Nanyuki’s fame, for many, is linked to ‘Johnnies’ (moniker for British soldiers) and their escapades while out in town. Invariably, these stories turn to their dalliance with sex workers. Some are outright horror stories that involve dead women of the night, and some are rib-cracking anecdotes. At the centre of it all is the trade in the flesh. And while the ‘happy-time’ girls and their foreign clients are front and centre, hiding in the wings are shadowy women who call the shots. They control the oldest profession in Nanyuki and without their authority, no local girl can dare approach a foreigner here. They have a quasi-recruitment agency that scouts for young girls they then connect with the young British soldiers who use the town as their training base.
Meet the Madams of Nanyuki, a group of women no girl in the business would dare cross, lest she is banished from the town. They are as tough as nails and their word is law.
So powerful are the shadowy Big Mamas that they ran a parallel government where they even control the price of alcohol in various drinking dens in Nanyuki.
The town is the last ‘sane’ frontier before the soldiers under the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), tackle the inhospitable northern terrain of Isiolo, Samburu and Laikipia counties during their training.
Eye on development projects
On weekends, the soldiers can be seen walking in groups, scouting for the best malls and entertainment joints ready to mingle with local beauties. Different people interviewed by this writer say the arrival of new military units to Nanyuki brings a windfall to almost every sector in the town. The presence of the soldiers in Kenya injects much needed cash into the counties of Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu, a fragment that trickles down to the hustlers. From curio sellers to meat suppliers to taxi drivers, life changes for the better with arrival of each unit.
However, it is the twilight girls that look out for more from the young soldiers than these “development projects”. In some drinking outlets, the cost of beverages is exaggerated with the soldiers willing to pay the high price compared to local patrons. Under strict tutelage of the Big Mamas who are also veterans in the trade, only a select few girls get the soldiers’ contacts in order to further their carnal agenda. In order to protect their business and avoid being kicked out of the high table, the young girls will not reveal the identities of their Madams, only revealing the criteria used to select the soldiers’ consorts.
“The brief from the soldiers is to look for tall and slender girls who can communicate well in English. They like girls who are natural, the Africa beauty poster girl,” says one of the girls who refused to reveal her identity. Once they arrive in Nanyuki, or Mwisho wa Reli, from other parts of the country, the girls stay in the posh estates where rent is paid by the soldiers. These girls prefer the ‘Johnnies’ as they are “kind and caring as compared to African men.”
Insiders in the trade say on a good day, the select few take home not less than Sh5,000, cash which is shared with the Madams, who in turn have invested in residential and rental homes in local villages. The results of the unholy alliance are the many mixed-race children sired by these men while the girls have invested in plots where they have built rental structures. Conversely, those girls unable to match the recommended standards are thrown out of the bars and left to hover around for the local drunk and fatigued ‘lovers’.
Jane Muthoni, a resident of Karatina, says it is hard to get close to the soldiers when they are in Nanyuki bars due to security.
“Even if the soldier is interested in you, the ‘local leadership’ must endorse you first,” says Muthoni.
“It is not a walk in the park to have a soldier near you or there will be a severe fight.” Muthoni is a victim of such fights but has since learnt to respect ‘authority’.
Monica Njeri is among those who entertain the Johnnies and would not want rabblerousers near her since the soldiers have her contacts and inform her when and where to link up for drinks and ‘extra’ business.
Like other girls, she had to undergo a rigorous recruitment exercise from one Madam. Many girls eager to join the squad, adds Njeri, are rejected depending on the results of the background checks that include their HIV status.
“The friendship is unbreakable because troops that leave the country pass on the contacts to incoming units, ensuring continuity,” says Njeri.
Muthoni, mentioned earlier, regrets how the Madams denied her the opportunity to befriend the soldiers despite her previous background in the hospitality industry.
However, the older generation of ‘girls’ say it is becoming hard to protect their turf against the onslaught of young blood.
Susan Kagendo, a resident of Likii and now in her 50s, says it was easier to hook up with the soldiers as they used to move in groups looking for the men in local bars.
“In our days, the soldiers could sleep in our houses at a fee. That’s how many managed to invest even after they left the country as we kept communicating through letters,” says Kagendo.
The Madams have been there for ages as they make money from connecting the soldiers with the girls, acting as some form of “insurance” should anything go wrong between the two parties