There’s no sugar in being a sugar daddy, especially for professors

Wednesday March 18 2020
Oleg Sokolov

Russian professor Oleg Sokolov attends a court hearing in Saint Petersburg on November 11, 2019, after the historian confessed the murder and the dismembering his ex-student lover. PHOTO | OLGA MALTSEVA | AFP

By Austin Bukenya

Do you remember the history teacher who breaks classroom furniture when enacting the battles of Alexander the Great? He is in Nikolai Gogol’s satirical play The Government Inspector, which we also read in Kiswahili as Mkaguzi Mkuu wa Serikali. That teacher is a headache to the mayor of his city, as he, indeed, would be to any mayor or governor of a city, like Nairobi.


But out of Russia here comes another history teacher. This one is a don, a professor of military history at St Petersburg State University. Prof Oleg Sokolov, who liked dramatising episodes from the Napoleonic wars, was recently fished, drunk, out of the River Moika in the famous city. He was carrying a bag containing a gun and the severed body parts of a woman!

It turned out that the body parts in the professor’s bag were those of his “girlfriend” Anastasia Yeshchenko. Horror enough, and not out of a movie but simple, plain reality!

We need not delve further into the gory details. The story has been on several news channels during the week. The professor has confessed to Anastasia’s murder, and he was trying to commit suicide after disposing of her remains.

Three things particularly brought the story home to me. Apart from the main character being a professor, I noted that he is aged 63, while his “girlfriend” was 24.


Equally significantly, the slain woman was a student of Prof Sokolov. Do you see how the story leapt out of wintry Petersburg and landed with shattering relevance on to our campuses, and to my attention and that of my academic colleagues?


Let me strengthen the link with a reference to the recent “sex for grades” investigative journalistic operation in West African universities that led to the interdiction of professors and other eminent academics at the University of Ghana and the University of Lagos.

The affected dons were allegedly caught red-handed, complete with video evidence, soliciting favours from female journalists posing as students.

The West African saga also followed close on a comprehensive report on sexual harassment at Makerere University earlier this year. I remember mentioning to you Prof Barnabas Nawangwe’s passionate concern about the matter, even before he became vice-chancellor at Makerere. You can thus see that the Sokolov-Yushchenko “affaire” (to use a Napoleonic turn of phrase), extreme and gruesome as it is, is not that remote from us, and we would all do well to pause and think.

The reflection arising out of the St Petersburg tragedy is threefold, as we said. As the #MeToo activists alerted us to the realities of sexual exploitation, the predators use an array of tactics to coerce their victims into undesired, undesirable and unsustainable relationships. These include gender, age and status. As you can see in the Russian case, all the cards were stacked in the professor’s favour. To speak of the murdered Anastasia as a “girlfriend” of Prof Sokolov may be plausible in some social sense, since she apparently lived with him, performed with him in his historical enactments and had even “published” works with him. The law might even speak of a “consensual” liaison.


But what real choices did that girl have in the relationship? In age, she was nearly 40 years younger than her “lover” was. (In fact, she had been only 19 when Sokolov pounced on her). In status, she was a student of the man who had propositioned her.

Incidentally, the man was not just an ordinary teacher but an internationally acclaimed scholar, a visiting professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, and a Knight of the “Legion d’Honneur”, France’s highest civilian decoration, rather like an Elder of the Great Heart.

Defenders of predators and exploiters might come up with one of the usual outrages, like, “The girl was an opportunist. She just wanted to get her sexually transmitted degree and then bask in the man’s glory.” You know the types.

In Kenya, whenever a woman is senselessly killed by a maniac, the reaction is, “She must have eaten the man’s money.”

Femicide, the killing of women because they are women, is real and menacingly closer to us than many of us care to admit.


I will end with a word to my colleagues and other elderly souls who might be tempted to go hunting for dazzling young partners.

First, I know the urge is strong, whether to fill social and emotional gaps or reassure ourselves of our elusive attractiveness or evanescent virility. But the temptations must be resolutely resisted. The price to pay for lusting after our daughters’ age mates is far too high to take out of the stock of credibility and social and even physical stability that we have accumulated over the years.

I used the word “lust” advisedly, because I know that it may come easily. But after that, what next? You may want “love” but that is not a happening.

Love is the gradually ripening fruit of accumulated experiences, habits, memories, outlooks and beliefs that people acquire through sharing with one another.

It is not realistic to expect a person more than 20 years younger than you even to begin understanding, let alone cultivating such attachments to you in your twilight years. Even if she stays around for one reason or another, her responses to the relationship and the whole environment are likely to be growing irritation and even impatience at your eccentricities.


This is what makes such relationships particularly unsustainable. A brave young person will walk out of it. A bitter angry one may easily explode into the kind of tragedy that we were talking about.

Meanwhile, you, piteous doddering mzee, will be wracked with insecurity, doubt, suspicion and jealousy, even when your “sugar baby” is right by your side. Then the likelihood is that you will explode and go the way that Prof Sokolov went.

There simply is no sugar in being a “sugar daddy”.

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