Sugar Daddies to Sponsors: The Gentrification of Sleaze

A mate described the social media experience as akin to stopping by a busy bus terminus to soak in the energy. When the terminus is on your way home, you end up cultivating a few acquaintances with stories for days. The ones who are up to date with the latest domestic scandal and other crazy happenings while you were away. All they require is a little poke. Some people have a gift for nosing into other people’s business. They are persistent. They dig in, stake out and interrogate informers until they get some leads to work with. After that, they piece together recycled gossip peppered with a good dose of random deduction. The result is the plausible theory which makes for juicy gossip that can be peddled in exchange for attention. Some stories are so big, they do not need conduits. They find one busy minding one’s business and knock on your door, demanding to be heard. Even when ignored, they refuse to be moved. Hours later, sometimes even a day after, you step outside only to be accosted by the snooping acquaintance who just has to find someone to tell a story threatening to choke him up.

“Did you hear the story about Mary?”

“Who is Mary?”

“You don’t know Mary? She is all over social media, I can whatsapp you the link”

“What did Mary do?”

“I am not really sure, there are some two guys, then sijui one of them went rustling, then a guy got shot and team mafisi is all over that story. Is your whatsapp on?”

 “What is going to happen to Mary?”

“We don’t know, but all we know is that she is in the market for a sponsor?”

I have been running into sponsor stories even in offline venues. When people take a break from analysing politics, the Jubilee versus CORD series, sponsor escapades make for a good diversion. Basically, good old gossip by concerned citizens disguised as necessary inquiry into the sinking moral bar of our beloved country.

A sponsor in Kenyan speak, is an older man, over 45, usually happily married, with children, who maintains a mistress for rest and recreation purposes. The term was coined, I suspect, by young Kenyan men protesting the pressure of inter-generational dating. Older guys throwing cash and happiness in the face of nubiles who were previously tolerant of a cheap date with their age mates, of chips, fried chicken and cold soda.

The term was owned by wannabe socialites who enthrall the media and the public with their brazen lifestyles and go through great lengths to look sexy.

In polite company, a woman who seems to be living above her means and is frequently seen coddling elderly men is called an escort.  There is no name for the man who purchases the sexual favours. If he is known to be overly generous, he will be simply known as a gentleman.

Married men who could afford to maintain kept women, young enough to be their daughters were called Sugar daddies in the 80s. Today, millennials call them sponsors and the sponsees continue to revel in their newfound blessings.  In keeping with tradition, we tend to blame the victim, usually the young lady for falling for the charm of an old man and his dazzling trinkets. Young girls are constantly publicly shamed for using their good looks to earn sexual favours.

But slut shaming loses its power when the person it is directed at, embraces the term. It is pointless trying to shame someone who has gone beyond the point of embarrassment.  This is what gives Nairobi emergent socialites a pseudo celebrity veneer. When you are sleeping with a wealthy married man who is considered a role model in society, you can afford to walk around with a smug face. An ill reputation is the little cost one has to pay for the high life.

The idea of a young woman selling her body and exploiting her sexual value (while it lasts) for financial gain runs contrary to the sanctioned idealism of monogamous bliss. The bad girls threatening this ideal must be named and shamed. Intimacy is held sacred and it can only be enjoyed in an environment of love. While men are allowed to exercise free sexual expression, discretely, at least within the boundaries of heterosexuality, women have to keep appearances to gain respectability, worth its weight in social currency. Once a woman is deemed to break the rules by showing sexual freedom of association, shame and stigma follows her.

What a girl does to pay for her lifestyle should be her own business especially when the transaction is between consenting adults. From sugar daddies to sponsors, the pursuit of good sex (read validation) is the soft underbelly in the search for one’s self worth.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. I am still digesting ‘the bad girls threatening this ideal should be named and shamed”‘ , actually still making sense where this article leans towards, interesting,

Leave a comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that. Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.