THE GAMBIA – With its white sandy beaches, wildlife, ecotourism scene, and cheap package holidays, the Gambia, located between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, is a tiny country that has gained popularity over the years.
The Gambia, however, has been the target of headlines on several occasions in recent years, with stories about middle-aged Western women seeking long-term love, holiday romances, and one-night stands rather than attracting hordes of young partygoers fresh out of college. As a sex tourism hotspot, The Gambia has earned the dubious title of ‘West Africa’s sex paradise for retired women,’ and a rather unpleasant reputation.
The Gambia continues to be known for its sex tourism despite attempts by the Gambian government to promote nature tourism and sustainable tourism.
The Senegambia strip, in the coastal area around Kololi, is renowned for sex tourism in The Gambia. Here holidaymakers and local men (known as ‘Bumsters’) form the kind of relationships for which The Gambia is known.
What comes to mind when you think of a sex tourist? The most likely candidate is an older man with a soft middle and a leery expression drooling over girls young enough to be his granddaughter in Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, etc.
People have very mixed views on sex tourists, with many arguing that sex tourism is an inherently exploitative practice that exploits vulnerable and impoverished communities. However, others see it as a fair exchange, a transactional relationship with no harm done to both parties.
No matter what your stance on the matter is, you’re probably not picturing your friendly neighbourhood grandma when thinking about a typical sex tourist.
WHAT IS SEX TOURISM?
In a nutshell, sex tourism refers to traveling somewhere to engage in sexual activities.
There are various options available, including massage parlors, full-service sex work (prostitution), gentleman’s clubs, brothels, ping pong shows, and foreign dating sites catering specifically to tourists.
Top sex tourism destinations include Thailand, The Netherlands, Brazil, The Gambia, The Philippines, Spain, Cambodia, and parts of the Caribbean.
In the past, sex tourists were usually men (there’s a reason Pattaya is full of retired old farts), but recently, an increasing number of women from Europe, Canada, and the United States have traveled to developing countries to have sex with the locals.
It is important to note that female sex tourists vary in demographics from place to place, but they are mostly older white women from developed countries who struggle to find love or sexual connections at home and travel overseas in search of romance and excitement.
The findings of a 2009 survey conducted by Wanjohi Kibicho regarding sex tourism in Kenya revealed that ‘women who feel rejected by men in the developed countries for being overweight and older find that in Kenya, this is suddenly reversed.’
‘There, they are romanced, appreciated, and loved by men. This appeal can result from the ethnic differences between the sex worker and the sex tourist or the foreign lifestyle that the local men live. Women who have sexual encounters with such men are typically middle-aged and of European ethnicities.’
The main difference between male and female sex tourism is that men are generally aware of their status as sex tourists.
WHAT DOES FEMALE SEX TOURISM IN THE GAMBIA LOOK LIKE?
Booming sex tourism in Gambia /Image, APT/
Young, attractive, and charming, they are known as Bumstersand can be seen wandering around Kololi beach day and night, hanging out in local pubs and nightclubs, sweet-talking tourists,and staying with those who take them up on their bait.
Women, typically middle-aged and older and from the UK, are flattered by the attention and can’t resist the temptation of a young Black body they see as theirs.
Jackie, a sex tourist in her 60s who has visited The Gambia 15 times in 8 years, tells Eammon Holmes and Ruth Langsford on This Morning, ‘you can get your choice, from Tinie Tempah, Snoop Dogg, will.i.am…it’s a Pick ’n’ Mix there.’
Describing The Gambia as a ‘real women’s holiday,’ (whatever that means), Jackie defends the claim that The Gambia is a ‘Tinder dream for geriatric sex tourists,’ asking ‘why shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves?’ and acknowledging the power imbalance at play by referring to the fact that the men are ‘really poor,’ so ‘a nice meal and a few drinks is good for them.’ see the interview below.
BUT DON’T GAMBIAN BUMSTERS EXPLOIT WOMEN TOO?
Even though many people consider female sex tourists to be exploiters, many of the women involved see things differently.
Several blogs and web forums are filled with comments about Gambian ‘love rats,’ visa scams, and other horror stories that embarrass, hurt, and anger women.
While the women who appeared on This Morning were under no illusions about their lover’s motives, saying ‘they probably want to get to England,’ thousands more are not so savvy.
These women visit The Gambia for romance, and to them, the sex is not transactional.
They are under the impression that they are in a relationship with their Gambian lover, and Gambian men actively promote this belief, expressing their undying love for the woman, contacting her months after they have left The Gambia, and even proposing marriage (even though they may already be married to a Gambian woman!).
They feel blindsided and scorned when they discover that they are one of many women or that the men may have an ulterior motive after believing they are in a monogamous, committed relationship. They are unwilling to take a step back from their emotions and see the situation from an outsider’s perspective.
When a woman is heartbroken and unaware of the reality of her ‘relationship,’ it is hard to listen to her, but we must remember that these women are adults who have no trouble traveling to undeveloped nations and taking advantage of economically disadvantaged men, who would not hesitate to do the same if their circumstances were different.
It may seem harsh, but it’s true.
As one Gambian bumster says– ‘We’re not exploiting the women. It’s transactional. They are getting treated like a Queen and having good sex and we get money to survive and hopefully a visa. What’s wrong with that?’
As far as the women are concerned, the problem is the deceit involved – no one likes to feel hoodwinked – but we cannot blame these men for doing what it takes to provide a better life for their families.
By catfishing and deceiving people, these so-called ‘Gambian love rats’ are not the same as the infamous ‘Nigerian credit card scammers’ who extract a person’s life savings.
As with any other kind of sex worker, Gambian bumstersprovide a service, and they view themselves as self-employed freelancers.
It is important to note that many female sex tourists do not see themselves this way, instead identifying more with the term ‘romance tourism,’ as they often engage in more ‘romance’ and intimacy with local men than the more transactional relationship between males and female sex workers.
The term ‘sex tourism’ oversimplifies the reasons why these women engage in relationships with these men (or maybe they just don’t want to see what other people see).
This notion of ‘romance tourism’ creates an uncomfortable gray area, where female sex tourists are vulnerable to being hurt by men who are only trying to earn a living.
Since female sex tourists don’t view themselves as such, and therefore may not wish to engage in an explicitly transactional relationship, the male sex worker has to be a little sneakier. As a result, he will usually observe holidaymakers and profile them to find a worthy target.
He looks for older women who are overweight or considered unattractive at home. As a result, he considers such women vulnerable, or ‘easy prey,’ and plays on this vulnerability to get the woman to fall in love with him. As soon as feelings are involved, the male sex worker finds it easier to persuade the woman to spend her money on him, and so the exchange begins.
POVERTY AND SEX TOURISM
Both poverty and sex tourism are problematic, but they are inextricably linked, and they make it difficult to determine when someone is being exploited.
While these young Gambian men are not controlled by violent pimps or traffickers, living in abject poverty makes it difficult to prove true freedom of choice.
Over a third of the Gambia’s population (1.7 million people) lives on less than $1.25 a day in this extremely poor country.
Many Gambian men rely on their bodies as their main source of income due to rampant poverty, mass unemployment, and lack of educational opportunities.
It is important to ask ourselves, do men like this have a choice when it comes to selling their bodies, or are they selling sex to survive?
We can easily talk about the ‘happy hooker’ trope, where young and attractive women in developed nations turn to sex work to live lavish lifestyles and afford luxuries that an office job would not provide. It is impossible to say that a young and uneducated Gambian is making a free choice by selling his body when he is expected to feed his entire family.
No matter what your opinion about sex work is, most people would agree that any relationship created by necessity rather than desire is exploitative.
THE RACE ISSUE
Race plays an important role in understanding female sex tourism in The Gambia, given its history.
During the British Empire, The Gambia was a major slave-trading port. People of color could be bought, sold, shipped abroad, raped, and forced to work at this time, and none of it was illegal.
While slavery had been outlawed in the UK at the time, it was still thriving in The Gambia, and some of these women’s fantasies about young Black men could be considered neo-colonial.
The United Kingdom has hundreds of thousands of young, single Black men, yet these women are flying thousands of miles to a poverty-stricken country to engage in sexual activity with Black men, even though British women can buy things at home with their money and power in The Gambia.
These women are not consciously racist, however.
Nonetheless, one cannot help but notice that a relatively rich woman ends up sleeping with a man who looks like her grandson and buys him crisps and a Coke as a thank you gift.
SEX TOURISM IN THE GAMBIA | FINAL THOUGHTS
While writing in this article, I found myself going back and forth numerous times as to whether I found sex tourism in The Gambia morally wrong.
My liberal side wants to believe that sex tourism in The Gambia isn’t harming anyone, and if young, hot Gambian men want to sell their bodies to geriatric tourists, then all the power to them.
As a result of the lack of opportunity and poverty that many of these men face, the line between free choice and survival sex becomes blurred, and I cannot help but think that if they had any other choice, none of these men would be doing what they’re doing.
I find it appalling that Westerners continue to travel to poor countries to take advantage of the economic situation there and enjoy the kind of carnal pleasures they are not allowed to enjoy at home.
It is my judgment that Western men go to Thailand to do this, and I feel that female sex tourists in The Gambia shouldn’t be exempt either, even if they are clinging to the idea that they are experiencing love.
There is no doubt that this is a highly controversial topic, and I am curious to know what your opinion is on the matter?