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Gambia Bumsters: What are they and how to stay safe

Gambia Bumsters. If you’ve ever travelled to The Gambia, you will almost certainly have heard of this term. But what exactly are Gambia Bumsters? And how will they affect your holiday? In this blog post I will explain all…

What are Bumsters in Gambia?

A Bumster is a term used locally in The Gambia for a beach boy.

The term Bumster is thought to have its origins from the English word for bum, which is generally associated with beggars, the willingly unemployment and lazy people.

A Bumster is typically a young man who is a member of the host community. He frequently hangs around by the beaches and hotel areas to interact with tourists. 

Bumsters are traders. They are there to make a living, not to be your friend or boyfriend (although they may make it seem this way). Their business focus tends to be on selling tourist activities/ excursions and on selling sexual services to tourists in exchange for money or other benefits.

The notion of ‘selling’ or ‘trading’ may not always be obvious. For example, being invited out by a young man to a social event may not seem like he is trying to sell to you, but in reality this may well be part of a larger ploy to commence a romantic relationship and to then obtain gifts or financial donations from you.

Some argue that the presence of the Gambia Bumsters is a lasting legacy of colonialism. The Gambia was a country that was at the heart of the slave trade and for many years local people lived in a period of time that was dark, marked by white supremacy, racism, and exploitation.

The Gambia has a really interesting and sad history that many tourists are not aware of. I recommend the bestselling book Roots, which you can buy from Amazon here. It makes for a great holiday read!

How to spot a Gambia Bumster

It is pretty obvious when a Gambia Bumster approaches you. But just in case, you’re not sure, here are some of the common things to look out for:

  • Are they wearing a brightly coloured sports vest or t-shirt?
  • Are they wearing Rasta colours of green, yellow and red?
  • Are they aimlessly hanging around?
  • Are they hanging around in places where tourists are likely to come along (the beach, outside a hotel)?
  • Are they hanging around in pairs or groups?

A Gambia Bumster is a confident man. They are no fear of coming up to you and engaging in conversation. Some of the introductory phrases that they may use include:

  • ‘How are you, I hope you are enjoying your holiday?’
  • ‘Alright mate?’
  • ‘Welcome back, it’s good to see you again this year’
  • ‘Is this your first time to Gambia?’

Why do boys/men become Bumsters?

In The Gambia, many people choose to drop out of school because they aspire to become a Gambia Bumster.

Kids working on the beach in The Gambia

These boys think that going to school is a waste of time. They look up to the men that they see working on the beach. The see working as a Gambia Bumster as a ‘road to richness’.

Many of these children will hang around the beach areas, communicating and working with the tourists. They quickly learn that tourists are often very generous. They will often provide the children with gifts, food and money.

As these children grow older they begin to become involved with many different activities that allow them to earn money to take home to their family. Some sell drugs to tourists. Some take tourists on excursions. Some beg the tourists for money. Some steal from the tourists.

Children working on the beach and quitting school to make money from the tourists to take home to their family is not unusual is the developing world. I have seen kids selling string bracelets to backpackers in Cambodia, children begging for money of the streets of Mumbai and children working on the beach in Rio de Janeiro. But what is different about The Gambia, is that these childhood endeavours more often than not lead the young man down the road to sex tourism.

The role of Bumsters in The Gambia sex tourism industry

The Gambia is home to a unique and thriving sex tourism industry. Here, men sell themselves to women in exchange for gifts, money and a visa to a richer country, such as the UK.

Whilst Bumsters do not only offer sexual services, it seems that this is the most prominent part of their ‘job’.

Oftentimes, you will not recognise sex tourism in The Gambia as sex tourism at all. Nor will you view it as a ‘sale’. But in reality, that’s exactly what it is.

There are many, many stories about the Gambia Bumsters and their role in the sex tourism industry. These young, good looking African men embark on relationships with typically middle aged-older Western women, usually from the UK or Europe.

Many women will view said relationship as normal and healthy. It may simply be a holiday romance. Or it may result in a long-distance relationship or even marriage. In the most serious of cases, one person will relocate to live with the other (usually the man is the one who relocates).

But in reality the man is simply doing is ‘job’. A Bumster is a tradesman. And the relationships that he forms are simply a way to make a sale.

So how does a Gambia Bumster make money from sex tourism? No, there are no red light districts, and mostly they do not get paid in the traditional way that a prostitute might. Instead, they ask for gifts, monetary donations and sometimes even a salary from their lover.

Gambia Bumster
A Gambian Bumster that we met on our travels

Women will often return to their home country and send money to the Gambia Bumsters. Sometimes this will turn into a regular salary-like payment. Sometimes the men will ask for large sums of money for things such as medical bills or home repairs.

Whilst the Western woman views this as a loving relationship, the Gambia Bumster views it as business. There are many stories of men who are actually married to a Gambian lady and men who have large families to support. Often the Western woman will know very little of this.

In Africa, the man symbolises sexuality, according to author Rachel Spronk. She explains that the continent of Africa is often described as homogeneous, where the male ability of living in monogamy is questioned and the male sex is considered promiscuous. In effect, therefore, being in multiple relationships simultaneously is not viewed as negative in the way that it is in many parts of the world. And in fact, the family that The Gambia Bumsters is working to support are often proud of his financial achievements, even if this means that they do not seen him often.

In effect, the Gambia Bumsters are looking for women who can provide for them and their families financially. They get involved in pursuit of a more comfortable lifestyle. In this sense, they are viewed by the public as non-commercial and voluntary sex workers.

Should I be scared of The Gambia Bumsters?

Gambia Bumsters can be rather intimidating. I remember being followed down the street by around two dozen men- now that was a bit scary!

In answer to the question ‘should I be scared of The Gambia Bumsters?’, however, the answer should be no.

Whilst Africa as a continent does have a high crime rate, the tourist areas in The Gambia are relatively safe. Obviously, you will need to keep your whits about you, but generally you should be fine.

Like I said, the Gambia Bumsters are tradesman, they are looking for your business. They are not looking to hurt you.

If you do feel intimidated at any time by Gambia Bumsters following or harassing you, then head into a bar or restaurant or hotel. They will probably wait outside for a while and then give up.

Yes, the Gambia Bumsters can be annoying and even intimidating. But they are generally harmless.

The Gambian men are generally very friendly and not scary at all…

The Government crack down against Gambian Bumsters

Tourists generally do not like to be followed and harassed while on holiday and the Gambia Bumsters has had a negative impact on the tourist experience.

The Government have taken the threat posed by the Gambia Bumster problem on the county’s tourism industry very seriously. They have set up the Tourism Security Unit to crack down on it. Security officials, who wear badges stating ‘tourist police’, who work for the unit can be found doing their rounds in the main tourist resorts on a regular basis. Their job is to move The Gambia Bumsters on.

The Government have also set up the The Tourist Guides Training School to find proper, gainful employment for some these young men, to prevent them from becoming a Gambia Bumster. Tourism studies has also been introduced in schools to emphasise how important it is as a foreign exchange earner to the country.

To conclude: The Gambia Bumster

The Gambia is a wonderful place to go on holiday. Whether you’re looking for a beach break, an eco retreat or some Gambia nightlife, there is something for everyone. However, the negative publicity and press surrounding The Gambia Bumsters can be off-putting.

Don’t let these men deter you from visiting this beautiful country! Yes, they can be a nuisance, but just think of it as a cultural experience? And your enjoy your holiday!

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