John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Rising HIV and “Sugar Daddies” in Uganda

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
March 18, 2013

A mural on the side of an academic building on the campus of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. June 2009. (Courtesy Brooke Bocast)


This is a guest post by Brooke Bocast, a PhD candidate in anthropology at Temple University and a visiting predoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on gender, consumption, and higher education in Uganda.

Uganda’s HIV rates are on the rise again. According to the 2011Uganda Aids Indicator Survey, 7.3 percent of the population is HIV positive, compared with 6.4 percent in 2005. International donors, NGOs, and the Ugandan government are scrambling to account for, and retard, this latest trend.

UNAIDS points to cross-generational sexual relationships, commonly referred to as “sugar daddy” relationships, as a significant driver of intergenerational HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. These relationships run rampant on college campuses across Uganda, and other African nations. University women tend to date wealthy older men in exchange for luxury commodities and entry into the Uganda’s booming, and increasingly high-end, nightlife scene.

The mural in the photo above on an academic building on the Makerere University campus in Kampala, in which a young woman is exhorted to reject such material incentives and “care about tomorrow,” exemplifies public health measures to counteract this phenomenon. However, such campaigns have so far failed to galvanize Ugandan youth. In the words of one female student, “no one is going to tell me not to see a sugar daddy, when that is what makes me happy.” It is tempting to dismiss such statements as youthful impertinence, but this simple declaration comprises complex desires for romance, security, and the promises of a “modern” life.

Young women’s values and sentiments, like those expressed above, undergird the latest developments in Uganda’s HIV transmission patterns. As PEPFAR continues to fund expansive HIV prevention programs in Uganda and surrounding countries—in many cases targeting youth—it behooves us to take seriously these young people’s assertions. After all, a sick population is an insecure population, and Uganda’s college campuses may be getting sicker.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by C Suter

    What strikes me after reading this interesting blog entry is that the approach is for the young and the female to stem sugar daddy HIV transmission. Is it also possible for the sugar daddies themselves, the older males, to change? If there are barriers to that additional approach, what are they? The US-raised and -educated in me is uncomfortable with only one party being responsible for what is inherently a two-party (or more) situation.

  • Posted by JTC

    I couldn’t agree more with the previous comment. It is a huge oversight to correlate “young women’s values” to the rise in HIV/AIDS without mentioning the circumstances under which they make these choices OR the the men involved.

  • Posted by Brooke Bocast

    Hello, I am the author of the post and I agree with the perspectives of the previous two commenters, and thank them for taking the time to comment. The post was meant to highlight the limitations of current public health strategies that overwhelmingly target young women in behavioral change campaigns. These approaches are limited precisely because of the complicated socio-cultural, historical, and political dynamics that shape interactions between men and women in contemporary Uganda. With that in mind, I believe that we DO have something to learn from examining why female students make certain choices, and not just for the insight this may lend regarding disease transmission patterns, but for what it can tell us about emerging ways of being among urban African youth.

  • Posted by Tim

    Hi Brooke, this is a fascinating post. I’m a producer at BBC planning a programme on this topic – do you think I could give you a call in the coming day or two? What’s the best way to contact you? Thanks, Tim

  • Posted by Aidah Nalubowa

    I am tempted to agree with the above comments but i also strongly believe targeting these young ladies is utmost the most practical thing. And these are my reasons;

    First of all, in a sugar daddy – sugar babe relationship clearly the girl has more to loose than this old man who has lived through his youth days, made his money and made a life for himself. Of course, he couldn’t care less what is at stake for the girl he is going out with. Personally i would rather talk to the girl that has more to loose than the man.

    I was once told by an old woman that i have “the key”, what she mean’t was that the power to make the decision of sleeping with a man or not is entirely with me. We all know that if a girl doesn’t consent to it then a relationship, in this case, sex, can not happen and if it does, then that is another case altogether.(Rape) So if there are no girls to chase around, these pot-bellied men will probably rest.

    This does not mean that there shouldn’t be campaigns targeting these old men but at the time where resources are limited. A plea to the girls makes more sense.

    Lastly, as one of the people who came up with the message and painted the mural, i want to thank the author for using the photo of the mural. It shows that the campaign against Cross generation sex goes on.

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