For long, there have been whispers about the presence of the Italian Mafia in Kenya and their involvement in organised crime.
The mafia’s presence is said to be concentrated in Malindi, also known as Little Italy, where the Italian population of about 4,000 and at least 30,000 tourists arrive annually, which makes it a good place for criminals, including those on the run after committing crimes elsewhere., to do business.
And now, for the first time, a global report tells of how entrenched the Italian Mafia are in Kenya and their involvement in crime.
According to the report the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, the Italian mafia’s presence in Kenya and East Africa involves drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and money laundering.
The recently published report links Kenyan gangs to Italian Mafias, ranking the country fourth in Africa for organised criminal activities. Kenya is described as a source, transit, and destination for human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour.
“Kenya’s criminal networks are dominated by smaller groups that engage in a variety of illegal activities, including drug trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, commodity smuggling, cattle rustling, extortion, burglary, robbery, money laundering, executions, and assassinations,” the report said, adding, “Recently, there has been a rise in newly formed gangs. These engage in violent activities such as maiming, kidnapping for ransom, and killing innocent civilians for political purposes.
“Some criminal networks have transnational links to counterparts abroad. The Italian mafia is present in Kenya and East Africa, engaging in activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and money laundering. Asian groups are involved in Kenya’s drug and fauna trafficking markets and money laundering schemes, while West Africans are involved in cocaine trafficking,” the report said.
Highlighting Kenya’s strategic location on a common trafficking route between the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, and East Africa to the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, the report notes that traffickers collaborate with law enforcement officials. It states that they exploit porous borders and corrupt officers to facilitate the movement of people, often relying on fraudulent documents obtained through corrupt channels.
It exposes the alarming reality that Kenya is now being exploited as a hub for trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation, both within the region and abroad. The Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit reveals disturbing spikes in online human trafficking recruitment and the exploitation of children.
“As such, flows are usually facilitated by unregistered employment agencies that lack proper documentation, and traffickers often obtain fraudulent documents from corrupt officials,” the report states, emphasising the complicity of both non-registered agencies and corrupt officials in perpetuating this crisis.
Particularly distressing is the trafficking of women and girls to Gulf countries for domestic work, implicating state agencies in facilitating this exploitation. “Despite the Kenyan government’s efforts to regulate labour migration and deregister illegitimate agencies, the report reveals that criminal activity persists, driven further underground,” the report, which ranks Kenya 16th out of 193 countries globally, 4th out of 54 countries in Africa, and holds the top position among the 9 countries in East Africa, said.
Within Kenya, individuals from Uganda and Nepal are reportedly trafficked for sexual exploitation, alongside Eritreans, Ethiopians, and Somali refugees facing exploitation. The report also sheds light on a rise in the smuggling of Tanzanians into the country for forced begging.
The report said that the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit reports alarming spikes in online human trafficking recruitment and child exploitation, marking a disturbing trend that poses a severe threat to the most vulnerable in society.
“Kenya’s role has shifted from being a destination to a transit country for human smuggling in East Africa. Kenyan and Ugandan recruitment agencies reportedly collaborate in these operations, taking advantage of inadequate enforcement of immigration laws due to corrupt state officers,” it read.
Operating with impunity
Criminal gangs in Kenya, notorious for extortion and protection rackets, further compound the issue. These gangs operate with impunity in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, influencing public service provisions and engaging in criminal activities ranging from drug trafficking to human smuggling.
“Despite the Kenyan government’s efforts to regulate labour migration and deregister illegitimate agencies, criminal activity has persistently gone further underground,” the report said.
The collusion between these criminal gangs and corrupt public officials undermines the state’s response to the problem, allowing gangs to seize control of essential services. The report indicates that some gangs even have ties to politics, influencing local elections through violence.
“As such, flows are usually facilitated by unregistered employment agencies that lack proper documentation, and traffickers often obtain fraudulent documents from corrupt officials,” the report said.
Corruption in Kenya is deeply systemic, reaching various levels of society. Drug traffickers, politicians, and police forces are implicated, with some politicians accused of offering protection to criminal syndicates. Mafia-style groups have a significant impact on democratic processes, particularly in Nairobi and Mombasa, where they influence local elections through violence.
The report added that efforts by the Kenyan government to combat organized crime are hindered by corruption and criminal influence in politics. It also said that populism, bribery, and known criminals running for office contribute to the challenge.
The report said political parties, sponsored by individuals involved in drug trafficking, often fail to condemn organized crime publicly.
“In general, Kenya faces a significant struggle in tackling the complex web of human trafficking and organized crime due to systemic corruption and criminal influence permeating various sectors of society,” the report said, adding, “The gravity of the situation demands urgent and comprehensive action to protect the vulnerable and dismantle the networks perpetuating this heinous crime.”