Sex work and human rights activists, who have been in the limelight after a promise by Nairobi’s mayor about reviewing prostitution by-laws, are now anxious he may have changed his mind.
The concerns come after the mayor appeared to have back tracked on his promise after he was challenged by religious groups.
Last week Nairobi Mayor, George Aladwa was quoted in the press as having proposed that the Nairobi City Council would reconsider city by-laws and allocate zones for sex workers to ply their trade in the city.
The mayor had been speaking during a meeting in his office with civil society groups who had participated in a peaceful demonstration on February 3.
Following the meeting the Mayor set up a committee to review the council’s by-laws that criminalise sex worker trade in Kenya.
He was reported in the media as saying that there exist city by-laws that are “archaic and irrelevant in today’s running of the council” and Mayor Aladwa was reported to have recommended said such sections should be aligned with provisions of the current Constitution.
Mayor Aladwa, who like other elected politicians in Kenya will be probably be hunting for votes this year, was also quoted saying that, if legalised, the sex work industry could generate revenue that would assist the council in its operations.
The Mayor added that several sex workers had complained about police harassment and with the proposed new arrangement the sex workers would be able to operate with security once the laws are harmonised.
Despite these laws, commercial sex trade continues to flourish in Kenya.
However after being challenged by religious leaders, the Mayor on February 5 said that in the meantime, frequent crackdowns on prostitution would continue until the laws change ensuring that both sex workers and their clients were arrested.
It was this apparent U-turn on the relaxing of the laws that has caused some anxiety and concern over safety amongst the ranks of sex workers.
In the days between the two statements, a number of news features were broadcast openly featuring sex workers and human rights defenders who are in the front-line fighting for equal rights to all, access to health and legal recognition.
Now it would appear that there are some concerns for the safety and well-being of those placed in the limelight. It remains to be seen how the issue will pan out as the council intends to deliberate on the issue within two weeks.
Nevertheless, the scenario has brought to fore a debate that has previously been considered taboo by Kenyans who would rather not face the fact that the sex industry including MSM sex work thrives around the country.