How Italian mafia fuels criminality and prevents local businesses from growing

24 Gen

Mwinyi has been working in the tourism industry both in Italy and Kenya for several years. After selling his travel agency in Italy, he decided to go back to Kenya in order to bring what he called “an alterative tourism”.

After years of experience as a tour operator in Italy, Mwinyi wanted to run a travel agency in Watamu – a town on the Kenyan coast – and promote a sustainable tourism.
Little he knew that his plans would be obstructed by the Italian mafia, which, in the past decades, has managed to monopolise the tourism sector in the coastal resort towns of Watamu and Malindi.

Italian mafiosi who come to Kenya become businessmen,” Mwinyi told African Voices. “If a company that organises trips and safaris in Watamu and Malindi is not led by an Italian businessman, everybody disregards such company and spreads false rumours,” he claimed. “However, as soon as an Italian businessman takes the lead, the attitude towards the company changes in a more positive way.”
Mwinyi went on alleging that after explaining his project to a group of Italian businessmen, he was offered financial support to open his agency.

However, during a dinner with the businessmen, he heard them conversing in Italian about him, with some suggesting he could be useful for their business given his knowledge of the Italian language. The men made Mwinyi understand that they would be implicated in his business.

They told me: Listen, if you behave well, your and your family’s problems will disappear,” Mwinyi continued and then explained that he was threatened after rejecting the proposal.

Mwinyi went on alleging that the Italian mafia is also doing business in the volunteering sector, where Italian women receive donations for humanitarian projects that the mafia will then use for its interests.

The real estate sector is also monopolised by Italian mafiosi,” he continued. “They always look for Italians willing to pay cash for houses. Rich Africans in Nairobi find it very difficult to buy a house because mafiosi want to be paid in cash and the transaction has to occurr in Italy.”

Referring to the widespread corruption in every sector of Kenyan society, Mwinyi said: “In a poor country such as Kenya, money speaks louder than truth. Money speaks and the truth remains silent and all mafiosi pay lawyers very well and this cycle continues.

It is impossible for an African businessman not affiliated with the mafia to open an office and run a business, even if they have the money to do so. Italians like to be the bosses, they like to colonise, it’s in their blood. They have found their paradise here in Kenya,” he concluded.

Jobs denied to locals

Mwinyi’s case is not a rare episode in Kenya, where (Italian and non) criminal organisations are widespread. The presence of the Italian mafia in Kenya is perceived not only as an obstacle to local development, but also as a magnet for prostitution and drug trafficking.

In a 2005 classified document later leaked by WikiLeaks, US diplomats described Malindi as a town where Italians proliferated. The document read: “Hundreds of Italians – and upcountry Kenyans – dominate the town’s economic lifeline. Some are involved in feeding the town’s skyrocketing illegal drug consumption. Political and/or police protection is likely. The town’s Muslim majority, meanwhile, shun (or are denied) jobs in the beer-drinking, pork-eating and immodest tourist trade.”
The document went on explaining that since Italians preferred to do business with their fellow expats, local youths were denied employment and, as a result, they resorted to drug trafficking and prostitution.

Kenya’s “bandit economy”

Little seems to have changed since the 2005 document. In 2012, Kenyan journalist Paul Gitau wrote an article for the Standard Digitals explaining how Malindi had become an extension of Sicily, given the grip the Italian mafia had on the coastal town.

Earlier this month, Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga warned the country’s economy had become “a bandit economy”. He said cartels affiliated to politicians and terror groups ruled over the different sectors of Kenyan society.
Mutunga said that mafia-style criminals in Kenya, which he compared to Al Capone’s mob in 1920s America, collect “millions every day”. He also warned that Kenyan citizens were at war with these cartels “run by political bosses and corrupt businesspeople”, but leaders ready to face them should be prepared to the consequences including “being exiled or even killed”.

by Ludovica Iaccino,
Journalist, London.
@LudovicaIaccino

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