Adult films are among the few products that will always have a market, and Kenya is no exception. Interesting to note, however, are the types of films that the Kenyan market is buying. David Onyango delves into the world behind adult videos, uncovering the trends and desires driving our local industry.
Along Duruma Road, metres away from the Kampala Coach office, is an open door that leads to a steep set of stairs, at the top of which is Hollywood Bar* and Restaurant. It’s around 3pm and the joint is not very busy. Hollywood is dimly lit, though the dance floor – pushed into the corner and elevated slightly off the ground – is brightly glowing. Groups of girls separated into threes and fours, though some loners can be spotted, are chatting away, scattered strategically around tables haphazardly cluttered with partially drunk bottles of soda. The lady seated at the table next to mine gingerly sips a Guinness from the bottle. Music wafts softly behind us.
A young man, probably in his late 20s, walks in and squints momentarily, trying to adjust to the poor lighting. He looks around purposefully and then walks in a deliberate line to my table – Rasta, I presume, though the man hardly matches the imagined appearance my mind had assigned him. In fact, the man coming towards me looks nothing like what his name or chosen profession would suggest. There are no dreadlocks, and none of the outward signs I had up to that point associated with a self-described pornographer – sleaze personified with gold chains and an overgrown pinkie fingernail. Instead, the real manifestation of Rasta in front of me has clean nails, looks well fed, and is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans that give him the impression of a busy executive on an off day. When he starts talking, his words and phrases come out in polished English and are – perhaps due to the nature of his work but also, I think, due to an entrepreneurial showmanship – infinitely captivating.
He immediately orders a warm Tusker Light from a waitress, who looks bored, resigned to the fact that she has nowhere else to go, and is none too eager to take the order. We start to chat when she leaves.
“So, what exactly do you want to know?” he says abruptly and in a serious tone. I reveal that I am a businessman, and I need help to break into the pornography market. “I have some money for capital,” I hastily add. Rasta leans back and looks me in the eye. “I will tell you how to go about it, that’s all. I won’t hold your hand and show you the ropes. To me, you are competition, but I know Nick [a private investigator who linked me up with Rasta]. We have done a few things here and there, so I will only give you as much information as you need to succeed,” he says.
Getting Into the Business
Rasta is the producer of his porn films – meaning he sources for actors, finances the entire project and then manages the sales to recoup on his investment – and he’s been in the business for the past two and a half years. His first stab at porn, which was circumstantial, came about when he was doing his masters at a university along Thika Road. While hosting a party at his house in Juja, Rasta filmed a drunken girl who was stripping and dancing in front of everybody. He posted the video on YouTube, and in two days it had received more than 3,000 views before the site’s administrators pulled it down.
“If I could get that many views in such a short time, I was sure half of the viewers would buy the video if I sold it. That’s how I started shooting porn,” Rasta reveals. In a country where bedroom intimacies are not openly discussed, sometimes not even in the bedroom, this was a rather brazen choice for Rasta to make. What’s even more interesting is that his reasoning was fitting. With many willing to be in front of and behind the camera – not to mention a ready consumer market – the industry is slowly but surely spawning.
On the Job
Hamisi proceeds to point the camera to a couch where two women in their 40s are seated. We are in a residential suburb of Nairobi, in a back bedroom of a friend’s home. Hamisi gives some quick direction to his stars and the camera starts rolling. The women react and begin speaking in Kiswahili with a thick local accent.hua Hamisi*, a formerly well-known television presenter before losing his job, is now a local film director. His name still rings a bell in some circles. “The going has been tough, bro,” he tells me as he mounts a camera onto its tripod, making sure it’s securely fitted. “I got skills, I am good with the camera, and there is good money to be made here.”
“Venye niko na nyege, sijui nifanye nini (I’m feeling so sensual, I don’t know what to do),” says Magdalene*.
“Hata mimi nahitaji mwanaume (Likewise, I need a man),” replies Juliet*, whose podgy frame is fairly similar to Magdalene’s.
“Tupigie yule kijana akuje na rafiki wake? Sindio? (We should call the young man and ask him to come with his friend, right?)”
“Eeeeeh, ndio, fanya hivyo (Oh yeah, do that).”As the camera continues rolling, Magdalene gets a phone from her handbag and dials a number. She talks briefly on the phone and by the time she hangs up there is a knock on the door. Two young men, who appear to be in their mid-20s, are standing smiling at the entrance. One rushes to embrace Magdalene, while the other, somewhat apprehensive over what’s about to happen, stands close to the door looking confused. “Come here my dear,” says Juliet, trying to be seductive but not quite pulling it off. She yanks the young man next to her.
Magdalene wears a full dress that stops abruptly at mid-thigh. Juliet, on the other hand, has a ridiculously low cut top that exposes her sagging breasts. Red lipstick heavily accentuates her full lips and the purple varnish on her nails is chipped.
I can only take about a minute of the pornographic video shoot before I walk outside and let Hamisi continue giving direction while filming the actors.
A half hour later, he has finished shooting the last scene of the day and we ride into town together.
Trying to Make Ends Meet
“Two years after losing my job, I bumped into an Italian I knew back in the day and I asked him if he could get me any video production work.” So desperate was Hamisi that it didn’t matter what type of video production it was, as long as he got paid. The cheapest a local porn movie is sold at is KSH 200. Hamisi reveals that he makes anywhere from KSH 70,000 to 90,000 for every movie he shoots, which may have up to three scenes.
Prostitutes are more and more frequently agreeing to let their encounters be filmed, and the resulting videos are often uploaded to the internet or sold to porn producers.
As we make our way through traffic, discussing the actual demand for local pornography in Kenya, Hamisi shares that he has produced 3,000 copies of his latest adult film. He taps his laptop bag, “I will spend the next two days editing the video, inserting appropriate background music, and designing a cover for this series.”
Hamisi has been shooting porn for the last year, and believes things are looking up. “I have been through a very rough patch, and now I am back on my feet. I plan to buy a car next month. I have saved enough,” he says, pride trickling out of every word.
“I actually started to watch international porn to become better at the jobs I was getting. I can say, right now our videos [are] the best quality in the country.”
The start for Rasta, which I gathered as he was letting me in on how to succeed in the business, was more of a learning curve than smooth sailing. His first disks were scratchy, poorly shot movies featuring university students who had their faces blurred to conceal their identity. Rasta soon realised that this wasn’t what the market actually wanted. He decided to recruit people in a fairly similar profession who were willing to perform while being recorded. He hired prostitutes. “It wasn’t difficult. Kenyans can do anything if the price is right,” he says with a chuckle.
His next breakthrough was an emphasis on authenticity – and one sure way to maintain that was to shoot porn with actors speaking local languages. “I started with Luo and Kikuyu. I remember my first local language porn sold more than 5,000 copies. It had two scenes, one in Luo and another in Kikuyu. Within six weeks, I had sold 5,000 copies.”
Rasta professes to be the first Kenyan to shoot porn in a tribal language, though his efforts were cut short when he realised his own salesmen were duplicating his videos and selling them, leaving him with very little of his hard earned money. Besides being careful about hiring employees to distribute the movies, Rasta advised me to get close to the police if I wanted to succeed. “Give them a cut of every DVD. If you don’t, they will arrest any vendor selling your wares. And when vendors know that the cops have banned your product because you didn’t seek their blessings, they will not sell it.” He promised to introduce me to one vendor – which, needless to say, was an offer I did not take him up on – who would then introduce me to the others. A producer will work with three or four major distributors who will buy the movies for KSH 200 a piece. The distributor also has his own network of vendors who will sell the movies between KSH 300 and 500.
Curious, I enquire as a parting shot, “Does your family know what you do?”
“No way!” he says, “They know I own a shop in town. I sell and repair laptops and other electrical stuff.”
Sourcing for Talent
[Sic] I am 16 years of age am professional in sex and am serious in acting porn please help my email is [email protected] or text me on ma phone number is 0704xxxxxx I will do anything even if is joining illuminati to be a porn star pliiiiz I rly nid help.
Porn actresses in Kenya, particularly prostitutes, are sourced from pubs. However, it is not uncommon to find aspiring porn stars, despite their age, putting up their information online to star in a film.
Most male actors are found on the internet. “There has never been a shortage of men who want to act in our films. Some are even paid as little as KSH 15,000 per scene. If I posted online that I want actors, I would be able to get more than 30 willing men by the end of the day,” says Rasta. Pornography may be a clandestine profession, but evidently it is a thriving industry in Kenya where one can earn up to KSH 50,000 by featuring in a film and where producers will make a minimum of KSH 5,000 per day selling their movies online. For a newly released film, a producer can make up to KSH 150,000 from online sales in a month, before the fad dies or the film is duplicated and sold by rogue salesmen. The actual DVD sales usually amount to more than 500 copies sold at a minimum of KSH 200, with a shelf life of about three months, before something newer, fresher or more twisted is released.
Norah, a sex worker at the Fiji Club*, says prostitution isn’t as lucrative as most people think. Because of that, she couldn’t say no to an opportunity to supplement her income. “With our work, you can get a good client today, and then stay for a week without getting a [high] paying client. You have to survive.” Norah is the principle stripper at Fiji. She mentors all the strippers at the Club and helps them come up with new moves. She also offers additional services after work, if need be.
“I acted in one movie that had three [scenes]. I was paid KSHS 15,000 per [scene]. The director told us that the movie would be for a members only website. He kept his word because I haven’t seen the videos anywhere,” says Norah.
On the Coast, where tourists flock to soak in the sun and laze on the sandy beaches, pornography is a booming business. Shanzu, Bamburi and Diani in the South Coast and Mtwapa, Lamu, Malindi and Kilifi in the North Coast are all hotspots for recruitment. Not far from the conspicuous tusks that crown Mombasa is Sea Bar*. The beer is cheap, sex is cheaper – dozens of prostitutes sit patiently waiting for clients. The chairs are plastic, and the stench of stale cigarette smoke perpetually hangs in the air.
Paul Mutua, a manager at the joint, explains that once a girl has turned to prostitution, there is nothing they can’t do for good money. “Two weeks ago we heard that one of the girls who frequents this place agreed to act in a porn movie, only for the male actor to turn out to be her cousin; we all had a good laugh,” he says.
One of the girls, who hangs out in the bar waiting for clients, Maryann, says that nowadays when a mzungu client invites you back to his hotel or house, you should be prepared to have sex on camera. “I have not had the chance, but if I do I won’t say no. They pay well. One girl here was paid USD $400 just to have sex with a man while being recorded.”
Doing their job on camera is a growing trend for Kenyan prostitutes, and the videos produced are a growing trend in Kenyan porn. This is the ‘amateur’ porn of Kenya, though in international markets that title would be applied to even our ‘high-end’ productions, the movies filmed on make-shift sets with people cast specifically as porn actors.
But I also learn that the law is coming down hard on individuals participating in porn production. “There has been a crackdown on such activity. Many people involved in the business have gone underground, but if you come back in two months, we can actually go and watch a movie being produced,” says my source.
The internet is undeniably a free-for-all porn avenue, whether for streaming or buying and downloading, and Kenya is certainly contributing to the global phenomenon. Websites like www.kenya4.com and vitukali.com all have local porn for perusal and sale. Like international porn sites, sneak peeks are available and for a small fee – as low as KSH 150 – a visitor can watch the full video. In contrast with some international sites, however, most Kenyan videos feature poor quality in lighting, sound and props. All the same, online porn still sells, demanding between KSH 150 and 300 per film, and if the client wishes to own a DVD, it can be delivered to any place within Nairobi’s Central Business District. Once the money is paid, the delivery is usually under an hour. A brown envelope with the recipient’s name on it is dropped off, though there is no follow up to confirm receipt.
Nevertheless, the produced material still has a growing audience locally and abroad. A Kenyan living in Germany, mentions that one can legally rent porn movies, supposedly shot in Kenya, from adult stores throughout the country. “Unlike other international blue movies, the camera work is poor and the lighting is bad, but I think people just want to watch what they call ‘native porn,” he says, adding that producers giving direction to the actors can often be heard speaking in Kiswahili in the background. On the ground, it’s not as simple as the industry isn’t an openly traded one, though of course that doesn’t mean buyers cannot get access to porn films. On Lang’ata Road, during peak hours, about six movie vendors patrol the highway. “Uko na zile za wazee? (Do you have the adult ones?)” I ask a vendor. He quickly smiles and looks sideways before leaning closer to my window and asks, “Unataka ya lugha gani? Kikuyu, Luo ama Kamba? Hata Kiswahili iko. Hata ya wazungu iko (In what dialect? Kikuyu, Luo or Kamba? I also have in Kiswahili and I have Western porn),” he says.
According to the vendors, people who buy porn are slightly older men. “They are people who probably have families and good jobs. In traffic, it’s older men who will roll down the window and ask if you have blue movies. It’s very rare to get young men buying porn; either they don’t need it or they don’t want to spend their money on porn,” says a vendor in Nairobi West, who sells gospel music CDs as a cover.
The Beginning or the End?
Were we to cast aside the blinders we, as a society, have put on, it’s clear that pornography is an active part of Kenyan culture. Sadly – and perhaps because we are so uncomfortable with the topic that we generally refuse to examine it – teenagers are engaging in the act, a reality that is unfortunately true the world over. Involvement in pornography or the handling of pornographic material is illegal in Kenya, but like prostitution it continues to thrive.
In Kenya, porn sets are often just back rooms in residential houses making efforts to prevent its production difficult as the shoots are easily moved.
Trading sex for money is, by the books, punishable with fines and jail time. Yet a taskforce set up by former Nairobi Mayor George Aladwa reveals that Nairobi has approximately 7,000 commercial sex workers, each having at least three to four clients. That’s approximately 21,000 to 28,000 sexual transactions per night in Nairobi. Of these, a good percentage are recorded and later sold on the streets and in some nightclubs.
In efforts to ensure that the film industry is not tarnished, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Owiti has warned those involved in the production of pornographic materials to put anend to it.
“I just want to ask all Kenyans to be vigilant, and report any suspicious activity in your neighbourhood.Porn is addictive, and we all have young children whom we don’t wish to see get hooked on porn,” he says.
Westlands and Hurlingham have been cited as the main areas where the lewd acts take place. So serious is the situation that it came up at a recent security meeting convened by Governor Evans Kidero. Not only are clients frequenting brothels in the locales where young girls are being exposed to sex, but others are taking the opportunity to produce pornographic material for commercial use.
“We are organising with the City Inspectorate to raid those brothels. It is something we discussed last week with the Governor, who was concerned,” said Nairobi Police Chief Benson Kibue. He continues, “Prostitutes in Kenya involve themselves in a risky situation with HIV/AIDS infection, when most of them see up to five partners a night and only use a condom 60 percent of the time.”
But, unlike the brothels that could be possibly shut down, films are not shot in established locations and obviously don’t follow proper protocol. Additionally, the internet hampers their work as most of the movies are bought online and payment is done via mobile money transfer. Nonetheless, with the assistance of the police, KFCB hopes to seek out and stop those engaged in the unlawful act.
“Compliance with the law is crucial if the country is to achieve its goals and objectives as enshrined in the Constitution and captured under Vision 2030. We all have a role to play in rooting out pornography.”
A Silent Debate
Dissemination of porn is categorically a crime. While the Penal Code quotes types of banned obscene publications or cinematically produced material, including a jail term of two years and/or a fine of KSH 7,000, it does not specifically define pornography. In fact, under the law, porn is essentially prostitution. The law is silent on what happens to men who are prostitutes, but women can be arrested and arraigned in court.
Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Council Member Ambrose Weda considers the code very archaic and further deduces that pornography has negative effects on society – sexual dysfunction and addiction, among others. As such, he explains, LSK would not agitate for its legalisation. The other side of the coin, however, depicts that production of porn films will, in all likelihood, continue.
Pornography is a big business in the United States, with total sales estimated to be USD $13 to 14 billion per year. The richest porn star in the world, Jenna Jameson, has a net worth of USD $30 million (KSH 2.55 billion). Its illegality in Kenya makes it difficult to put numbers on, but it’s clear from talking to porn entrepreneurs like Rasta that there is money to be made in the industry.
Porn and its place in Kenya’s notoriously conservative society is not a relationship that can be easily defined, with a tangled web of connected issues. On one side, there’s morality, decency and the preservation of ethical social standards. On the other there’s the money to be made and the regulations that could potentially make the industry safer and fairer for those involved – the unions and mandatory STI tests in Western pornography, for example. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the industry exists and that it’s here to stay. The question now is what’s to come from it.