Sex Tourism

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Gender and the Economy of Sex Tourism In Kenya’s Coast Province


“Sex tourism requires Third World women to be economically desperate enough to enter into prostitution; once they do so, it becomes difficult to leave. The other side of the equation requires men from affluent societies to imagine that African women are more available and submissive than women in their own countries. Finally, the industry depends on alliance between local governments in search of foreign currency and local foreign business willing to invest in sexualized travel” (Enloe, 2000:36).

Otherwise known as sex prostitution, sex tourism is tourism for which the main motivation of the trip is to consummate or engage in commercial sexual relations (Graburn 1983; Hall 1991; Ryan and Hall 2001). The number of men and women travelling to Third World countries seeking sex tourism has increased tremendously (Herold et al. 2001). In the past, notorious sex destinations have been mainly the South East Asian countries, today it has spread to other regions of the world including Kenya, Tunisia, South Africa, Brazil and The Gambia (Ryan and Hall 2001, Enloe2002; Chissim 1996).

This paper discusses gender and the political economy of sex tourism on the Kenyan Coast, its health and socio- economic impacts.

International Tourism and Sex Tourism in Kenya

Tourists visit Kenya because of several reasons including its beautiful landscape, wildlife safari, the humid climatic conditions along the Kenyan Coast and the beautiful Coastal beaches. International tourist arrivals in Kenya have been increasing tremendously from 69 million in 1960 to 160 million in 1970, 458 million in 1990, and 625 million in 1998 (WTO, 1999). This increase has led to massive increase in sex tourism, a condition evidenced by inclusion of Kenya among the world’s leading sex tourism destinations (Vatican 2003; Boston Globe 1995; East African Standard 1995 and Chessim 1996).

Although not officially stated, a good percentage of foreign tourists who visit Kenya often indulge in sex tourism during their trip (Chissam 1996; Sindiga 1999). These tourists mainly come from Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Italy and France. Others are from North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and European countries such as Spain and Sweden. Many of these countries have been generating sex tourists to some of the world’s renowned sex tourism destinations such as Thailand (Ryan and Hall 2001). Hence we can conclude that they are likely to engage in the same activity while in Kenya.

Kenya is a developing country with agriculture contributing 24.0% of GDP. Overall, Kenya’s economic performance has been declining since early 1990’s. The country’s per capita is about US$ 260 and more than 70% of Kenyan population currently lives below the poverty line; the worst hit are women (CBS 2001).

The Economics of Tourism and Sex Industry

The main economic activity in Kenya at independence in 1963 was Agriculture whereby the country relied on cash crop exports. After independence, the government tried to diversify the economy by implementing an “open door” economic policy to attract foreign investment. However, the limitations of agricultural and manufacturing sectors coupled with the appreciation of employment potential forced Kenyan government to turn to tourism as a central industry.

Since 1987, tourism industry has been the leading foreign exchange earner, (CBS 2001) surpassing the traditional export crops of coffee and tea (Gakuhu1992; Weaver 1998 and CBS 2001). The industry employs about 1.5 million Kenyans, approximately 8% of wage earning labor force (Weaver, 1998 and CBS 1999). In addition, Tourism is linked to many domestic industries and it is a potentially useful tool for generating development in neglected areas. The industry also contributes substantially to government revenues through taxes and import duties. Tourism is therefore officially promoted in Kenya as...
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