The Woman Who Stared Boko Haram In The Eye, And Didn't Flinch

Rebecca Dali at the United Nations' Headquarters in Geneva
Rebecca Dali at the United Nations' Headquarters in Geneva
Stéphane Bussard

GENEVA She didn't expect the enthusiasm with which she was honored. When she received the 2017 Sergio Vieira de Mello Award, which is named after the former High Commissioner for Human Rights who was killed in Iraq in 2003, it was followed by a spontaneous roar of applause. Rebecca Dali, 56, was being feted at the Palace of Nations in Geneva on Aug. 19 — World Humanitarian Day — for her work in Nigeria. At that moment, she felt she experienced a "miracle of God."

Dali runs the Center for Caring, Empowering and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI), which was created in 1989 to help Nigerian women, children and orphans. Despite the radiant smile on her face, she typically works in the shadows.

In a country devastated by violent crime perpetrated by the jihadist group Boko Haram, Dali is a glimmer of hope. The terrorist organization has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.6 million others. Among the victims are 276 girls from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria, who were abducted by the group in 2014. So far, the 106 girls who have been freed by Boko Haram rely on Dali.

"Through my work, I'm trying to rehabilitate them," Dali explained. "It's a real challenge because...they are often rejected by their own family, their community and even in some cases by the government."

Dali, who is generous and spontaneous, points out that some of them come back ill, others pregnant. "Even smart kids are struggling to get good grades at school. The wounds are too painful."

Victims of Boko Haram are not the CCEPI's sole priority. Dali also provides shelter and food to widows and children who lost husbands and fathers to AIDs. She strives to make families independent by giving them goats, seeds and fertilizers. She also supplies local hospitals with medication. To finance the center, she counts on support from USAID, the European Union and the International Rescue Committee.

Rebecca Dali's bold actions must be seen as an example

Dali considers the field work she does a hobby. She has not had an easy life herself. She was born on Oct. 1, 1960, the day Nigeria became independent. If she understands better than anyone else the difficulties that Boko Haram's former hostages face, it's because she's had a traumatic childhood. Her mother was 15 years old when she met her father, who was aged 45. But she was quickly rejected from her village because she had leprosy. For almost 20 years, Dali's parents were displaced from one place to another, until her mother finally got treated for her illness.

When she was five years old, Dali sold trinkets on the street to help the family make ends meet. At age 6, she was raped. When she was 8 years old, her father decided to get her married off because the family was running out of money. Dali ran away from home and kept attending school. As Anne Willem Bijleveld, president of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation, said, "Rebecca Dali's bold actions must be seen as an example".

Rebecca Dali and her team in Nigeria — Photo: Rebecca Dali/Facebook

One of Dali's driving forces is her faith. She met her husband, who was at some point president of the Brethren church, when she was 19 years old. Since then, she has drawn her strength from spirituality.

One day, while she was visiting the parents of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, she was grabbed by the jihadist group. "They asked me to say what Boko Haram was. I told them it was a group that was killing and destroying villages. They didn't like my answer and started shooting in the air. Then they asked me why I wasn't scared." They advised her not to go to Chibok, which was full of jihadists. But two days later, defying Boko Haram's warnings, she went there anyway.

For Dali, who has six children, the battle against the terrorist organization is a personal one. She lost her 18-year-old son, Timothy, to it.

Dali embodies the resistance against Boko Haram, whose name means "western education is sin." In 2012, she got her Ph.D. in ethics and philosophy at the Nigerian University of Jos. When she speaks, she's calm and humble: "We don't have the means to cope with all humanitarian needs."

If Boko Haram hears about me through the media, my life could be endangered.

She's not very optimistic about the future of Nigeria: "My country is more and more dangerous and insecurity is growing." The irony of the award she just received is that it could further jeopardize her safety in Nigeria.

"Until now, I was working in the shadows. If they hear about me through the media, my life could be endangered," she said.

But Dali has no intentions of stopping. She will carry on helping Boko Haram's victims, and split her time between Denver, U.S., where one of her brothers lives, and her native Nigeria.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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