The Djibouti Palace Kempinski is known as the first five-star luxury hotel in the Horn of Africa. Kempinski Hotels, according to its spokesperson “adheres to the highest standards of ethical behavior”. However, in reality it turned out to be no problem to spend the night there with a local prostitute. While it is the question whether the girls perform sex work voluntarily, and while prostitution is against the Djiboutian law, the hotel staff openly facilitates it.
“I want you to keep your pants on. On!”
“Don’t you think I am pretty? Look, this is a nude picture of myself. Look at my titties.”
“Darn it, Fatiha. I told you I am a journalist. I want to find out who in Djibouti facilitates sex work. I am not looking for sex myself. I do want to take a picture of you, so I can prove the Kempinski-hotel was fine with me taking you to my room.[hints]Kempinski calls itself “Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group”. The chain was founded in Germany. Today, the headquarters are located in Switzerland. Kempinski currently operates more than seventy five star hotels worldwide. Want to know more? Visit the website of Djibouti Palace Kempinski[/hints] Will you please sit down on the bed now, with your back towards me? And keep your pants on.”
I only met Fatiha two hours ago. I ‘arranged’ her in a nightclub in Djibouti City. The American military contractors I was with, introduced me to – someone they called – a reliable fixer. The fixer checked which girls were interested and matched my demands (some knowledge of English, not staying over the night). He negotiated the price as well. The twenty-year-old or twenty-one-year-old Fatiha (“I am as old as you want me to be”) with Somali-Ethiopian heritage (“Do you have a preference?”) wants to come with for 50 euro (about 60 dollars). “But first, I want to finish my Vodka-pomme”, she states with a slurred voice. The fixer wants 5000 Djiboutian franc (30 dollars) for his mediation.
Prostitution is illegal in Djibouti. Still it is sprawling with nightclubs with ‘bargirls’ and female visitors who, against payment, go home with party-goers to a hotel or a specially equipped backroom.
Who the girls in the clubs are, we described in December 2015 in the longread Fear and Loathing in Djibouti. A short recap: undocumented migrants from Ethiopia, daughters of Somali refugees who had no future in the Ali Addeh refugee camp and street children who have grown up (often also migrants initially).
The police organize (random) round-ups after which brothels are (temporarily) closed and sex workers arrested. Sometimes they are released in exchange for money or sex.[hints]The aid organization Humanium revealed that the Djiboutian police arrested a total of 2430 sexworkers in 2009. 408 were between the 10 and 17 years old. “Undocumented migrant girls who get arrested are deported unless they pay the police with money or sex,” N. Omar explained to OneWorld earlier. N. Omar is the pen name of an American military contractor who worked in Djibouti for six years. He wrote the (still to be published) book ‘My six year weekend in Djibouti’. OneWorld got exclusive access to Omars memories.[/hints]
“Are you certain Fatiha will be allowed in a luxury hotel like the Kempinski?”, I ask the fixer. “If she has an ID-card on her, she will”, he answers. While both Fatiha’s parents are non-Djiboutian, she has an ID-card. She bought it, she says. On the card is her work name, Fatiha, together with her work age, twenty-one. “Don’t worry! I have been to the Kempinski more than ten times. With Americans, with French, with Greeks. Let’s go.”
Once arrived at the Kempinski the first hurdle is the security: because of the terrorist threat in Djibouti, the drive to the hotel is guarded by private security guards and a police commander. It is three o’clock at night and we make quite a peculiar company. A drunken contractor behind the wheel, a contractor with a Yemeni bargirl on his lap on the passenger’s seat, and Fatiha and myself in the back.
“The beds in the Kempinski are really great!”, the Yemeni girl giggles. “I come to drop off a guest and her visitor!”, the driver shouts. “Room 1102. We drop them off and go back.” The security guards give us a friendly nod. Before the barrier is fully up, we speed through the gate.
“Renowned for its impeccable service and luxurious surroundings”
“It’s all very ‘Bond, James Bond’”, according to travel guide Lonely Planet. The Kempinski hotel is a place for “[w]ell-heeled Arabian businessmen, Western military officers and soldiers, folks from various intelligence agencies and African bigwigs”.
It’s one of those hotels where they bring you to the entrance in a golf cart, so you don’t have to walk. One of those hotels where even the cheapest room not only has a phone on the desk, but also in the bathroom (you never know where you will be when you need to call through an urgent message). One of those hotels where a cappuccino costs 10 dollars, and where you can see the sun set into the sea from a pier, build especially for that purpose, while enjoying a bottle of champagne (or vodka) in an ice bucket.
“[T]he ultimate luxury and [a] perfect balance between Oriental elegance and African authenticity”, is how Kempinski Hotels describes Djibouti Palace on her website. “Renowned for its impeccable service and luxurious surroundings, it [Kempinski] is proudly considered the first luxury 5 star hotel in the Horn of Africa”. “As a global company, Kempinski believes its responsibility extends beyond its employees and guests, into the communities in which it [Kempinski] operates.”[hints]Source: Kempinski | Corporate Social Responsibility[/hints]
Receipt from the reception
After the security outside we have to pass the security inside. Fatiha’s red handbag has to go through the scanner, says the guard at the door. It doesn’t contain any bombs, so we are allowed to continue. Fatiha wants to make a left, to the reception. I pull her to the right, to the elevators. Before we manage to get on, we are called back.
“Get over here”, three guards beckon us.
Reluctantly, I walk towards them.
“To the reception”, one of them points. He coaxes us with him.
“Told you so”, Fatiha says. “First the reception.”
“That will be 5000 Franc (30 dollars)”, says the receptionist.
He hands me a receipt which states I am bringing in an extra guest.
“Room number. Signature.”
It’s 3:30 a.m. Fatiha sits on my king-size bed with her back towards me, as I told her to. I want to take a picture of her from the back, so she will remain anonymous. But as soon as I get my camera she looks back over her shoulder and throws me a sexy look, while pulling her pants down so her butt crack is revealed.
“I don’t want sex, Fatiha. I also don’t want an erotic picture. I am a journalist.”
Fatiha pouts. “Not pretty?”
“Very pretty. And I will pay you, don’t worry. I just don’t want sex.”
Only after half an hour I realize why Fatiha keeps undressing herself. Right before we got into the car together, I heard how the fixer whispered in her ear that he didn’t want to hear anything bad about her. “Otherwise, I will beat you up.”
“The highest standards of ethical behaviour”
Does the upscale Kempsinki want to please its guests so badly that prostitution is allowed? Already in December 2015, we send a list of questions to the hotel chain on this subject. Among others, we want to know what Kempinski’s official policy is towards prostitution, whether this policy is the same in all of its hotels, and whether the Kempinski – in case prostitution is not allowed – monitors whether the rules are lived up to in its hotels.
We receive no answer.
On the 8th of March we contact the Kempinsi again. This time we inform them we have indications that the Kempinski facilitates prostitution in countries where this is against the law. And that we intent to write this down.
Now we do receive an answer. The director of communications: “I wish to reiterate that we deny the allegations you have made”. And: “We reserve all of our rights to defend ourselves against defamatory statements, including our legal rights”.
According to their spokesperson Kempinski “adheres to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, ensuring the comfort and safety of its guests” and always operates “within the confines of local and international laws throughout its collection of Kempinski-branded hotels worldwide”.
Complaint on Tripadvisor
“It’s an open secret there. All of the hotels charge for an extra person and they know full well what takes place”, according to the American contractor N. Omar. “They all know about it.”
This is also confirmed by a blog written by Chris, a ‘member of the U.S. foreign service’. He writes in 2012: “These two chicas put the booty in Djibouti, and they were doing their best to look seductive. Unfortunately, however, they couldn’t cover up the skank. They were prostitutes, and at the Kempinski, they definitely weren’t the only ones.” [hints]Source: http://chroniclesofchris.blogspot.nl/2012/10/djibouti-are-we-having-fun-yet.html” target=”_blank”>Chronicles of Chris[/hints]
On Tripadvisor, where guests can place reviews of hotels, the party atmosphere in the Kempinski is repeatedly mentioned. Guests talk about ‘the continuous presence of army personnel of various nationalities (with glass beer bottles in the pool!)’. The Kempinski ‘doesn’t feel as a family resort, but as an R&R [Rest & Recreation] for military and business men’. People even openly complain on the website about the presence of prostitutes. ‘Hotel is full of Americans and French militaries with their prostitutes’, writes user Andrea f in May 2015.[hints]Source:TripAdvisor[/hints] Besides, he complains that the unsatisfactory pizza and beer were not substituted.
Manager Gilles Longuet replies within two days tot the complaint. He ‘understands the dissatisfaction and has shared the comments regarding the service quality with the concerned Department Heads’. However, he fails to respond to the remark about the presence of prostitutes.
Getting dressed in the bathroom
I took Fatiha from one of the nightclubs in Djibouti City. But whoever wants to spend the night with a prostitute, can also arrange this from within the Kempinski. The girls can be picked up at the Sky Lounge and in the Safari Night Club. Some nights it is busier than others.
[aesop_audio title=”Conversation with a Kempinski hotel employee (hidden microphone)” src=”https://longreads.oneworld.nlwp-content/uploads/Gesprek-hotelmedewerker.mp3″ loop=”off” viewstart=”on” viewend=”on” hidden=”off”]
Thursday night is party night in Djibouti (Friday is a free day), the bar is full on this night. “On Friday the girls sleep so then it is quiet”, the hotel employee tells me. He confirms that I can take a girl to my room, if I would like to.
While you can walk through the corridors of the hotel to get to the Sky Lounge, the bar also has its own entrance, right next to the elevator. The door is guarded by a security guard. The first girls arrive around ten o’clock, donned in traditional islamic clothing. Once they get to the sixth floor they immediately enter the bathroom. There they put their lipstick on and put their veils in their handbags.
The Safari is the nightclub on the Kempinski grounds. When I have given Fatiha her money, plus some extra for the taxi, she asks whether I can take her there. The night is young. The guests at the Kempinski are rich. In the Safari she won’t be bothered by the fixer who watches closely who she goes home with, and how much money she asks.
Also in China
It’s not the first time Kempinski Hotels is subject of a scandal because of the presence of prostitutes. In October 2013 BBC Newsnight revealed that in the basement of the Kempinski in Qingdao, China, there was a small room with more than ten prostitutes. Whoever wanted to find it had to follow the sign that read ‘Spa’.[hints]Source: BBC Newsnight | China sex trade infiltrates international hotels[/hints]
Although the brothel was located inside the Kempinski, the hotel chain denied the allegations. The Kempinski Hotel issued a statement saying: “While a spa was originally planned for the hotel, hence the signage in the elevators, the actual facility was never approved nor opened or operated by Kempinski Hotels.” The hotel, it said, is connected to a third-party business through a basement passageway that “cannot be closed off for safety reasons”.
The Kempinski could not answer the question why it was that when callers to the hotel’s main desk asked to be transferred to the massage centre, the staff would put them straight through to the pimp in the basement. “Regarding the phone calls I’m afraid that there is no way for us to verify the calls and/or if indeed they were redirected,” the Kempinski stated in its written reply.
By now, the concerned hotel in Qingdao is no longer managed by Kempinski. The chain had already decided to retreat when the BBC published their investigation.
Kempinski knows nothing
The morning after. Two rings lie on my nightstand. Apparently Fatiha had taken them off before she had started to try and pull off her shirt and pants. Now she has forgotten them in my room. They are cheap and shiny. Fake gold, with a little piece of glass in the middle.
I decide to take them to the reception of the hotel. After all, they have registered I brought a visitor with me last night. Fatiha even showed her fake ID.
I feel a little awkward when I ask the receptionist about my guest of the previous night. “She forgot something. Do you have her address?”
“I know nothing”, says the receptionist. “In our system it isn’t registered that you brought someone with.”
By e-mail we confront the Kempinski with our findings. “If you do indeed have the ‘evidence’ you refer to in your e-mail, we would appreciate that you provide it to us”, the spokesperson answers.
“I wish to reiterate that we deny the allegations you have made and that Kempinski Hotels, as an operator of five-star luxury hotels, adheres to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, ensuring the comfort and safety of its guests and always operating within the confines of local and international laws. […] Once again, we reserve all of our rights to defend ourselves against defamatory statements, including our legal rights.”
This story is part of the OneWorld series on Djibouti. In part 1, Fear and Loathing in Djibouti, we revealed how the US waters down signals of human trafficking in favor of the War on Terror. And how the sex industry by American contractors and militaries from other countries continues to expand.
Djibouti is about as big as the state of New Jersey and has less than one million inhabitants. Why Djibouti? The importance of this country should not be underestimated. Djibouti is the American’s African front in the War on Terror. It hosts the single largest drone base in the world. This is where drones take off for attacks on Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Al-Qaeda in Yemen. The total of American troops here has risen to 4000 since 2002. They stay – together with contractors – at Camp Lemonnier. Besides Americans there are French, Japanese, Germans, Spanish and Italian militaries in Djibouti. China announced in November 2015 that it will open its first African military base. In March it was reported that Saudi Arabia also wants to open a base in Djibouti.
Next to soldiers, the country harbors tens of thousands of migrants and refugees from Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. According to the International Organization of Migration yearly 100.000 people cross the sea departing from Djibouti, in an attempt to reach the Middle East.
Although Djibouti is officially a democracy, its president Ismaïl Omar Guelleh has been in power since 1999. In 2010 the parliament, which consisted of members of Guelleh’s party only, changed the constitution so that Guelleh could run for a third term. In December 2015, Guelleh announced that he will run once again. The elections are scheduled for April this year.