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Boko Haram Kidnaps Hundreds, Tells Stories of Chibok Girls

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In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. Dorcas Aiden, 20 years old , speaks to a journalist in Yola, Nigeria. Dorcas Aiden was another of the girls caught in Boko Haram’s siege. She had finished high school and was living at home when the war came to her village. Fighters took her to a house in the town of Gulak and held her captive for two weeks last September. The more than 50 teenage girls crammed into the house were beaten if they refused to study Quranic verses or conduct daily Muslim prayers, she says. When the fighters got angry, they shot their guns in the air. Aiden finally gave in and denied her Christian faith to become Muslim, at least in name, she says. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)

In this photo taken Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. Dorcas Aiden, 20 years old, speaks to a journalist in Yola, Nigeria. Dorcas Aiden was another of the girls caught in Boko Haram’’s siege. She had finished high school and was living at home when the war came to her village. Fighters took her to a house in the town of Gulak and held her captive for two weeks last September. The more than 50 teenage girls crammed into the house were beaten if they refused to study Quranic verses or conduct daily Muslim prayers, she says. When the fighters got angry, they shot their guns in the air. Aiden finally gave in and denied her Christian faith to become Muslim, at least in name, she says. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)

CHIKA ODUAH, Associated Press

YOLA, Nigeria (AP) — When Islamic extremists snatched more than 270 girls from the Chibok boarding school in Nigeria in the dead of night, protests broke out worldwide. The U.S. pledged to help find them, and the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was born.

Some 10 months later, most are still missing. The Boko Haram extremist group sees the mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success, and has abducted hundreds of other girls, boys and women. The militants brag to their new captives about the surrender of the Chibok girls, their conversion to Islam and their marriage to fighters.

“They told me the Chibok girls have a new life where they learn to fight,” says Abigail John, 15, who was held by Boko Haram for more than four weeks before escaping. “They said we should be like them and accept Islam.”

The kidnappings reflect the growing ambition and brazenness of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose an Islamic state across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Some 10,000 people have died in the Islamic uprising over the past year, compared to 2,000 in the previous four years, according to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s devastating,” said Bukky Shonibare, an activist in Abuja, of the kidnappings. “It makes you wonder, what is being done?”

John was among three girls interviewed by The Associated Press who recently escaped from Boko Haram. While their stories could not be independently verified, they were strikingly similar, and all spoke of their captors’ obsession with the Chibok girls.

The girls had no idea whether the militants were telling the truth or making up stories to taunt their victims. John says the fighters enjoyed relating how they had whipped and slapped the Chibok girls until they submitted.

When the Nigerian air force dropped a bomb on the house where John was confined, she tried to escape, she says. She wrestled with the fighters, but they broke her am and hauled her off to another house.

At the end of last year, the Nigerian army liberated the town where she was held. She is now in Yola with her father, sister and six brothers, in a house overcrowded with refugees. She finally was able to get medical attention for her fractured right arm, which remains in a cast.

The kidnappings of the Chibok girls in April brought Boko Haram to the world’s attention in a way the group could not have imagined. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was tweeted more than 480,000 times globally in early May, and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama held it up in a sign to television cameras. She said at the time, “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters …we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

Yet in the 10 months since, Boko Haram has increased the tempo and ferocity of its insurgency. In August, it began seizing and holding towns, and — copying the Islamic State group — declared it would recreate an ancient Islamic caliphate in the region. The fighting has since spilled across Nigeria’s borders, and the African Union this month authorized a multinational force of 8,750 troops to try to stamp it out.

Dorcas Aiden, 20, was another of those caught in Boko Haram’s siege. She had finished high school and was living at home when the war came to her village. Fighters took her to a house in the town of Gulak and held her captive for two weeks last September.

The more than 50 teenage girls crammed into the house were beaten if they refused to study Quranic verses or conduct daily Muslim prayers, she says. When the fighters got angry, they shot their guns in the air. Aiden finally gave in and denied her Christian faith to become Muslim, at least in name, she says.

One day, the fighters stormed into the room where she was kept locked up with a dozen other girls. They showed a video of the Chibok girls, dressed in hijabs, with only their faces visible through their veils. Aiden says she was so overwhelmed that she cried.

The fighters said the Chibok girls were all Muslims now, and some were training as fighters to fight women, which Boko Haram men are not supposed to do.

Aiden’s captors boasted about how they had married off the Chibok girls, she says. One fighter said he would marry her. She balked.

“I said, ‘No, I will not marry you,'” Aiden recounts. “So he pulled out a gun and beat my hand.”

Aiden says the insurgents threatened to break the legs of any girl who tried to escape, but she and six others ran anyway. As she made her way through abandoned farm fields, she noticed that Boko Haram had filled about 10 other houses with kidnapped girls and women.

Aiden, who is now in Yola with tens of thousands of other refugees, dreams of going to university, in defiance of the extremists’ insistence that girls should be married, not educated. The nickname Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden or sinful.”

Another escapee, a shy 16-year-old captured in September, begs that her name not be published because she escaped only a few weeks ago and believes the fighters are actively searching for her. After the girl’s village was attacked four times, she fled to a great-aunt. Then that village also was targeted, she says.

The fighters held her for four months. When she escaped, she walked through the bush and across the border into Cameroon to avoid areas under Boko Haram’s control. She is now taking refuge in a Catholic church in Yola.

All the girls say they were not raped, despite the fears of some villagers. Instead, the fighters said they wanted the girls to remain virgins until they were married off.

“They said they are doing the work of God, so they will not touch us,” the 16-year-old recounts.

As she tells her story, she fidgets and looks down at her hands, clasped in her lap. She recounts how one fighter, nicknamed “Tall Arab,” was set on marrying her. She pleaded that she was too young, but was told, “Do you think you are better than those Chibok girls that we kidnapped?”

The man told her the Chibok girls were “enjoying their matrimonial homes,” she remembers. He also said the Chibok girls had turned against their parents, and were “ready to slit their parents’ throats” if they ever saw them again.

Some never will. Even if the girls are released, people in Chibok say at least 13 of their parents have died since they were seized, in Boko Haram violence or possibly stress-related illness.

While dozens of Chibok girls escaped on their own after their kidnapping, 219 are still missing. Nigeria’s military initially feared any action could lead to the girls being killed. But villagers reported last week that air force jets have begun bombing the Sambisa Forest — the area where fighters told Aiden some girls still are held captive.

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AP writer Michelle Faul contributed to this story from Dakar, Senegal.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Beijing’s Winter Olympics? An African American Diplomat Speaks Out for the Uyghurs in China

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

Elana Meyers Taylor, an African American and four-time Olympic bobsledder, missed out on the honor of being the U.S. flag-bearer at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing last week.

After testing positive for COVID-19, she was forced into isolation. But by Monday she was cleared to compete in her events.

COVID-19 hangs over these games in China like a dense cloud. But it’s not the only cloud.

The other involves China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Pronounced “Wee-ger,” they are a centuries-old Turkic people of Central Asia, but has been annexed as part of western China for a fraction of that time. Uyghurs are often referred to as Uyghur Muslims, and that should be your clue.

In a country viewed as homogenous as China, there are actually more than 50 ethnic minorities. The ones that stick out are the Uyghur Muslims.

Uyghurs’ movements in their home area, the Chinese province of Xinjiang, are restricted. What they do. What they say. How they pray.

The Chinese have subjected them to a forced assimilation into the Chinese mainstream. It’s really the systematic erasure of Uyghur culture.

Human rights advocates would say it earns China the gold medal in oppression.

It’s the reason U.S. President Joe Biden isn’t attending the Olympics. The U.S. has joined other countries in declaring a diplomatic boycott.

And the leading voice in defense of the Uyghurs’ human rights? An African American, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

“Uyghurs are being tortured,” Thomas-Greenfield said recently on CNN. “And Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese, and we have to keep that front and center.”

Mind you, as harsh and direct as those words were, Thomas-Greenfield from Louisiana, is being diplomatic. Makes you wonder just how bad it is for the Uyghurs.

The term ‘genocide’ is often used.

The Journal of Genocide Research in 2020 said many at first doubted the word should be used at all. But as British scholar Jo Smith Finley said, “More have shifted closer to this position, and others beyond our discipline have joined in.”

Genocide.

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

Since 2017, China has placed up to 3 million Uyghurs caught praying or practicing their Muslim religion in re-education camps. It qualifies as the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II.

China calls the camps vocational training. But survivors of the detentions say they were prisoners, some subjected to torture, rape, and beatings.

And then when people “graduate” from their indoctrination, they are sent to forced labor assignments with Western companies like Adidas, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Some are calling it a form of slavery.

The lucky ones have fled the country in the Uyghur diaspora. In the U.S., there are about 250,000 Uyghur Americans who are able to keep their language and culture intact. But many haven’t been able to contact family and friends for years.

China is using the 2022 games as a propaganda tool of Olympic proportions. It even had the lone Uyghur athlete, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier, light the torch. But then wouldn’t let her speak to the media.

So, all is good in China? We should know better.

And all this because the Uyghurs are Muslim and seen by China as terrorist threats to the state.

Nothing sporting about any of that. Enjoy athletes like Elana Meyers Taylor. But heed the words of Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

She can see through Beijing’s Olympic rings. She’s fighting for the Uyghers.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

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Bay Area

Port of Oakland Aims to Help Agriculture Producers Export Products More Quickly

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

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The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)
The Port of Oakland and the Oakland skyline in the late 2010s. (Photo courtesy the Port of Oakland/Kelly Patrick Dugan)

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News

The flow of agricultural exports may improve at the Port of Oakland after it sets aside quick-access space for containers, assists exporters, and if more cargo carriers restore service to Oakland, port officials said Monday.

Twenty-five acres will be used to operate an off-terminal, paved yard to store containers for rapid pick-up following their removal from chassis.

The yard, which may open in March, will allow trucks to turn around more quickly than is currently possible in the terminal. Agricultural exporters will also get help using the yard from state and federal agencies.

“The Port — along with our federal and state partners — is ready to do everything we can to help provide room and relief to help our agricultural customers,” said Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement.

The yard is just one step the Port is taking to help agriculture exporters who have had fewer containers in Oakland with which to export their products.

But it’s not entirely clear the yard will make a huge difference unless more ships stop at the Port to pick up the exports.

“We need the shipping companies to immediately restore the export lines from Oakland to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said.

Port officials have restored one key route to Tokyo and China. Also, four carriers have recently made Oakland their first stop en route from Asia. But that may not be enough to relieve the shortage of export containers in Oakland.

An import surge in the U.S. has ships waiting to offload cargo in Southern California. When they do, they offload cargo that would typically come to Oakland and then turn around and immediately go back to Asia.

The containers that could be used for exports never make it to Oakland.

Port cargo volume is typically 50% imports and 50% exports so usually enough containers exist at the Port.

Many agricultural exporters and meat producers prefer to ship their products through Oakland because it’s closer than other ports.

The container shortage has been a problem for a year. The problem recently prompted a meeting between farm producers, transportation executives and Port officials and resulted in the steps the Port is now taking.

A solution is important because the state’s agricultural export industry is worth billions of dollars.

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Bay Area

California Goes on Offensive as Omicron Variant Threat Grows 

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

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In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.
In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Three days after Thanksgiving, Gov. Gavin Newsom went online to address the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, a version of the virus with at least 50 mutations, according to the World Health Organization.

Twenty-six of those mutations have never been detected before, scientists say.

“California is monitoring the new variant,” Newsom tweeted. “We will continue to be guided by data and science. Right now, the best way we know to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and get your booster. Go today. Don’t wait.”

The variant was first identified by a South African scientist and has since surfaced in several other Southern African and European nations and has now been detected in at least 16 states in the United States, including California.

In California, the Omicron variant was first detected in San Francisco on December 1.

Since then, Alameda County public health officials have confirmed five new cases with mild symptoms. All of them were people who attended a wedding in Wisconsin where they likely contracted the virus.

Newsom responded to the news with a tweet last Wednesday.

“CA’s large-scale testing and early detection systems have found the Omicron COVID-19 variant in California,” Newsom tweeted Dec. 1. “We should assume that it’s in other states as well. There’s no reason to panic — but we should remain vigilant. That means get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a mask indoors.”

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, said the state has taken several steps to protect Californians and contain the variant, including “doubling down on COVID-19 vaccination and booster efforts to ensure that all Californians have access to safe, effective and free vaccines.”

Weber was speaking at a briefing organized for Black media on December 3. She said the California Department of Health is monitoring the presence of the variant throughout California and is partnering with the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support local public health departments and health care providers across the state.

“The state is also preparing to increase COVID-19 testing at airports across California for U.S. citizens and legal residents returning from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi,” she said. “These countries are where higher rates of Omicron have been observed and may shift over time.”

Last week, President Joe Biden also pushed for vaccines and boosters in preparation for this new variant on Twitter.

“As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. For now, the best way to strengthen your protection if you’re already vaccinated is to get a booster shot, immediately,” Biden tweeted.

In a controversial move, Biden has issued a travel ban from eight African countries where the higher numbers of the variant have been reported.

“The WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure, until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden tweeted.

This United States’ response has been met with some criticism from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said, arguing that the variant may have been detected in those countries, but there is no proof that it originated there.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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