Malindi retains its glamour as historical town
By PAUL GITAU
Malindi town sits calmly on the beaches as the high tide soothes Indian Ocean’s coastline.
Its serene environment and unique cultures show the beauty of one of Kenya’s oldest towns.
The expansive beaches and scenic shoreline once attracted 15th century Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama to Malindi.
The legendary explorer left a landmark in Malindi, the Vasco da Gama’s Pillar, which attracts thousands of local and international tourists.
Arab occupation of the area also left several landmarks such as the Gede National Monument and other ruins in Malindi and Mambrui.
Their interaction with other groups gave birth to the Swahili culture, which dominates the area.
It is also believed that Chinese and Iraqi monarchies had their representatives in the area before the 14th centuries as evidenced by ruins near the Malindi Gold Club (Iraqi) and Mambrui village (Chinese).
In recent history, Malindi’s unique and scenic beaches have attracted a large number of visitors, mainly Italians, Britons and Germans.
Many have settled in the town.
Some Italians have made homes along the silver beaches of Malindi.
These include about 1,500 makuti thatched luxury villas, which are both homes and cottage hotels, surround Malindi town. It is estimated over 70 per cent are owned by Italians.
Their arrival is traced to the 1970’s when the Italian government established a space centre to launch probe rockets, the San Marco Space Centre. The presence of the rocket launch station is said to have attracted hundreds of Italians who came as tourists and stayed.
The population of resident Italians in Malindi town and its environs, estimated at slightly over 3000, is the largest of any resident European population anywhere in the country.
The Italian Embassy is the only foreign mission with a consulate in the small town.
According to Italian Consul Roberto Macri, there are over 8,000 estates, which include hotels, villas, cottages, pizzerias and restaurants owned by Italians.
Mr Macri says Italians control at least 90 per cent of Malindi’s economy, offering thousands of employment opportunities to locals.
Malindi, with at about 25 tourist beach hotels, has some of the most exclusive five-star resorts in Kenya.
World starts like super model Naomi Campbell and Formula One personality Flavio Biatorre are frequent visitors to some of Malindi’s top luxury spots.
Some of the town’s luxury gems, like Hemingways hotel are mentioned in international travel books and features.
Malindi town, which is situated in the North Coast barely 120 kilometers North, has been growing at a tremendous speed.
The town mainly depends on Tourism and salt manufacturing industries. However, it has great potential for farming and fishing, which are yet to be fully exploited.
A resident Joshua Kazungu says the town’s name was adopted from a Giriama phrase Mali I Ndi (Plenty of hidden wealth), which the tourists could not pronounce.
According to 1999 census, Malindi had a population of 300,000 but the numbers have grown to more than 500,000.
About 50 kilometres North of Malindi lie six salt manufacturing companies which also play pivotal role in the area’s economy. They include Kensalt, Mombasa Salt, Krystaline, Kemu Salt, Malindi Salt and Kurawa salt manufacturing firms.
The manager of Malindi Salt Works Mohammed Awadh says the firm employs at least 600 workers, supporting hundreds of families in Fundisa and Gongoni locations.
"This means at least 3,600 people in Magarini are employed by salt firms and this is their sole source of income," said Mr Awadh.
The residents also engage in fishing but lack sophisticated fishing gear to venture into the deep sea.
Chairman of Malindi Marine Association Athman Seif says fishing has not been productive due to lack of right equipment.
Mr Seif blames the Government for failing to give artisanal fishermen modern gear to promote commercial fishing.
Malindi Town clerk Geoffrey Katsole says the council is working hard to improve services to local people and investors by erecting streetlights from the Malindi Airport to Casaurina and Mambrui.
He says the council wants to make Malindi a 24-hour economic hub. The council has bought three garbage collection trucks and expects to acquire another next month in a bid to boost sanitation.
The council derives 80 per cent of its revenue from tourism. Through partnership, the council is in the process of starting an aqua-culture project at Sabaki at a cost of Sh1 billion.
The project is expected to create employment for over 3000 residents.
Mr Katsole says the importance of improving infrastructure to attract more investment and vistirs to the tourist metropolis cannot be overemphasized.
"The Mombasa-Malindi Highway has been under repair for more than two years and there is need to speed up the project so that tourists can travel with ease from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa to Malindi," says Katsole.
But the expansion of Malindi Airport has not been forthcoming. While tourism stakeholders want the airport expanded to international status, there has not been a clear response from the Government.
Kenya Airports Authority deputy Managing Director William Wamalwa recently said the corporation had no money for the expansion.