W hen you’ve spent a lifetime working towards success and fortune, you might be in search of the perfect status symbol to show you’ve made it. Thrill seekers and opportunists alike can have it all in the symbiotic relationship that is the winter/summer romance. If it isn’t love at first sight (of bank statement), we don’t know what is
By Sandra Grzybowski and Rose Odengo
“Young, sweet and quiet girl with a wild side.”
Inviting and lightly veiled description?
Sizeable yet reasonable monthly allowance requirement?
Paired with a seductive pout and semi-shear ensemble and what we have here is a very successful profile on www.seekingarrangement.com.
And what we also have is a national epidemic, a feverish problem of the much older man, much younger woman variety, and where it stops, nobody knows.
Whether it’s the epidemic of sex tourism at the coast to prostitution in the slums, there is a deep history of sex used as a quick tool for personal gain in Kenya. There are a multitude of websites and personal profiles online dedicated to domestic seekers of concrete relations with bigger emotional and financial payouts.
If the definition of prostitution is sex in exchange for money or gifts, what then is a longer-term relationship where a man might pay for your rent or weekly shopping trips?
SeekingArrangment.com tells us that the modern sugar daddy is a successful and generous man who is willing to pamper and offer financial help to a young person in return for friendship. A sugar baby is an attractive, ambitious and goal oriented person who wants to be pampered. The site makes the distinction that sometimes it’s not just about sex, but a need for companionship and connection.
Another site, FinancialArrangement. com, has a frank and can’t-argue-with-that description. The site says that it is for “men and women who know what they want, and know what it takes to get it.” Historically, men have always sought beauty, while women seek financial security. The site recognizes those distinct needs and brings the two groups together, eliminating the endless game of questions: “Can HE afford to pick up a dinner cheque?” “Is SHE with me because of money?” The answer to both: Yes.
With all pretences stripped away, is this one of the more honest relationships left these days? And are these relationships all in good fun, harmless at best and demoralising at worst?
Jimmy Gathu is a popular and well-known personality in Kenya. His show, Power Breakfast, on Citizen TV plays five days a week, covering everything from politics to community concerns. In 2009, Gathu was commissioned to do a series of public service announcements on extramarital affairs titled, “Mpango wa Kando, A Private Affair.”
The commercials were a response to statistics from Population Services International that stated that 50 percent of new cases of HIV infections were in established marriages.
One memorable skit shows Gathu as a man’s ‘good angel’ conscience, calculating just how much his other lover is costing him, while his family has to do without.
With a few amendments, the script could have been taken right out of Dan’s* life, a ‘sugar daddy’ who agreed to be anonymously interviewed for this story. He is married with three children, one of whom is five, and he has had a mistress for the last 10 years of his two-decade marriage.
“It wasn’t love that drew me to her,” Dan says of his mistress, or ‘sugar baby,’ “it was sympathy. She was in a jam and I had the means to get her out of it.”
Dan’s mistress got pregnant in her fourth year of high school and her family wanted her gone, so he rented her a flat and pays for her upkeep, her college tuition and the expenses of her child.
Gathu says the commercials have opened up dialogue on a touchy subject and there has been a positive response.
He states that while cheating happens everywhere, in Kenya it definitely has a financial element. Essentially, you are paying for two families and “of course, one of them is going to suffer.”
But this is where Dan insists he doesn’t fit into Gathu’s mold. Even after taking his mistress through college and her getting a job, he still foots all her bills just as he does his family’s, telling me, “my wife is in business but I still pay for everything.”
Gathu has received flack from the series, and he’s lost friendships. Having become the face of immaculate conduct, some people don’t know how to act around him. A night before the interview, Gathu was invited to a stag party, and upon arrival, no one answered his phone calls to let him into the festivities.
Gathu says that men involved in affairs are looking for something that is missing, either sexual or emotional, in their current relationship. He adds that there are always challenges in a marriage that need to be addressed. And the relationship needs to constantly be worked on.
“Men that use temporary problems as a scapegoat for finding a girlfriend are selfish and aren’t thinking about their families in the long run.”
But Dan would beg to differ. “I love my wife. There’s nothing I don’t get from her. If anything my mistress is more stressful. When I’d go out with my friends, they’d all bring their girlfriends, so they got me one so I wouldn’t be the odd one out.”
It’s another indication that the number of men looking outside their marriages is staggering. And if one is to listen to the discussions that take place weekday mornings on Kenyan radio, it would certainly seem that the entire nation is in crisis.
Mary Karuri is a Kenyan psychologist who believes that these relationships are a symptom of underlying psychosocial disorders that stem from previous unhealthy relationships.
Karuri is convinced that emotional and financial greed are some of the factors that lure young women into these relationships. Emotional greed Karuri relates to young girls deprived of love, affirmation and affection from their fathers.
“She will tend to divert towards the many men and women in her life. And because she has some internalised anger she is not aware of, of the absent dad,” Karuri emphasizes, “she will tend to use this man, unconsciously dealing with the dad. She has got the chance to exploit someone who was never there; and this gives them [sugar babies] a passport to the fast lane of social status.”
A number of the women who take on these relationships are college girls struggling to pay the bills. Of the 800,000+ global profiles on www.seekingarrangments.com, about 35 percent of them are school girls. It is presumed that Kenyan statistics follow about the same proportion.
In 2001, Nancy Luke, a professor of sociology and population studies at Brown University, conducted a study titled “Risky Sex in Urban Kenya: The Bitter Side of ‘Sugar Daddy’ Affairs” on the prevalence and effects of sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships in Kenya. The analysis was done in Kisumu, where 1,052 men aged 21 to 45 where surveyed and data was collected on them, and 1,614 recent non- martial partnerships.
What Luke found in her study was that although sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships weren’t as widespread as previously thought, the sugar daddy partnerships whose partners were more than 10 years older were more likely to never use a condom, compared to those whose partners are at most five years older.
The study also showed that young women aged 15 to 24 years have higher HIV infection rates than men their age, which was blamed on sex with older men.
She insists I use her real name. “My name is Lilian and I speak the truth,” she announces calmly but somehow on a mission.
I stumbled upon Lilian at a bar late one Saturday night and she promised she would do an interview. A couple days later she was still eager to tell her story.
Lilian showed up for our lunch date clothed in vibrant coral and adorned in traditional African jewellery. She is late and endearingly apologetic and she’s gorgeous. She is the slightest little thing, almost doll- like in appearance, and one would guess that she is barely 18 instead of 29. She is instantly disarming and the most open person I have ever met.
Lilian and her fiancé Samuel*, 42, met on AfroIntroductions.com. She wrote to him first and they spoke for two months before he finally arrived in Kenya. He still has the picture from her profile on his phone. They have been together for two years and have been engaged since September 2011.
Samuel lives in a hotel while Lilian lives in a house her family already owns. While Samuel doesn’t pay rent, he pays for all the bills and food for Lilian, her two brothers, son and nanny. He also pays Lilian’s son’s school fees. Lilian used to be a casino dealer and had her own clothing import business, but nowadays she doesn’t need to work.
On a typical day, Lilian wakes up to get her son ready for school. And then goes back to sleep until around 11am. She usually watches movies for most of the day, horror films being her favourite. Samuel gives her a weekly allowance for things like new clothing or hair appointments, but if she wants more, she just asks for it, because she believes she genuinely deserves it.
“I swear for me it’s like I’m doing you a favour. You need to appreciate it and show me every day.”
Lilian’s story, like many others, is what Mable Odima, a sociologist at Daystar University, says, is a generational challenge of living in a fantasy.
It’s something she believes is a result of lack of parental guidance or what Karuri terms as, “Parents going on leave.” And a relentless pressure to become successful quickly through shortcuts.
Odima believes that some of the sugar babies are in denial. “They seem to be comfortable and for them to realise that they are in a problem is a process.”
Lilian’s relationship seems like the perfect match, a dream come true. But with a twinkle in her eye and lowered tone, Lilian throws another bombshell.
“You know, Samuel and I met and I loved his eyes, he loved how I smelled, and it was like, ‘baby.’ But shit happens.”
Lilian tells of her latest conquests. She essentially lives two separate lives expertly, working by a set of guidelines and rules on how to manipulate instead of be manipulated.
“I’m never safe; I have to look for the next best thing. Men lie to me, so I lie to them. He can always find someone prettier or younger than me, so I have to have a Plan B.”
Dan, on the other hand, has a plan A and B, but no C. “I’ve never had a wandering eye. There is no other woman apart from my wife and mistress.”
Lilian tells of all the different men she’s met online and the large sums of money they have given her. She dated one 65-year-old man living in Lavington when she was 25, who was a good cook and very generous.
“Oh my goodness, you should see my Western Union. I could have bought a house by now. At least I’m not a prostitute on the streets. Thank God for the Internet,” she says as she shows deposit slip after deposit slip. On one of the paychecks from a wealthy Hungarian man, she took her brother on a well-deserved vacation to Tanzania. Currently talking to a high-ranking man for Nokia in the Middle East, Lilian says she can’t complain about her financial situations.
Money, it seems, plays the largest part of the relationship, and it’s a state of affairs that Dan has resigned himself to as well.
“I’ve told her [his mistress] to always be straight with me and let me know if she meets someone who can give her more,” he shares.
Karuri is quick to observe that money will only satisfy to a certain level. “By the time she is done with this relationship, she will have a lot of money, but the void will even be bigger than when she met this man.”
Lilian hasn’t always been so cynical about love. When she was 16 she fell in love with a Kenyan her own age.
“I was so in love with him. I was all about him,” she reminisces.
They waited to have sex until she was 18 years old and she became pregnant at the age of 19. She said everything went downhill after her son was born. The son’s father told her he was going to move to Mombasa to find work and send for them, but Lilian never saw his face again and had to endure her mother’s daily, “I told you so.”
“I was very angry for a long time.”
The whole situation hit Lilian hard and she never dated another black man or anyone her age again. She says now that she is not attracted to black men and likes older men because they have their priorities and desires in order.
Odima believes that first time intimate relationships tend to have a lot of unmet expectations that result in rejection and an overall lack of trust.
“If there is no intervention in the case of a relationship that turns sour in teenage years, then it is true, the stage is set either for revenge, mistreating oneself or reacting in a negative sense to others,” Odima concludes.
And this, Odima says, is seen in dysfunctional relationships.
Karuri adds, “If you heal the broken heart immediately then there is no void. And she will not look to fill the void elsewhere.”
But love, Lilian says, is just in one of the many movies she likes to watch.
She’s incredibly conscious and calculated in her every move and likens the world to a body of water, ever changing, unpredictable and ruthless at times. She depicts herself as queen of this world, one who refuses to be swallowed whole but has instead evolved to triumph over it.
Her actions might not be proper or conventional, but she does what she must to provide the kind of life for her son and family that she could not get otherwise.
Karuri believes actions such as Lilian’s are a cause for concern, “If we are not careful, we will lose a whole generation to sexual liberation.” Or have we already? Both Dan and Lilian represent a major trend, and both appear to be perfectly happy, one feeling satisfied that he’s fitting in with the crowd, the other reaping financial benefits.
Tune in to Kenyan radio; look around at the local hotspots; check out your married neighbor. The sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship is alive and well; but as this need-based union increases in popularity, so will the debate on whether having a girlfriend for the weekends or more than enough extra cash to take a lavish vacation are worth risking marriages, forgoing true love, damaging self-esteems and challenging relationships as we know them. Is this the direction that relationships in Kenya are heading and what are the long term ramifications? Now is the time for us to be talking.
*Names have been changed
First published in the April 2012 issue of Destination Magazine