AuthorKachipande, Sitinga


Although travel by Global North tourists into Africa is not new, Africa's share of global tourism has rapidly increased over the past few years. Subsequently, there are increasing reports from news sources, researchers, government officials, nongovernmental organizations, and private businesses that sex tourism is increasing in many parts of the African continent too. Global North tourists visit the continent for various purposes, including, business, voluntourism, safari, over landing, relaxation, sporting events, adventure tourism, and now sex. Many of these purposes are not readily associated with sex, thereby rendering sex tourism complicated to define. Sex tourism is commonly defined as "travel for which the main motivation is to engage in commercial sexual relations." (1) Although often evoking images of older white males from the Global North traveling to the Global South, in actuality, it encompasses a variety of complicated romantic or casual sexual relationships in exchange for money or other benefits; sex may also not be the main motivation. Sex tourism in the African context includes situations that are both planned and unplanned, where sex tourism occurs incidental to the original purpose of the trip, where there are multiple motivations for the trip, and where a person may engage in sex tourism only when the situation presents itself. Therefore, this article broadly defines sex tourism to include any travel that is partially or wholly motivated by sex work, as well as any travel engaging in planned, unplanned, incidental, or situational commercial sexual relations. Like in other parts of the world, sex tourism in Africa may also include individuals traveling from other parts of the same country or region and can involve men or women as sex tourists. However, this article focuses on tourists from the Global North to Africa.

The typical sex tourist in Africa is a wealthy white man from America and Europe who seeks out Black and Brown African women's bodies. Oftentimes, these women fulfill the tourist's sexual fantasies centered on physical relationships with women whom they view as "different" or "exotic." In Africa's case, a growing trend exists of wealthy white middle-aged women seeking out males or "beach boys," usually at coastal locations. This also may involve Black women from the Global North and elderly "grannies." This type of tourism is popular among older women visiting well-known tourist destinations in Senegal, Gambia, Uganda, South Africa, and Kenya; however, they can also be found all over Africa, including countries with fewer numbers of tourists such as Malawi.

African countries have also become hotspots for males seeking male relationships. Gay sex tourism in Africa typically takes place in coastal cities such as Accra, Mombasa, Marrakesh, and Cape Town. Although countries such as Morocco ban same-sex sexual relationships, historically, they have been a haven for gay Global North tourists since the 1950s. (2) Currently, South African cities are arguably the most popular destinations for gay sex tourists today, in part because the country is one of the few where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights--including same-sex marriage--are enshrined into the constitution. In 2011 alone, South Africa received as many as 200,000 LGBTQ tourists, and the number has been increasing since. (3) Some businesses in South Africa now actively cater to "pink tourism." For example, the presence of gay-only hotels and events such as the Out in Africa Film Festival, Mother City Queer Projects, and Mr. Gay South Africa have contributed to South Africa's popularity with LGBTQ tourists.

Although tourism growth bolsters sex tourism in Africa, other factors also contribute. Some of the main drivers in the Global South include politics, gender power relationships, military and economic colonialism, inequalities through social stratification, family disintegration, political/civil instability, and economic dislocation due to globalization. It is critical to understand that these factors and tourism alone do not cause sex work--it exists in every society; however, studies by researchers such as Kibicho, Mbaiwah and Darkoh, and others have found that just like elsewhere in the world, a relationship exists in Africa between tourism and sex work. As a country's tourism scales up in several places, so too does sex work. As such, sex work has become one of the tourism industry's key by-products and the industry predominantly relies on the labor of sex workers.

Most of the labor in the sex tourism industry is provided by women sex workers. That is, individuals over eighteen who "choose" to engage in transactional sex in exchange for money or other gifts. (4) Although the term "child sex tourism" is often used, the labor of minors engaging in sex for cash or gifts with tourists is considered child sexual exploitation. (5) Child sexual exploitation is a growing subsector of the African tourism industry and is not this article's focus. The typical African sex tourism worker is an adult woman from a rural area who moves to the city, or another location, in search of economic opportunities. The uneven impact of globalized labor creates a situation that leaves few opportunities for young women to find employment in the formal sector and earn a livable wage. Strategies like the World Bank's structural adjustment programs embraced by African governments in the 1980s placed restraints on many African households and left many economically insecure. Their neoliberal policies affected labor unevenly, rendering women's labor undervalued, underpaid, unpaid, or uncounted in the formal economy. As such, young women in Africa are left vulnerable to poverty due to gendered inequality and "choose" to become sex workers to avoid poverty. For many African women, sex work is more lucrative than working in Export Processing Zones, domestic labor, or farm work where they do not earn a livable wage. Sex workers usually come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and cannot readily leave the trade. Many are breadwinners in their family and support children, parents, or spouses. They remain in sex work despite it being a low-wage, high-risk job that may not lift them out of poverty. Importantly, there are instances when sex workers enter into long-term or romantic relationships and even marriages with sex tourists, something that does award their long-term financial security. However, most of African sex work involves single transactions with no longterm security and is risky due to the occupations legal status.


Sex work is fully criminalized or partially criminalized in most parts of Africa, except Senegal, where it is legal and regulated. Given the legal status of sex work, sex workers are targeted by the police and marginalized by their wider community. As such, they are vulnerable to stigmatization and human rights abuses by clients, brothel owners (in countries where this is legal), street vendors, and members of the public and often are treated with indignity and injustice. They are common targets of crimes such as the battery, rape, sexual assault, theft, torture, and victims of various forms of structural violence. Sex workers in the tourism industry mostly are denied respectability and objectified in brutal, dangerous, degrading, and dehumanizing ways. Dehumanizing sex workers occurs when sex workers are perceived and treated as less than fully human. It is often characterized by denying sex workers attributes that constitute what it is to be human such as likening them to objects or animals. Such dehumanization makes it easier to justify their sexual exploitation and deny them human and legal rights throughout the criminal justice system. The legal framework in African countries fails to adequately protect those working in the sex tourism industry from harm.

Notably sex workers are vulnerable to sex trafficking: a form of human trafficking that typically regards its victims as disposable sexual labor. Trafficking in the sex tourism industry occurs when the labor of an individual is exploited through coercion and force. (6) Some of these victims are recruited and transported across local, regional, or international borders specifically to serve the sex tourism industry. African sex workers are trafficked to other African countries, the United States, and Europe; popular destinations include Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Germany. Sex tourism contributes to global human trafficking; sex workers are susceptible to being harmed, deceived, threatened, or forced to work in slave-like conditions as trafficking victims. Sex workers rarely report sex trafficking or other sex work-related crimes to the police because they operate in criminalized underground environments. Additionally, perpetrators are not arrested or held criminally accountable by most countries when detained; perpetrators often are not held for long due to pressures from the state or bribes to police. In some cases, foreign government criminal defense legal specialists intervene in ways that result in perpetrators evading justice. As such, there is a growing demand to decriminalize sex work in Africa from sex workers and pro-sex work activists so that sex workers can come out of the shadows, crimes can be reported, and workers can otherwise be protected from crime. (7)

In cases where sex workers are not serving the sex tourist industry underground, they are not always readily identifiable. Given the complex nature of tourist-host relationships, some laborers providing sex work may not identify as sex workers. For example, in Malawi, people working directly in the tourism sectors, such as in safaris or resorts, who engage in sex with tourists do not self-identify as sex workers. In the rest of the continent as well, men or women working in jobs where they...

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