Marie Dedieu - kidnapped in her corner of paradise

2nd October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Marie Dedieu, the Frenchwoman abducted from her modest beachfront house, set up home on Manda Island before it was fashionable, becoming a well loved figure in her "corner of paradise."

"Everyone here knows Marie," Abdulla Sultan, a local guide told AFP of the handicapped 66-year-old. "Everyone. Even the small children know her."

"Whenever there was a wedding here she was among the guests. She's very friendly towards people," he said.

"I didn't sleep all night, believe me. I thought it was a nightmare. I knew her," said the guide, a prominent local figure in his own right.

Dedieu settled in the Lamu archipelago some 15 years ago. She first lived on Lamu before moving to Manda Island about seven years ago.

She lives with a Kenyan partner, John Lepapa, 39, who accompanies her on all her trips back to France for medical care and family visits.

The couple had just returned from France on Wednesday, and the timing of the attack leads people close to her to say the kidnappers may have been tipped off about their return.

A photograph in the local press shows a relaxed smiling woman with hair blowing across her face.

"She was a pioneer, among the first people to set up home on Manda. Nothing to do with the very rich celebrity types who followed," said a French diplomat who visited Dedieu at her home last year.

Her home was a traditional Swahili-style house with a thatched roof a couple of metres from the sea.

"It was her little corner of paradise here. That's what she used to call it," the diplomat said.

Dedieu disapproved of the swanky villas richer foreigners have started building nearby, worried about the gap between such ostentation and the lifestyle of the local population, the vast majority of whom are poor.

A serious accident several years ago had left her confined to a wheelchair, an item that her kidnappers left behind.

Friends say that in spite of the accident, she remained very active and continued to do gymnastics.

Dedieu has to take medication every four hours, according to close friend Abdul Alim, who is tourism manager at a prominent local hotel.

"She must be in a lot of pain," he said.

Dedieu also owns an apartment in Paris. Her father lives in the Lorraine region of eastern France.

© 2011 AFP

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