Malindi has the rare distinction of being the only town in Kenya where foreigners of European extraction make and live by their own rules. Indeed, indigenous politicians as well as government administrators posted to the coastal town who have attempted to re-draft the unwritten rule that Malindi is an Italian town in Kenya, have lived to regret after they were mysteriously voted out, in case of politicians, or posted to other stations, in the case of government administrators.
It is also the only town shielded from the local fare of partisan politics as the Italian community in Malindi care less about who is in power in the town as long as those who call the shot play by the rules they dictate. In developing Malindi to their taste and style, the Italian community has made the Kenyan town the most attractive destination for several billionaires looking for a hide-away on the African shores.
Cashing in on the potential, Formula One icon, Flavio Briatore, intends to put up a world’s exclusive Billionaires Club at the Kenyan town, a project in which he is partnering with former Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi. Word is that the latter could make Malindi his permanent abode after his tribulations back home. Other globe notables who have graced Malindi with a visit are philanthropist billionaire, Bill Gates, modelling queen, Naomi Campbell and renowned sportsmen, Michael Schumacher and Luciano Pavarotti.
AC Milan club players have also enjoyed a holiday at the Kenyan paradise town. But while the Italian investments have been a boom to the Kenyan economy, of late concern have been raised that rogue foreigners, mainly Italians and some Germans, are increasingly but discreetly taking control of Malindi. No less a person than Flavio Briatore was among the first to raise alarm in a rare interview with the local media in 1998.
He had cautioned that “some characters were soiling names of the legitimate Italian investors in Malindi” and asked the government to vet the newcomers. He was quoted saying: “You might have a guy who was a butcher in Italy coming here and pretending to be an architect or engineer. The government should not allow that type of an “investor” who could as well be habouring ulterior motives.”
But it would appear that relevant authorities either didn’t have the capacity to act as cautioned by the Formula One icon and leading investor in Malindi, or were compromised not to take action at all. Though spoken in whispers, word is widespread that the Mafia have identified Malindi as the rare gem in their territorial expansion, especially in the control of the drug trafficking from contacts in South America.
Malindi has become attractive conduit, foremost because of complicity of greedy and corruptible Kenyan bureaucracy. For Kenyan administrators, a transfer to Malindi becomes a passport to wealth and regular trips abroad, fully paid for, hence the fact that no major prosecutions of drug traffickers or their local acolytes has been heard of in Malindi, despite reported interceptions by security personnel.
The influx of undesirable elements from the Italian underworld to Kenya kicked off in earnest after Italian authorities intensified a crackdown at Cosa Nostra (the Italian Mafia) that had infiltrated the government services to a point of making it impotent. The crackdown had many of the criminals given safe passage to South America and then to Malindi, where they re-created themselves as “genuine” businessmen and women. What is now known as the notorious Malindi culture of drugs and prostitution is traceable to this new crop of Malindi “investor”.
But just like in Sicily where Italian Mafia thrived, a curtain of silence (Omerta) has engulfed their operations in the tourist resort of Malindi. Because of their deep pockets, thanks to proceeds from drug and human trafficking, the Malindi Mafia is able to enforce silence either through co-option or coercion. Unlike Mombasa where one hears of police crackdown on inter-continental crimes, Malindi sits pretty, thanks to the strict Omerta.
A visit to the Italian enclaves in the outlying Malindi suburbs will show how difficult it is to crack down on the trade, especially when even police stations like in Angels Bay is ensconced inside the out-of-bounds villa estates suspected to be home to international villains. Suspected Mafia control of Malindi economy has began to be felt in the real estate sector where prices have gone through the roof, in the process making sure it is the Mafia who determine who settles in the coastal town.
Of course, the reason why their presence will not fade away any time soon has now been enhanced by influence over decision makers who are said to be on the take from the local Mafia. The same is the story with local law enforcement machinery. A story is told of a judicial officer in the town who was so enmeshed in underworld operations and grew so rich that she rarely knew who she was consorting with, which led to spectacles of absurdity to an extent her superiors in Nairobi had to take action.