Prostitutes in the city of Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, are furious. They say that since a curfew has been imposed in early October on the cheapest and most popular mode of transport, the motorcycle taxis, they are running out of business.
By Gaïus Kowene, Goma
“In the past, when business was bad, I would still get something from the motorcycle taxi driver who would take me home,” says Zawadi Kabuo, who sells her sexual favours in the taverns of the Majengo neighbourhood, north of Goma. “He would spend the night with me and subtract his fare from the money he owed me. I have no father, no mother, no husband. What am I supposed to do to raise my three children?”
Kabuo's financial troubles started early October after Goma's mayor, Kubuya Ndoole, imposed a curfew which forbids motorcycle taxis to operate after 6 o'clock in the evening. Pedestrians are obliged to stay in after 8. There's no curfew for cars, though. The argument behind this measure is that the motorcyle drivers, many of them ex-militaries and ex-policemen, are suspected to be involved in recent armed attacks in Goma. Many in the city believe it has a strong link with the M23 rebel group, trying to cause a trauma in big cities, thus playing down the sense of control by the state.
Motorcycle taxis are most popular among locals because they are cheaper than mini busses (1,000 CDF per night ride, which is less than 70 euro cents). Antoinette, another young prostitute, says it is one of the main reasons clients from a certain segment of society are no longer going out.
“The few clients who own cars go to nightclubs. But most people from the middle class stay at home. It’s just impossible for them to go out. And it’s our work that suffers.”
The alternative would be to work during the day. But this can only be done in the outmost discretion since prostitution is considered an abhorrent practice in the African culture. That is why Kabuo moved to a neighbourhood where she can receive her clients in hiding.
Her strategy is to pretend to be waiting for a date in one of the taverns. “During the day, customers who come to drink find me here. If they are interested in my services, we discuss the price then we get on with the act. Prostitution is my only means of survival,” she says.
The curfew and its direct impact on the means of transport have also brought security concerns for the prostitutes themselves. Some of them walking back home late at night have claimed to have been often harassed and, in some cases, even raped by soldiers on patrol.
Sandrine: “The security that they brought makes us feel even more insecure. One night, for example, a soldier asked me for my ID. Because I did not have it and my pockets were empty, he forced me to have sex with him for free. He let me go only around one in the morning. I didn’t know where to go at this time of the night because there were no motorcycle taxis. It’s really pathetic!”
Mayor in trouble
Prostitutes in Goma want motorcycle taxis to resume their normal working hours, so that they can work in better conditions. They say if the situation doesn’t improve, they are prepared to invade the mayor's residence.
“All of us sex workers are preparing to march down there one day," Kabuo lashes out. "We have already prepared what we will say to him. What does he expect us to do? Is he prepared to look after my children? We will go live with him and let him feed all the prostitutes in this city.”