral that day.”

I first heard about Nairobi Nights on Twitter, too. Of course I clicked through. The heart of the story is Sue’s portrait of Koinange Street, a busy avenue in the center of Kenya’s capital. By day, it’s clogged with traffic, men in suits, and typical downtown commerce. By night, it’s a complex ecosystem of street hawkers, night watchmen, late-night partiers and, we learn, prostitutes.

When you earn a living having sex, like I do, it’s no longer sin. There is nothing to cause the adrenaline rush. [...] But once in a while you will get a man who comes with an out of the ordinary idea that stimulates your pleasure glands. 

The other day a man in a new Jeep picked me around 10 pm. He told me to sit at the back. “I want to report my wife” he said as we drove to the Central Police Station. The police are not our best friends and wherever possible we keep our distance. But here he was taking me, almost naked and with prostitute written all over me, to a police station. I didn’t feel so good.