Italian Space Center in Kenya?

Flag of Kenya

Do you know about the Italian-run Broglio Space Centre (previously known as the San Marco Equatorial Range) located off the coasts of Kenya? Yes… you heard me right, there is an an Italian space center in MalindiKenya. As you recall, Malindi was the first African city the most venerated Chinese maritime admiral Zheng He reached on the horn of Africa in 1418, even before Vasco da Gama? Indeed, Zheng He’s great armada rich of more than 300 ships and as many as 30,000 troops entered the coastal town of Malindi, in modern day Kenya, in 1418. If you are like me, this is quite a news: a space center off the coast of an African country (if you know of others, please let me know), and an Italian presence in Africa tends to be sparse, especially since its defeat at the hands of Ethiopia at the Battle of Adwa, and later during world war II. Can you imagine that the presence of this space center has created such a Kenyan-Italian synergy to the point that the lingua franca on Malindi is Italian? I wonder if they ever hire or train the locals to operate this space center, or to be engineers, technical workforce? From past experience, they probably don’t. Excerpts below are from the BBC. Enjoy!

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Flag of Italy

Malindi, a seaside town by the Indian Ocean that was founded in the 13th Century, is 120km (about 75 miles) north-east of Mombasa and has been known as “Little Italy” since the late 1960s.

The tourist resort is brimming with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops – billboards advertise in Italian, restaurant menus offer after-dinner liquors such as Limoncello and Amaro.

Most people speak Italian – from the Kenyan housekeeper where I stayed and the tuk-tuk drivers who ferried me around, to the waiters and the fisherman hanging around on the beach.

It is the town’s lingua franca. …

The history of the Italians in Malindi goes back to the opening of the Italian-run Broglio Space Centre off Kenya’s coast [32 km from Malindi] in the Indian Ocean. [It started as a partnership between the Italian Space Research Commission and NASA, with 2 offshore launch sites made from old oil platforms, and a mainland communications station].

Broglio Space Centre Platform (Source: NASA on BBC website)

The first Italians to arrive in the town were engineers and scientists, who loved what they found. Word soon spread about Malindi’s miles of pristine beaches, abundance of seafood and good-natured inhabitants [colonization was always like that: good-natured inhabitants who could be fooled easily, and their lands grabbed away].

By the 1970s the community began to take shape, with many settling in Malindi and pursuing opportunities in the tourism industry.

They opened hotels, restaurants, built beach villas and became economically integral in the town.

… The town had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s when tourism boomed and estimates suggest 4,000 Italians lived in the town and 30,000 visited annually.

But a shadier side to Malindi also emerged with allegations that the underage sex trade was rampant, as was the drugs trade and even whispers of the Italian mafia’s presence.

Still the tropical paradise with its hint of noir flourished until a slump began with Italy’s financial crash of 2008.

… But it is still a blissful place to relax and enjoy if you can visit, and while tucking into a delicious plate of crab linguine, I felt transported back in time if not place.

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