Beach boys is the name locals give to young men looking for rich white female tourists visiting Kenya for more than the usual sea, sun and sand. Mostly sporting dreadlocks and tight-fitting shirts that reveal their athletic torsi, the beach are mostly around 25 years old or so.
A beach boy from Mombasa’s North Coast, Solomon, talks about his life: “I usually go and talk to a mzungu mama (a white woman) and ask her if she needs something, if she is looking for a guide. So I become her guide, I go with her if she wants to go jet skiing or on a boat cruise,” he says, “If she wants something more, I can also give it to her”.
Even if there is no official estimation of the number of women visiting Kenya every year for sex tourism, local populations believe that the figures are on the increase. In 2007, Kenya welcomed two millions tourists, most of them from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Germany.
Not only do the beach boys speak English, in addition to the local language, Swahili, but they also master German and Italian; languages learnt by virtue of years of association with tourists. As Solomon reveals, a perfect command of an European language is always an advantage.
Dinners in expensive restaurants, outings, money given at the end of trips… this is how Solomon earns money. “If I meet a nice woman, I stay with her at her hotel and when she leaves, she gives me 70 000 shillings (1 030 US dollars ) but sometimes less than that,” he says.
During peak seasons like Summer, Solomon can have up to five or six different sexual partners. He also acknowledges that most of his partners were more than 60 years old.
During intercourse, women are the ones to decide about condoms. Solomon explains that “If she wants me to use a condom, I do. If she doesn’t want to, I don’t” but “in the beginning, I usually use condoms and then, after a few days, I stop”.
Solomon has never been tested for HIV and claims his partners are HIV negative. “Most white people are HIV negative. HIV is very rare in their countries,” Solomon declares.
According to Elizabeth Akiniyi, Head of Solidarity with Women in Distress SOLWODI, an NGO that works with sex professionals in Mombasa, beach boys are not considered as sex workers and consequently, they are not taken into account in HIV/AIDS prevention messages.
SOLWODI focuses on female sex workers and even though Elizabeth Akiniyi wants the organisation’s programmes to also address issues concerning the beach boys, she bewails a lack of resources.
Associations of people involved in tourist activites such as arts and crafts, water sports and camel rides often organise HIV prevention workshops. However, solitary workers like Solomon do not have access to these activities.
“Communities or NGOs treat beach boys differently from female sex workers,” Elisabeth Akniyo says. “But considering the HIV threat beach boys are facing, awareness campaigns shoud be directed towards them.”