The story of how a Kenyan beach town is a favourite hideout for some of Italy’s most notorious Mafia members would make a very believable Hollywood story.
But we do not have to wait for the movie. Malindi Bay on the Kenyan coast plays as the luxurious home and largely unproblematic hideout of some Mafia members.
This has been the case for at least, the last decade, according to multiple reports.
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Malindi, with its beach resorts and detachment from the business of Mombasa, has become the place of choice for Italian tourists in general – among which are the bad nuts.
And in known Mafia-fashion, these criminals pay up until the law and its officers are on the side of the crime.
In 2012, Kenya’s Standard Media was one of the first to carry reports about the already established trend. One of the reports quoted a description of the situation by a member of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).
“They have taken full control of Malindi. They are in control of police, courts and lawyers…They have established a club of impunity. The town is full of foreign thieves and it is very easy for anyone to come and stay here”.
But even then, the police in Malindi rejected the LSK’s characterisation of the situation, lest it made the police complicit in the crimes of the Mafia.
But it is not just the Mafia who are in Malindi, even by the police’s admission in 2012. Criminals from central and eastern Europe also find Malindi conducive to their purposes.
Tourism is the number one generator of revenue for Malindi. Apart from its beach resorts, the place is home to a marine park and forest reserve with elephants and more than 200 bird species.
Tourism money forces one to contextualise the stoic responses of Malindi’s local government to the accusations that the town is a place where some of the world’s shadiest people love to spend money.
There is no telling how much the criminals spend in the beach town since numbers do not exist.
But what they spend on entertainment may not be the only way criminals put money into the local economy. Malindi offers opportunities to those who seek to launder money through the hospitality business.
And then, there are the drugs.
Megan Iacobini De Fazio, after a trip to Malindi, wrote for The Daily Beast that there is widespread understanding that illicit drugs are available for purchase.
This is supported by a Wikileak cable from 2015 which quotes a US ambassador saying foreigners “are involved in feeding the town’s skyrocketing illegal drug consumption”.
The East African drug trade, in particular, has recently been identified as a booming business. Countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia have been beneficial to the illicit trade thanks to poor security and corruption at seaports.
Malindi has also been plagued by a sustained level of commercial sex work thanks to the Mafia and others.
The Daily Beast report mentions Mario Mele, a man convicted in his home country of Italy for fraud in 2017. But before he was arrested and extradited, Mele run clubs and joints where he made “Ladies Wet T-shirt Contest” and “Waitress in Bikini Night” traditions.
These were signifiers of the in-demand sex tourism that brought together young women with few economic opportunities and criminals with cash to burn.
Recently, some arrests of criminals, as well as political rhetoric, have boosted hopes that Malindi will be sanitised. This, however, remains to be seen even as life moves fast and fun in the little beach town.