Bring on the Porn - the walls surrounding the last bastion of the unmentionable in Africa, fall

Low hanging fruit considering the global porn industry is worth $96 billion.

The African urbanised, middle-class consumer, is the continents’ rapidly expanding entity with an increasing access to a great majority of the world’s produce. From industry to services, there are currently very few sectors which find it difficult to flourish in Africa’s markets.

On a continent with the second highest annual growth rate, of over 5% every year, almost everything is presently possible and almost everything may exist. Everything, except one big player, whose estimated annual global income is said to be $96 billion. The porn industry.

It has been 63 years since Hugh Hefner, with the launch of Playboy, revolutionised the puritan domain of sexuality in America. With its strict religious fitting and tight grip of conservative notions and traditional beliefs, Africa wasn’t prepared to join a global race of controversial expression, and sexuality in particular. But after six decades the African consumer has finally reached a stage where, what was previously unacceptable, is now in increasing demand.

First African porn

In 2010 the first entirely African-produced pornographic movie came out in South Africa. “Mapona vol.1”, as it is called, is an hour-long feature that finally reached audiences after two-years of preparation. The film has become a sensation. In the groundwork of the second volume the production company Sondeza received over 1,000 applications from potential actors and actresses. What’s more, the candidates were not only South African, but Nigerian, Cameroonian and even from the conformist Maghreb. Such pan-African interest in partaking, in what was only recently an inexistent business, is truly fascinating.

Despite pornography being illegal in many African countries, such as Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan and Botswana, where possession of pornographic magazines or films may lead to a 4 year prison sentence, the industry is growing like never before. A gradual shift of Africa’s urban population into the realms of liberal acceptance towards individuality and, consequently, towards different forms of deviance help in diminishing the taboos surrounding the industry. Greater access to all forms of media adds to the delivery of adult entertainment to sex-hungry youths.

A long-performing porn actress, Leila Lopes, says the growing sentiment of African youth for the business is increasingly visible. “There are a lot of taboos about porn and people think that there is something abnormal about it, but the fact is that thousands of people buy porn and it’s an honest day’s work for most of us” she said.

Ms. Lopes’ statement shows that the adult industry is a polarised matter. Nigeria, home to Africa’s second biggest porn industry by revenues, battles with ultra conservative Boko Haram yet at the same time produces films like Destructive Instincts 3 & 4, created by an intriguing Nigerian actress AfroCandy who turned porn director. Out of Nigeria also came The Benjamins, following a life of sex-infested hip-hop parties, and Pregnant Hawkers, dubbed a “gay porn movie”. All of these gained not only national, but continental acclaim, bringing substantial attention to Nollywood’s adult venture.

Class issue

In Kenya one may look at the mpasho.co.ke website to understand how sex and sexuality is perceived by the country’s younger population. The news, entertainment, music & fashion website shows it as being fresh, new and exciting, but most of all is the widespread acceptance and normalisation of sex, at least within a certain class and age. Such limited approval, however, is usual when it comes to controversial industries and is exactly what happened when Playboy was first published – the lower working class boycotted it while the upper middle classes thrived on the long-desired marketed nudity.

Perhaps it is the hypocrisy of the conservative Africans that angers the youth, who turn their eyes onto areas previously considered taboo. Nigeria ranks 5th in the world in google searches for gay porn, yet it remains an undisputed territory for anti-gay sentiments.

Kenya, Uganda and Morocco are no less schizophrenic, but it is to those
countries that Hermes Tours and Heritage Tours attract their gay and lesbian customers.

Pornography in Africa is only officially legal in South Africa, and this could in part be attributed to the high degree of religious conservatism on the continent. Islam, for example, is one of the most predominant religions on the continent and considers pornography to be haram, or a sin. This may seem to some to be a deterrent to successful sex industry - however, appearances may be deceiving.

Somalia’s secret

In Somalia, one of the last countries where adult entertainment may seem possible or available, exists an underground pornographic cinema. A basic room with a TV showing Western sex movies. In the midst of quasi-fanatic social and political conservatism, where sex is more than offensive as a topic of conversation, people still venture to see a video where a blonde women services three guys on a sofa.

Somalis see western adult movies as something outside their culture, which does not fall under typical norms. Nigerians, on the other hand, long ago realised that if they enjoy western porn, why wouldn’t they enjoy its domestic version and make money at the same time?

Many young Africans seem to be saying: “Let’s stop pretending to be innocent and uptight”, their parents, however, remain skeptical, to say the least. In some ways they are right – the sex industry can be dangerous and represents more of a hedonistic approach to life than one of ambition and high achievements. But, nevertheless, it is a part of the new African youth’s interests, and they do not want to be deprived of anything anymore. Porn is the last “bastion of the unmentionable” in Africa. Time will show whether it will remain so for long.

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