Riches ebb and flow in Kenya resort

Winners and losers as global financial crisis hits Kenya’s “Italian playground”.

malindi - kenya
Beach traders feel the pinch as tourism drops off in Kenya’s Little Italy [Mohammed Adow]

Al Jazeera is following the effects of the global recession on five towns across the globe. Mohammed Adow reports from Malindi in Kenya.

A small town on the Kenyan Coast is bearing the brunt of the global recession – lending authority to the belief that the world is, after all, a global village.  

Also known as Little Italy because of the huge presence of Italians, Malindi is facing an economic crisis no less than most European cities.

Tourism, Malindi’s mainstay, is at risk of total collapse as fewer tourists head to the scenic town for a holiday.

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There is little economic activity going on, many people have lost their jobs as numerous businesses close.

Malindi, which is at the centre of a strip of idyllic tropical beaches, offers visitors a range of world class resorts and quiet relaxing hideaways.

It conjures up visions of a great historic town. Malindi has journeyed through many eras with much pomp and flair from the time of the early Chinese and Arab traders to the Portuguese sailors and, later still, the European settlers who – alongside other investors – transformed it into a reputable tourist destination.

But it is, perhaps, the warmth and hospitality of its people that have made Malindi even more popular. 

Empty beaches

However, faced by dwindling incomes – European tourists have given Malindi a wide berth – its scenic beaches are almost empty and this is having a huge impact on the lives of Malindi’s residents.

We found 20-year-old Mapenzi Kayi, who sells textiles on the beach, sleeping in her stall.

Like most other traders in Malindi, her small business is her family’s livelihood.

Being the eldest in her family has bestowed the responsibility of fe

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nding for her two brothers and ailing mother. Almost all her customers are tourists mostly from Italy. She says business is bad.

“I haven’t sold anything for a week now. We open every morning and leave with nothing… we don’t even have lunch. In the evening, when I reach home, my brothers want me to bring food but I can’t.

“I would have looked for another job but I am not educated,” she said.

Around 70,000 people live in Malindi and most rely on the declining tourism industry to earn a living.

It is a trade dominated by foreigners, however, as most of the holiday villas and hotels are owned by Italians.

With an already high unemployment rate of 32 per cent, the prevailing conditions could impoverish many more.

Most of Malindi’s youth are tour guides, known locally as “beach boys”. They help tourists access good spots along the beach for swimming and getting around town.

With fewer tourists in Malindi, long lines of idle “beach boys” form on the sandy shoreline every morning as they wait to see what the day will bring. Competition among them is high and brawls over tourists common.

European investors

However, it is not all bleak in Malindi. Amidst all the grim news and statistics, investors are flocking here to buy property on its unique beaches.

Estate agents have been doing brisk business of late in selling holiday villas and apartments.

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Gianfranco Freguscia, a property salesman, is one of those at the centre of this business. He says there has been a steady increase of European investors buying property in Malindi. 

When we visited his Karibu Holiday Resort he was showing one of his villas to a group of investors from Italy. Most property investors are drawn by Malindi’s serenity as a holiday resort and the stability in its property market.

They are mostly people avoiding Europe’s current uncertain investment climate.

“They want to be sure their money is safe and in good businesses. I think, for that reason, in Malindi there is a lot of requests [about] buying property,” he says. 

The global recession has dealt a blow to tourism in Malindi, but its people are optimistic that the tough times will soon pass and their town will recover from this slump as it has done many times before.

After all it is Malindi – the Italian playground in Kenya.

Source: Al Jazeera

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