A heavily armed band of Somalis kidnapped Marie Dedieu, once a prominent French feminist, from the tourist island of Manda off the coast of Kenya on October 1. She had lived there for some years following health problems that left her wheelchair-bound. According to the press, her kidnappers took her without her wheelchair or medications. The French government tried to send her medications, but her captors refused to give them to her, according to French news reports. She died on October 19. The French authorities are still trying to recover her body.
The French, Kenyan, and Somali governments are expressing outrage. According to the New York Times, French Foreign Minister Juppé called the kidnappers “savages.”
The kidnapping may be part of a pattern of Somali attacks on tourist facilities—one million tourists visited Kenya last year, including about 174,000 from the United Kingdom and roughly 108,000 from the United States. (The Kenyan ministry of tourism has requested government funding for a new six month marketing campaign to assuage safety concerns.) These attacks have been part of the Kenyan government’s justification for its incursion into southern Somalia. Commentators in the region have been quick to identify the attacks as the work of al-Shabaab.
In the case of Marie Dedieu’s horrific death, it may be too soon to label it international terrorism. Kidnapping and piracy in the Horn are ubiquitous, and often the motivation is money. Rather than having a political purpose, the kidnappers may have been criminals looking for ransom. However, if it is true that the kidnappers denied her French-supplied medicine, that would indicate they were not concerned to keep her alive so that she could be ransomed. On the other hand, the French ministry of defense is saying that the kidnappers are trying to sell her body, indicating a mercenary motive.
In any event, this tragedy will likely have political consequences, at least in the short-term. It will probably strengthen international sympathy for the Kenyan incursion into Somalia, and it may dampen domestic Kenyan opposition to it. That said, the history of outside incursions into Somalia is sad, and even with international approbation, Kenya’s intervention is high-risk.