TIME LGBT

How Uganda’s LGBT Community Is Fighting for the Right to Exist

Can Uganda’s gay-rights activists stop the government from enacting another homophobic law?

Hakim Semeebwr, also known as Bad Black, is a transgender woman in a country where sex between two men, or two women, is illegal. Coming out usually leads to eviction, job discrimination and violent harrassment. Bad Black lost her television job when she was outed by a local newspaper.

And if some Ugandan politicians have their way, coming out as homosexual could mean life in prison, or worse.

Read more: Out in Africa

TIME Burundi

Attempted Coup in Burundi Fails But Tensions Linger

A woman passes by policemen in a street in Bujumbura, Burundi on May 15, 2015.
Goran Tomasevic—Reuters A woman passes by policemen in a street in Bujumbura, Burundi on May 15, 2015.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “attempts to oust elected governments by military force”

Ambition and ideology, it seems, got the best of Burundian coup plotter Godefroid Niyombare. After nearly 36 hours of chaos and tension, in which a military force divided between those loyal to embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza and soldiers supporting his ouster battled for control of the capital’s airport and media assets, the former intelligence chief was forced to concede that his coup had failed. “We have decided to surrender,” Niyombare told the French news agency AFP in Burundi. “I hope they won’t kill us.” Niyombare is still at large, but the police have detained three other coup leaders. “We decided to give ourselves up,” the coup leaders’ spokesman, Zenon Ndabaneze, told AFP by telephone just seconds before his arrest. “We have laid down our arms. We have called the security ministry to tell them we no longer have any arms.”

The failed coup capped nearly two weeks of unrest in the capital, Bujumbura, as citizens protested the president’s announcement that he would seek a third term in office, despite a constitutionally mandated two-term limit. Elections are scheduled for June 26, though the African Union, citing unrest, has suggested they be delayed. President Nkurunziza and his supporters argue that he has the right to run again because he was not elected for his first term in office, but appointed by parliament. His elevation to the presidency in 2005 came at the conclusion of a devastating 13-year civil war. The hard-won peace accord, negotiated in part by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, is also clear about term limits. Nkurunziza’s defiance threatens the fragile peace between the President’s ethnic Hutu majority and the country’s Tutsi minority, raising the specter of a return to a war with echoes of the genocidal mayhem that tore neighboring Rwanda apart in 1994. Tens of thousands of Burundians, mostly Tutsi, have already taken refuge in Rwanda.

In announcing his overthrow of the government on Wednesday, Niyombare, a former presidential ally, insisted that he had no intention of holding on to power. He only wanted to work for “the restoration of national unity and the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment,” he said, according to AFP. There is little confidence in Burundi that elections in which the president is a candidate will be free from rigging. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have criticized Nkurunziza’s attempt to hold on to power, but they also decried the coup attempt. In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “attempts to oust elected governments by military force,” while urging respect of Burundi’s constitution.

President Nkurunziza has yet to address the nation, but his office released a message on Friday: “President Nkurunziza is back in Burundi after the attempted coup. He congratulates the army, the police and the Burundian people.” Burundian police say they are keeping the detained plotters alive so that they can stand trial. The elections are still scheduled to go ahead, but it is not clear that tensions have calmed enough to allow for a serious campaign. President Nkurunziza may have emerged unscathed this time, but the widespread support for the attempted coup should be enough to make him think twice about running for a third term that much of the nation, and the world, deems illegal.

TIME Burundi

No Victor in Sight as Coup Unfolds in Burundi

Protesters, who are against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term, gesture in front of a burning barricade in Bujumbura, Burundi on May 14, 2015.
Goran Tomasevic—Reuters Protesters, who are against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term, gesture in front of a burning barricade in Bujumbura, Burundi on May 14, 2015.

Rival troops struggle for power in the East African country's capital, but with the President abroad in Tanzania, residents are left in a state of chaos

At what point does an attempted coup become a successful coup? Residents of the East African nation of Burundi woke up to that question on Thursday morning as fighting intensified in the streets of the capital, Bujumbura. Local radio stations, usually the most reliable source of information, offered no clarity for good reason: both independent and state-owned broadcasters were under attack Thursday morning as troops loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza battled supporters of former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare for control of the airways and the opportunity to declare victory.

On Wednesday morning Niyombare announced the coup after the President flew to a meeting in Tanzania. The streets of the capital erupted in celebration as residents, who had been protesting the President’s decision to run for a third, and potentially illegal, term in office saw a chance for victory.

A protestor holds up a dead owl attached to a stick, intended to denigrate the ruling party whose emblem is an eagle, during a protest in Buterere neighbourhood of Bujumbura
Goran Tomasevic—ReutersA protestor holds up a dead owl attached to a stick, intended to denigrate the ruling party whose emblem is an eagle, during a protest in Buterere neighbourhood of Bujumbura, Burundi on May 12, 2015.

They sang, cheered, and shook the hands of pro-coup soldiers. One protestor lofted a dead owl in the air to mock the death of the President’s party, whose emblem is an eagle (owls being easier to come by than eagles in Burundi, apparently). But the celebration was short lived. Government officials announced Wednesday evening that the coup had been foiled, “and that these people, who read the coup announcement on the radio, are being hunted by defense and security forces so that they can be brought to justice.”

Niyombare responded by shutting down the country’s sole airport and closing all borders in the landlocked nation. Nkurunziza was locked out of his country and reduced to calling for calm from Tanzania via Twitter. “The situation is under control, there is no coup in Burundi,” tweeted the official presidential account in French. Overnight, loyalist forces in the military appeared to take the upper hand. Presidential supporter General Prime Niyongabo, the army chief of staff, announced “The attempted coup… has been stopped,” according to the BBC.

The coup attempt is the culmination of violent protests that have rocked the impoverished nation for more than two weeks since the ruling CNDD-FDD party announced that it had selected President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for next month’s elections. The president has already served two five-year terms, the maximum allowed by the constitution, but his supporters claim that since he was not elected for his first term, but appointed by parliament, the first term doesn’t count. The country’s constitutional court supported the interpretation, but the one dissenting judge immediately fled the country for fear that his life was at risk, raising questions about the court’s impartiality. Opposition politicians fear that should he run again, his party will be able to rig the election in his favor. A born-again Christian that rarely travels without his personal choir, the President also believes that he was personally appointed by God to lead Burundi, according to his presidential spokesman. “Mr. Nkurunziza indeed believes he is president by divine will, and he therefore organizes his life and government around these values,” presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe told AFP in April.

At least 22 have been killed in protests that were often divided along ethnic lines. Scores have been injured, and some 50,000 Burundians have fled for neighboring countries, fearful that the 13-year-old civil war that ended in 2006 might reignite.

In announcing his coup, Niyombare, a former presidential ally who was dismissed in February, said that he had no intention of taking power himself, only that he wanted to work for “the restoration of national unity and the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment,” according to AFP.

Burundi may be small, with a population of 10.1 million, but heightened tensions in one of the most volatile areas of east Africa are cause for international concern. The U.S. Department of State urged Burundians to “lay down arms, end the violence and show restraint,” while the European Union and the United Nations appealed for calm. Neighbors Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also watching the events closely, though for different reasons. Both countries have upcoming presidential elections, and both have incumbents who are reaching the end of their constitutional term limits. But both Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and the DRC’s Joseph Kabila have hinted that they might seek a way to stay on. It’s not just Burundians who want to know whether or not the coup was successful; Kabila and Kagame are likely to be taking note as well.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Hails the Freeing of 200 Women and Children but Regrets Continued Captivity of Chibok Girls

Former French first lady Valerie Trierweiler (3rdL) attends a gathering "Bring Back Our Girls" near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on April 14, 2015 to mark one year since more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.
Gonzalo Fuentes—Reuters Former French first lady Valerie Trierweiler attends a gathering "Bring Back Our Girls" near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on April 14, 2015 to mark one year since more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.

When a Nigerian military spokesman claimed on Tuesday to have rescued some 200 women and girls held captive by members of the Boko Haram, hopes soared that they might be the schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago from a dormitory that put the name of their small town, Chibok, in the global spotlight.

The kidnapping, which took place on April 14, 2014, spurred an international twitter campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, and saw a dedicated band of Nigerian mothers, students, activists and civil society members holding daily vigils in the capital, Abuja, and weekly protests elsewhere in the country.

More than 2,000 women and children from Northeastern Nigeria have been kidnapped by Boko Haram in the past 17 months, but the plight of the schoolgirls, who were kidnapped in one raid and seemed to have been targeted because they were seeking education, garnered the world’s sympathy. The founder of the Bring Back our Girls movement, former World Bank Vice President for Africa and former Nigerian Education Minister Obiageli Ezekwesili was relentless in her campaign to make sure the Chibok girls were not forgotten, and brought in international celebrities from Madonna to U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousufzai to promote the cause.

So fervent is the desire to see the girls back and alive, the disappointment that the 200 rescued women were not from Chibok was profound. “Alas it certainly seems they are not Chibok Girls and that is profoundly heart breaking,” Ezekwesili wrote TIME in an email. “Yet, that these girls and women who were also captives of those savages (for God knows how long) can now breathe the air of freedom is certainly victory.”

When the girls were first kidnapped, it took nearly two weeks for the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to respond, and even longer to launch a military effort to take on Boko Haram and track down the students. When the Nigerian military attacked the group, they were often defeated. In many cases soldiers simply abandoned their posts, largely due to inadequate weapons and fears that they would not receive additional air support if they did decide to engage. The failure of a hollowed-out military that had once been the pride of Nigeria and one of the most respected forces in Africa prompted national soul-searching, and may have lead, in part, to the electoral defeat of Jonathan in elections last month. While military spokesmen have claimed credit for the rescue and a spate of military defeats that forced Boko Haram into taking refuge in the dense Sambisa forest, the gains could not have been achieved without the support of an international coalition made up of militaries from neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

The incoming president, Muhammadu Buhari, has pledged to rebuild the army, but it will take years to recover from a decade of neglect and endemic corruption.

Despite the hopes and efforts of activists like Ezekwesili, the likelihood of finding all the Chibok girls is slim. In several videos posted to YouTube, Boko Haram founder Abubakar Shekau boasted that the girls, many of whom were Christian, had either converted to Islam and been married off, or refused to convert and sold as slaves. According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram fighters, fleeing the advancing Nigerian army, have in some instances slaughtered their own wives rather than let them be captured by “infidels,” a fate that could have befallen some of the Chibok girls. Amnesty also suggests that others might have perished due to the rigors of captivity, and, if the fate of several other Boko Haram escapees is a guide, they might have been used as sex slaves or forced to fight.

Boko Haram has also used young women in suicide attacks, though it is not clear that any of the bombers came from Chibok. Nonetheless, the efforts to rescue the Chibok girls, and all other Boko Haram abductees must continue, says Ezekwesili. The rescue of the 200 girls on Tuesday makes it clear. “We can seize on their rescue to add more pressure on our Government to SPARE NO EFFORT in finding our #ChibokGirls and all other abductees.”

As for the Chibok girls, it is yet another reminder that the world is unlikely to forget them, and the fact that neither the Nigerian military, nor an international Twitter campaign, has been able to find them.

TIME South Africa

Brutal Murder Is Sparked by Anti-Immigrant Rage in South Africa

Mozambique national Emmanuel Sithole is attacked by men in Alexandra township during anti-immigrant violence in Johannesburg on April 18, 2015.
James Oatway—Sunday Times/Reuters Mozambique national Emmanuel Sithole is attacked by men in Alexandra township during anti-immigrant violence in Johannesburg on April 18, 2015.

High unemployment, frustration and nationalistic sloganeering by local leaders contributes to a spike in anti-foreigner violence not seen since the 2008 riots that killed more than 60

Early Saturday morning in the Alexandra Township just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, a crowd watched as two men bludgeoned and stabbed to death a migrant from Mozambique. Emmanuel Sithole, a small-time vendor of loose cigarettes and an ardent fan of the South African football team, according to the plastic bracelets on his wrist, was the seventh person to die in a wave of anti-foreigner violence that recalls the horrors of 2008, when more than 60 were killed in xenophobic attacks that shocked the world with images of immigrants “necklaced” with gasoline-filled automobile tires and lit on fire. The night before Sithole’s death, mobs rampaged through the township, looting the businesses of migrants from other African countries and setting foreign-owned shops on fire.

Two journalists from South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper captured the horrific scene of Sithole’s murder, shining a spotlight on the anti-immigrant violence that erupted across the country in the wake of a speech last month by Zulu King, and presidential ally, Goodwill Zwelithini in which he suggested foreigners were taking South Africans’ jobs and that they should “pack their belongings and go back to their countries.” When the journalists rushed the profusely bleeding Sithole to a nearby medical clinic, the staff could do nothing: the doctor scheduled to be on duty that day had not come into work. A migrant himself, he had been too afraid of becoming a victim of a xenophobic attack.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma cancelled a state visit to Indonesia on Saturday to deal with the issue, and swore that such attacks would not be tolerated. But as police started rounding up suspects in Sithole’s murder and arrested some 300 in connection with other attacks, South Africans are reeling with the realization that such violence can no longer be attributed to the legacy of Apartheid rule, but that there are fundamental problems within society that must be addressed. “And so we are back to what we were, a nation with unrest and flashpoints. A country where mobs sharpen their machetes and vow to kill in front of a wall of riot policemen poised to fire. That was the image of Apartheid South Africa. Now it is the image of post-democracy South Africa,” wrote Ranjeni Munusamy of the influential Daily Maverick news site. “South Africa is the shame of the continent and a deviant of the world, and will continue being so until it changes its culture and values.”

According to research by Jean Pierre Misago at the African Center for Migration and Society, more than 350 foreigners have been killed in xenophobic attacks in South Africa since 2008. As a result, South Africa’s reputation as a refuge for the continent’s dispossessed has been shaken, steadily eroding the regional goodwill that once cemented the country’s position as an economic giant, arbiter of African disputes and example for peaceful reconciliation. If South Africa can’t get its own house in order, it can hardly lead the continent, lamented South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a statement released by his foundation. “Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself more likely to make the news for gross displays of callousness than for the glory that defined our transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela.”

That transition saw an influx of new migrants from Africa and Asia: out of a population of 51 million, estimates for the number of migrants range from 2 million to 5 million. Now several thousand Congolese, Zimbabweans, Malawians and Ethiopians that long considered South Africa to be their home have gathered in ad-hoc transit camps awaiting repatriation to countries they have not seen for years. On Saturday, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, currently Chair of the African Union, expressed his “shock” and “disgust” over the attacks, which claimed two Zimbabwean lives. “Our own African people on the African continent must be treated with respect… If there is any issue arising from influx [of foreigners]… surely that can be discussed and measures can be taken to deal with and address the situation.”

In addition to inflammatory speeches by local and national leaders, the current outbreak of xenophobia has been linked to widespread dissatisfaction over the government’s inability, 21 years on, to reverse the poverty and income disparity that defined black lives under Apartheid. While the country has made significant progress in some areas, millions still live in shantytowns, and more than a quarter of the population is unemployed. Zulu King Zwelithini’s defenders claimed that portions of his speech had been taken out of context, but for a population already convinced that foreigners have taken advantage of a porous border and lax immigration laws to “steal” jobs, his complaints about “foreigners everywhere…. They dirty our streets… You find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops” were ample tinder for a conflagration. Even though, according to research by fact clearing warehouse Africa Check, only four percent of the working population aged between 15 and 64 could be classed as “international migrants.”

President Zuma has pledged to halt the violence that is giving South Africa such a bad name. On Saturday, he told residents of one transit camp waiting for transport to their home countries, “Those who want to go home, when the violence stops you are welcome to return.” For many, it is already too late. “He says we will be safe, but it’s not safe for us,” Zimbabwean Ronald Dandavare told the Times newspaper as he waited to get on a bus destined for Zimbabwe. “People won’t listen. We will be killed one by one.” That’s exactly what the attacks were meant to achieve. Until the government can address the root causes of resentment, and the lawlessness that allows violence against foreigners to go unpunished, xenophobic attacks are likely to flare again.

TIME fly farming

How One South African Entrepreneur Hopes to Make Millions From Maggots

A worker holds up fly larvae waiting to be harvested at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.
Mike Hutchings—Reuters A worker holds up fly larvae waiting to be harvested at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.

Self-described Eco-Capitalist Jason Drew of AgriProtein is farming flies to feed the world, clean up waste, and make a mint in the process

When Jason Drew plunges his hand into a seething mass of three-day old maggots, it is with the contentment of a farmer inspecting his thriving flock. His latest venture, AgriProtein, based in a sprawling, newly built factory farm on the edge of Cape Town’s international airport, is already showing signs of exponential growth. In just a few weeks, when the last of the cages have been installed, the feeding machines put in place and the processing equipment up and running, he expects to have 8.5 billion head of Hermetia Illucens on site on any given day. Translated into English, and dollars, that would be about 22 tons of Black Soldier Fly larvae a day, worth some ten thousand dollars once they are processed, pressed and dried into granules destined for chicken farms and aquaculture plants. But Drew isn’t just doing it for the money. He believes that flies will save the world. He is not alone.

By 2050, the world’s population will increase by two billion people. Demand for animal protein to feed that nine billion will increase even more quickly, as rising incomes from India to Africa mean a greater demand for beef, pork, fish and chicken. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calls that the “animal protein crunch.” Drew calls it an investment opportunity. The industrial farming of meat is an inefficient process that requires protein, often in the form of small fish harvested from increasingly depleted seas. It takes a minimum of 1.5 kilograms of fishmeal make one kilogram of farmed chicken meat, a scandalous plundering of the ocean’s limited resources that threatens the entire marine ecosystem. “We are fishing out the ocean to feed our pigs,” says Paul Vantomme of the FAO. “That not a wise long term solution.” Or, as Drew puts it, “if chickens were meant to eat fish, we would call them seagulls.” What chickens do eat, he says, is bugs and larvae. So why not feed them what they are meant to eat?

Seven years ago Drew came up with the deceptively simple idea of farming flies to supply a fishmeal alternative to chicken and fish farms. He was inspired, in part, by the sight of a vast pool of blood collecting behind an abattoir near his family farm. It was swarming with flies. Flies are nature’s housecleaners, feasting on organic waste that would otherwise become a breeding ground for disease. With the support of his brother and the help of an entomologist at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University who was working on the idea of fly-driven “bio-recycling,” he developed a program that would take food waste from Cape Town’s hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and abattoirs to feed and breed flies.

Jason Drew of AgriProtein in 2013.
Jenny Goldhawk—AFP/Getty ImagesJason Drew of AgriProtein in 2013.

He sold his family farm in South Africa’s lush wine country to invest $2.6 million in research and development. Once his idea started gaining traction (a 2011 TEDx talk helped), he attracted another $11 million in investment, enough to build his new factory farm — he expects to be cash flow positive within five months — and launch a global expansion. New branches are in the works in North America, Latin America and Europe as well. He estimates that there is a market for some 2,500 fly farming factories of his size around the world. Food experts agree. “From a practical point of view, farming insects appears to be one of the most interesting protein alternatives for getting food on the table of a growing global population,” says Vantomme of the FAO. “It is economically viable. The only thing missing is scale.” Vantomme says global need for animal protein — fishmeal or its alternatives — is in the “millions of tons per year.”

AgriProtein is ready for the challenge. One female Black Soldier Fly, the breed of choice for AgriProtein, lays about 1,500 eggs. One kilogram of fly eggs produces 380 kilograms of larval protein in just three days. In ten days nearly two thirds of those microscopic white eggs will have hatched and grown into a squirming mass of centimeter-long larvae. “The Black Soldier Fly maggots are incredible bio-converters, very efficient at converting food into maggot, which is fantastic for industry,” says AgriProtein’s head of Research and Development, entomologist Cameron Richards.

Once they reach the brown-shelled pupae stage — that’s the equivalent of a chrysalis for butterfly lovers — they are ready to be harvested, a process that involves pressing, crushing and drying. At that point the so called “mag-meal” is ready to be shipped around the world at about half the cost of traditional fish meal, which currently cost about $2,000 a metric ton on the global commodities index.

Workers push a container of recycled rotting vegetable matter used to feed larvae at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.
Mike Hutchings—ReutersWorkers push a container of recycled rotting vegetable matter used to feed larvae at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.

Not only is the food waste that goes to feed the flies free of cost, keeping it out of landfill, where it would otherwise create green-house-gas-increasing methane and pollute the water supply, it does a good turn for the environment. “We take it for granted that we need to recycle our paper glass and tin. It will be come increasingly evident that we also need to recycle waste nutrients, whether it be food waste from supermarkets or abattoir waste from industrial slaughterhouses,” Drew writes in his short book, “The Story of the Fly, and How it Could Save the World.” At full capacity, Drew expects his larvae to go through 100 tons of food waste a day. And unlike runoff from traditional fish, chicken or pork farms, fly feces makes for rich compost ready for agricultural use. Unlike common houseflies, which can spread disease, “Black Soldier Flies are not known as disease vectors, they do not bite nor do they carry pathogens like on their feet and mouthparts,” says Frederic Tripet, an expert on insect-spread diseases at Keele University’s Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology in the United Kingdom. Nor does fly farming create noxious gasses that might drive down property prices. The air in AgriProtein’s incubating rooms (where the doors have signs admonishing visitors against making noise: “This is a QUIET ZONE. Flies mating!) smells vaguely of rotting meat, but it’s not enough to want a gas mask.

Getting from the theoretical to the practical of farming flies was an arduous process of trial and error, says AgriProtein’s entomologist Richards. Flies are picky about how they breed and lay eggs, and the AgriProtein team had to figure out how to get flies, who prefer to breed in the summer and lay eggs only at specific times, to adapt to the needs of a 24-hour, 365-day-a year industrial process. “As with any biological process, the problem is up scaling,” says Richards. “In nature things work on a small scale. As soon as you want to increase that to industrial size, unforeseen problems come to the fore” — like the fact that maggots overheat when there are too many feeding at once. The solutions to those problems are a tightly-held secret. AgriProtein may be a pioneer in the field of industrial fly farming, but competitors in China and Europe are already catching on. Drew isn’t the only one to see money in maggots.

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TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Has Fled but No One Knows the Fate of the Chibok Girls One Year On

“It would have been better to see the dead body of my daughter than to let them carry her away”

Some days, the Rev. Enoch Mark wishes his 20-year-old daughter Monica were dead. One year ago she was kidnapped, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about her fate. “Sometimes I think knowing she is dead would be better than knowing nothing at all,” he says. Today, the private agony of a father lamenting his missing daughter is amplified 219 times, as Nigeria observes the one-year anniversary of a kidnapping that stunned a country and woke the world to the threat of Boko Haram.

On the night of April 14, 2014, the calm of Chibok, a rural town in northeastern Nigeria, was shattered as militants stormed the dormitory of a government boarding school for girls just before midnight. Gunmen rampaged through the compound, shooting guns and setting fire to buildings while others, disguised as military personnel on a rescue operation, bundled the students into waiting trucks. The girls’ screams could be heard half a mile away. Itinerant preacher Mark, who had only just enrolled his daughter Monica at the school, ran toward campus. By the time he arrived it was too late: the militants had already rounded up 276 girls and disappeared into the nearby Sambisa forest. “It would have been better to see the dead body of my daughter than to let them carry her away,” he says of that night. “But I didn’t see anyone left, dead or alive.”

The abduction drew international condemnation, with celebrities from Michelle Obama to Madonna and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai calling for their release. Boko Haram, a long-running localized Islamist insurgency determined to bring its radical interpretation of Islamic law to the region, entered the lexicon of global terrorist groups and Chibok, which didn’t even have a Google Maps entry, became a household name. Fifty-seven of the girls managed to escape in the first few days, leaping from the transport trucks where they had been packed like cattle, or dashing into the forest when their captors’ backs were turned. But one year on, 219 girls remain missing, a black eye for the Nigerian military that has done little to locate them, and a rebuke to the international community that joined the Twitter campaign to #BringBackOurGirls, but has achieved little else, despite three regional conferences and international pledges of support. “We keep on telling the girl child that she is important, that she should dare to be educated. Yet we have left 219 of her sisters with terrorists,” says Aisha Yesufu, a mother of three in the Nigerian capital of Abuja who is spearheading the campaign to keep the issue alive. “So everywhere in the world, the girl child, she has realized that she doesn’t matter, not to the world. Nobody cares. Because if her sisters can be left with their abductors for so long, then there is something wrong with us as humans.”

On Tuesday Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said his government would do everything in its power to bring the Chibok girls home, but he injected a note of caution. “We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them.” The Nigerian military, with assistance from mercenary groups as well as neighbors Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has managed to force Boko Haram out of much of the Belgium-size territory it once held, but the group, including leader Abubakar Shekau, is thought to have taken refuge in the trackless Sambisa forest, where it is protected by dense foliage and difficult terrain.

Boko Haram, which loosely translated means “Western education is forbidden,” started in 2002 as a rejectionist religious group that sought salvation in a fundamentalist reading of Islamic law. It turned violent in 2009, when clashes with Nigerian security forces resulted in the extrajudicial killing of founder Muhammad Yusuf. Since then the group has killed around 13,000 people in a violent campaign of bombings, suicide attacks, massacres and guerilla warfare. An estimated 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes by the insurgency, including some 800,000 children, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund.

According to a newly released report by Amnesty International, the Chibok girls are but a small fraction of the 2,000 women and children who have been abducted by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014. The testimonies of those who escaped makes for grim reading: repeatedly raped, married against their will and forced to fight. It is likely the Chibok girls share similar fates, if they are alive at all — when Gwoza, the capital of Boko Haram’s self-declared caliphate, was recaptured in late March, residents reported that the fleeing militants killed their wives and stuffed the bodies into wells rather than let them be captured by “infidels.” But residents, speaking to the BBC, said they had seen about 50 of the Chibok girls under Boko Haram guard in the weeks before the city fell. “I don’t believe they are dead,” says Yesufu, the activist, by telephone from Abuja. “They are alive, somewhere. Boko Haram understands the importance of these girls, and will want to keep them as bargaining chips.” Shekau has declared in several video broadcasts that the girls, many of whom were Christian, had either converted to Islam and been married off, or refused to convert and sold as slaves.

Just a few months after the Chibok kidnapping, Boko Haram launched a series of devastating suicide attacks by women, leading some to speculate that the girls could have been brainwashed, or otherwise forced into detonating explosive vests and backpacks in crowded markets. “When Kano saw four explosions in the space of a week in July, all apparently involving young women or teenagers, the first thought was: Is this the Chibok girls?” says Elizabeth Pearson, a doctoral researcher in gender and radicalization at King’s College London and a member of the Nigeria Security Network. As a tactic, it is extremely effective: male security guards are loath to pat down female shoppers, and few suspect women to be suicide bombers. With female bombers, “the shock and fear value is greater. With young women being used particularly, this guarantees greater publicity and media coverage.” But the evidence is inconclusive, notes Pearson. There has been no DNA testing, and the damage wrought by the bombs makes visual identification all but impossible.

For Mark, the idea that his daughter might be living as a captive, abused, enslaved and terrified, is worse than the idea of her being dead. He was told, early on, that one of the kidnapped girls had refused to convert to Islam. As punishment, she was stoned to death. “If that really happened,” he told TIME in January, “it might be my daughter, because she holds her Christian faith so strong. If my daughter was stoned to death for Christ’s sake, I will be grateful.” For some, a martyr’s brutal death gives more comfort than knowing nothing at all.

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