Transaction Chronicles: Her Body, His Money
Bridget Achieng is a Kenyan socialite known in circles for her curvaceous body. Although she admits that people assume that she is from a wealthy family, she told British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that she grew up in one of the densely populated, rural areas of the Kibera slum, Kenya.
Speaking of her background, she says she once served as a househelp and was molested when she was a young girl. That resulted in psychological trauma until she was 25.
Describing herself as a former “total African girl”, she notes that luck shone on her after her friend told her that her body can bring her the fortune she had dreamt of as a child. She then used Nairobi Dairies, a reality television show to promote herself. Soon after the show, she got DMs and invites to countries such as Dubai to get as much as $10,000 from as little as sucking toes.
“People are seeing a sexy girl, like a sexy, curvy girl. All these rich tycoons want to have a taste of this fine, beautiful African girl… You are a desperate girl looking for money and you are getting a guy wanting to give you $10,000 (N3.6 million) just to visit him. Some people have never seen $10,000 in their life. There is nothing for nothing. You want a million bucks, you will do something that is worth a million bucks.”
“I had to do it to just get back up. It is not something any woman should be proud of doing. Humble yourself and God will lift you up.”
Small girl, big God
When on-air personality, Toke Makinwa coined the phrase, “small girl, big God” with an emphasis on its literal meaning, little did she know it will be associated with something negative. Today, the phrase has become the new code word for girls involved in “runs.” Runs is a euphemism for transactional sex.
Despite the ongoing debate about if transactional sex borders on sex work, what we can identify is that there is a thin line, which appears in the form of semantics. While engaging in sex work involves actively going out on the streets especially at night to seek for customers whom they have no previous relationship with to engage in sexual activities, ‘small girl, big god’ applies the term transaction loosely. In a transactional relationship, it is a ‘give and take’ business.
Kemi explains this to Guardian Life she shares a two-bedroom apartment with eight friends in Lekki where they pay a rent of 4 million naira annually. “Usually, a couple of us spend days outside the house. When everyone is around, we share in a ratio of 4 to 1 room unless they have mutual friends visit from the mainland.”
Kemi has an online hair store but her designer clothes, shoes and expensive trips are courtesy of her sugar daddy. Currently, she and two of her friends are building their houses in Ajah, hers is sponsored by her “oga.” “Oga”, on the other hand, enjoys the company of a pretty young girl whom he can call on at any time despite having a family.
While the likes of Kemi bear the tag, runs girl, society has managed to carefully avoid criticising and labelling their sponsors (Ogas).
In this regard, a school of thought opines that rather than blame society, girls are responsible for their fate. They also opine that the reason the men are not accused is that they do not flaunt themselves on the internet leading people to make hasty generalisations about them.
In a cultural society where little value is placed on the girl-child, the onus is on the girl to present something to earn societal respect. A closer look into the society also reveals that are becoming primary breadwinners.
While there might be an existing debate on social media, it is a reality for many girls in the society who see it as their only alternative to living. For Eduek, a girl a little over 25, who grew up in a family where importance is given to the male gender. She resorted to “make it (be successful)” through the only she was exposed to.
“I would say that I come from a very humble background but my father loved education. The only problem is that he thought it was important for the boys to get an education up to the university level but a girl was supposed to marry before 23.”
“When this was not happening and he (my father) saw that I was desirous of education myself, he told me to fend for myself.”
Finding herself in this condition invariably meant that she turned to her ‘considerate’ uncles for help. “The only one who was willing to help me gain education and support was my father’s friend but I had to sleep with him. Today, I am a graduate.” Interestingly, she sends money to her family despite not having any known job.
Transactional sex is not limited to those under the “small girl, big God” umbrella: corporate prostitution has gained popularity in our society especially in financial institutions and organisations where marketers must meet ridiculous targets.
Rebecca is a marketer for a very popular new generation bank and her current target is sixty million naira a month. According to her, “I started as a marketer in November 2017, and it was really tough, my target then was not this high but at that time even twenty million was a very high target and in our Nigeria where jobs are scarce, leaving wasn’t an option. I used all my contact to get people who knew people and still for about 3 months, I wasn’t even meeting 50% of my 20 million.
“At this point, I knew I had to leave my comfort zone and I would say I was lucky because by the fourth month, I met the MD of a particular company at an event and he cleared my target for the fourth month. Things totally turned around from then and even at my present target of 60 million, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal”.
When asked what “leaving her comfort zone meant,” Rebecca said, “I had to go out with a couple of my client, it’s just what it is. They gave me the connection I needed. At first, I wasn’t really comfortable, after a while it just became the norm. Apart from meeting targets, I also personally benefit financially and my network has gotten bigger.”
The question of transactional sex
Since the release of Falz album Moral Instruction, transactional sex has been the subject of debate. While the album was rated generally good, he was heavily criticised because he laid out his detest for transactional sex.
“Shamelessly, I will continue to say it, I hate transactional sex. It is my pain, it is what I believe in. You will continue to hear it in my music whether you like it or not.
“And I’d explain to you, the same feminist that would say, ‘a woman is free to do what she wants to do’ and ‘who am I to say to the woman not to put herself up for money’ is the same feminist that will say women are being objectified and that is not allowed. Now you are that same person that is going ahead to commodify yourself. You have turned yourself into a commodity. Self-objectification, self commoditisation, I detest it and I will continue to speak against it.”
Transactional sex, often practised by men and women affects girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. What makes this relationship stand out is its premise on material things.
According to a report Transactional sex and HIV risk: from analysis to action by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS), women who engage in transactional sex “range from those characterised as uniformly impoverished to those that are highly unequal.” It goes on further to list economic vulnerability, social status influence and gender inequality are some of the motivating influences of transactional sex.
Ghanian actress, Moesha Boduong said during her interview with CNN’s Amanpour in 2018 she that she does not engage in sexual relations with anyone who cannot afford to foot her bills.
“In Ghana, our economy is such that you just need someone to take care of you because you can’t make enough money as a woman here.”
The ground for hypocrisy
In a culturally conservative country where people’s acts are placed under scrutiny and reactions to activities are based on religion, the concept of bride price, some have argued, is likened to exchange for a girl-child.
Traditionally, the seal of the partnership between a man and a woman is the payment of bride price. Backed by the different religions practised by her citizens, the payment of the bride price equates the transfer of ownership of their daughter. While in some communities, the price increases with the status of the girl-child, some shift payments to the girl’s family. It is only when this transaction has taken place that common ground is established. During the payment, a form of negotiation on the price of the girl takes place.
Tradition also dictates that once this occurs, the man is entitled to the woman’s body and can do as he pleases.
If tradition, religion and society are pointers, does it make the moral stance for transactional sex a breeding ground for hypocrisy?
**All names used have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.