Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. But that’s not the reason why prostitutes were the earliest black Kenyans settlers in Nairobi.
The city began to take shape around the late 1890s with the coming of the Uganda Railway to Nairobi. And as Luise White informs us in her 1990 effort, ‘The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Kenya,’ there was an outbreak of famine due to rain failure in most parts of Central and Eastern Kenya. A locust attack on crops led to hunger. Livestock was depleted.
British Imperialists made matters worse. As part of colonization, they confiscated African land, introduced hut and poll taxes.
Women moved to Nairobi, around Ziwani, Pumwani and especially Majengo, where prostitution enabled them to own property – the mud houses in Majengo or Kambi ya Malaya as it was nicknamed.
The outbreak of smallpox decimated roughly 70 per cent of central Kenya population pushing more women to the areas around Nairobi’s Kariokor estate – where Africans were restricted.
The famine, in a nutshell, triggered prostitution: men had no cattle as dowry for marriage. Single lasses trooped to the city where prostitution became the best defense against colonialism, forced marriage, hunger.
Louis White identifies three types of hookers: Watembezi were prostitutes who offered brief ‘short- time’ sexual services along the streets.
Malaya prostitutes (in Kambi ya Malaya) offered prolonged, indoor domestic and sexual services.
Wazi-wazi prostitutes sat in front of their houses and aggressively calling out their prices, with their butts exposed on stools.
Watembezi began patrolling Ziwani and Kariokor. Offering a cop-free ‘short-time’ (to fire blanks) allowed the adventurous to search for clients around River Road and Grogan in the 1920s.
Kenya gaining independence in 1963 saw multinational companies, hotels, banks, apartments, petrol stations and offices open along Koinage Street where wazungus who remained here worked. The entry of entertainment joints along K-Street for after work leisure saw the Grogan Watembezi sluts strut to K-Street to offer different type of nocturnal pleasure.