By: Sanne Terlingen & Hannah Kooy
(OneWorld) – The Djibouti Palace Kempinski is known as the first five-star luxury hotel in the Horn of Africa. Kempinski Hotels, according to its spokesperson “adheres to the highest standards of ethical behavior”. However, in reality it turned out to be no problem to spend the night there with a local prostitute. While it is the question whether the girls perform sex work voluntarily, and while prostitution is against de Djiboutian law, the hotel staff openly facilitates it.
“I want you to keep your pants on. On!”
“Don’t you think I am pretty? Look, this is a nude picture of myself. Look at my titties.”
“Darn it, Fatiha. I told you I am a journalist. I want to find out who in Djibouti facilitates sex work. I am not looking for sex myself. I do want to take a picture of you, so I can prove the Kempinski-hotel was fine with me taking you to my room. Will you please sit down on the bed now, with your back towards me? And keep your pants on.”
I only met Fatiha two hours ago. I ‘arranged’ her in a nightclub in Djibouti City. The American military contractors I was with, introduced me to – someone they called – a reliable fixer. The fixer checked which girls were interested and matched my demands (some knowledge of English, not staying over the night). He negotiated the price as well. The twenty-year-old or twenty-one-year-old Fatiha (“I am as old as you want me to be”) with Somali-Ethiopian heritage (“Do you have a preference?”) wants to come with for 50 euro (about 60 dollars). “But first, I want to finish my Vodka-pomme”, she states with a slurred voice. The fixer wants 5000 Djiboutian franc (30 dollars) for his mediation.
Prostitution is illegal in Djibouti. Still it is sprawling with nightclubs with ‘bargirls’ and female visitors who, against payment, go home with party-goers to a hotel or a specially equipped backroom.
Who the girls in the clubs are, we described in December 2015 in the longread Fear and Loathing in Djibouti. A short recap: undocumented migrants from Ethiopia, daughters of Somali refugees who had no future in the Ali Addeh refugee camp and street children who have grown up (often also migrants initially).
The police organize (random) round-ups after which brothels are (temporarily) closed and sex workers arrested. Sometimes they are released in exchange for money or sex.
“Are you certain Fatiha will be allowed in a luxury hotel like the Kempinski?”, I ask the fixer. “If she has an ID-card on her, she will”, he answers. While both Fatiha’s parents are non-Djiboutian, she has an ID-card. She bought it, she says. On the card is her work name, Fatiha, together with her work age, twenty-one. “Don’t worry! I have been to the Kempinski more than ten times. With Americans, with French, with Greeks. Let’s go.”
Once arrived at the Kempinski the first hurdle is the security: because of the terrorist threat in Djibouti, the drive to the hotel is guarded by private security guards and a police commander. It is three o’clock at night and we make quite a peculiar company. A drunken contractor behind the wheel, a contractor with a Yemeni bargirl on his lap on the passenger’s seat, and Fatiha and myself in the back.
“The beds in the Kempinski are really great!”, the Yemeni girl giggles. “I come to drop off a guest and her visitor!”, the driver shouts. “Room 1102. We drop them off and go back.” The security guards give us a friendly nod. Before the barrier is fully up, we speed through the gate.