A new wave of Chinese investment in Africa is the influx of Chinese courtesans, aka prostitutes. Chinese sex workers are flocking to Africa in the wake of investments and businesses.
However, the local sex workers in countries like Cameroon are meeting this new wave with fierce resistance. China has surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s top trade partner, investing heavily in infrastructure development projects amongst others. Of course, Chinese investment in Africa is well documented. Furthermore, the country’s direct investment in African countries runs into billions of dollars.
Interestingly, Chinese outbound tourists visiting Africa have also steadily increased over the past few years. And in 2014, the continent reportedly received about 2.69 million visitors from China.
The presence of Chinese nationals on the continent doesn’t end there…
… but there is now a new phenomenon, which has been reported in several African countries. Chinese courtesans (sex workers) have taken various countries by storm. They now provide their services in Ghana, Cameroon and in Lagos, Nigeria. According to research, Sub-Saharan Africa has become a new haven for Chinese sex workers. The research was conducted by Basile Ndjio, an anthropology professor at the University of Douala in Cameroon. He is also a researcher with Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Ndijio’s research explores migration patterns of Chinese courtesans in Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana.
The study estimates that between 13,000 to 18,500 Chinese courtesans are currently working in sub-Saharan Africa. Ndjio observes that Africa has become a new “El Dorado” for the prostitution business.
Africa is the last sex frontier for Chinese courtesans
According to Quartz Africa, Ndjio discovered the phenomenon while working as a casino croupier during graduate school in Cameroon. This was where he was first introduced to the world of ‘Shanghai beauties’.
The sex workers would gather in the back of Chinese restaurants, hotels and lounges. Ndjio soon leant from gamblers who used code words asking for sex with terms like ‘stress relief’. So, migrant sex workers had joined the influx of inexpensive Chinese goods and services into Africa and began servicing locals.
In Cameroon, Chinese prostitutes now compete with local women all along the price spectrum. From N30,000 at upscale brothels to N1500 on street corners. Needless to say, the local prostitutes are displeased.
Battle for sex
This is a war between hookers, as Cameroonian papers dub the clash. So, local sex workers label their Chinese counterparts putes sorcières (“witch-bitches”). And to protect their turf, they then appeal to their customers’ sexual patriotism. Unfortunately, the clashes sometimes end in violence.
According to Njdjio, “there is a feeling of invasion and yellow peril”. Around the globe, many women work in prostitution rings run by Chinese pimps and protected by corrupt local officials. Some of them are forced, while others simply seek riches. Ndjio has found that most Chinese sex workers are rural women who move abroad for gigs as waitresses and secretaries. Only to arrive the big city and find traffickers demanding sex work for the repayment of plane tickets and visas.
But he also notes several highly publicized cases in which police have “freed” Chinese sex workers from prostitution rings. On getting their freedom, the women surprisingly declare their preference for Africa. Having realized how much money they can earn, many of them move on to Cameroon’s more prosperous neighbors Nigeria and Ghana.
Whatever the circumstances of their arrival, prostitutes have gifted China an unexpected soft power. And their ubiquity is changing local beauty norms. Now, girls go to salons with photos of Chinese models and say, ‘make me look like her’ Ndjio says.
Today, to have a ‘look chinois’ [look Chinese] is a compliment in Cameroon.