Ten heavily armed gunman reportedly stormed the beach near Lamu island in Kenya early this morning, firing shots, and abducting an handicapped Frenchwoman from her sea front grass hut.
According to Lamu police, the gunmen and their hostage “went out into the open sea”.
Around 2 AM, residents of Shella, a small European enclave near Lamu, awoke to the sound of gun shots and found nightwatchmen with flashlights frantically searching the shores of the exclusive Manda island for the Frenchwoman.
Residents of Lamu know well the petite 65 year old, Marie Dedieu, a former journalist. She had arrived from France the day before to settle into her simple Robinson Crusoe-style grass hut, where for decades she had wintered.
This latest kidnapping comes on the heels of the murder and abduction on September 11th of two tourists at Kiwayu Safari Village less than 25 miles from the Somali border. Two gunmen shot dead the husband and abducted his wife presumed to now to be in Somalia in the hands either of Al Shabab or pirates.
The lay out of the Frenchwoman’s home on Manda island was similar to the accommodation provided at Kiwayu Safari Village where just two weeks ago the Tebbutt incident took place — a grass hut with no locks right on the beach. Stips of grass matting hung like a beaded curtain and was all that separated her from a coast that – although nearby an exclusive boutique hotel – is in many ways still the wild African coast.
As this latest victim was disabled and defenseless, she was ripe for the picking.
According to a witness, a total of three shots were fired; one inside the hut to scare the Frenchwoman and her two house-girls. Two more shots were fired in the direction of a nearby compound, where tourists were renting bandas.
The gunmen reportedly forced the two house girls to carry the Frenchwoman to the boat and took off in 15 horsepower (TK) engine. Witnesses also noted that the boat had engine trouble while leaving the beach.
The easy approach onto Manda island beach is also similar to that of Kiwayu Safari Village. Authorities have already arrested an elderly employee of Manda Lay, a compound of bandas rented to tourists.
Witness on Manda island (not to be confused with Manda Bay Resort) said they had several times called Lamu police emergency 999 number, but no one answered.
An exchange of gunfire between police and the suspected gunmen was reported this morning off the coast of Mkononi, the fishing town nearest to Kiwayu Safari Village, where the Tebbutt incident took place. Gunman there reportedly open fire at the police with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) from their boat. Police didn’t return fire for fear of harming the hostage.
Just as media coverage of the Tebbutt murder-abduction was beginning to die down, this abduction on land and well within legal jurisdiction of Kenya will no doubt revive further speculation as to whether pirates or Al Shabab have adopted a new MO.
It now appears as though anyone — tourists and seasonal residents alike — trying to live the simple, primitive life in a hut on northern coast of Kenya is vulnerable to whims of armed thugs.
The only responses to the Tebbutt and Manda kidnappings appear to have been through the private initiatives of local tour operators, who have sent their own boats and small aircraft to search for hostages.
Residents and tour operators are expressing outrage and frustration that the Kenyan government hasn’t taken more militant proactive measures to protect tourists from armed thugs who are all too aware of Kenya’s poor security along the coast.
Tourism, the country’s biggest revenue earner, will suffer in the beautiful Lamu archipelago, a region having the bad luck of being situated perilously close to Somalia, a failed state and considered one of the world’s most dangerous places on earth.
Loss of jobs – from hotel staff to boat drivers – will no doubt have a trickle down effect as far away as Nairobi, where tourists stay before heading on safari and to the coast.
Though environmentalists and some locals oppose the imminent construction of the deep water Lamu Port, its presence could guarantee security in the region.
Categories: Conflict In Context - Field Notes