Hello, I just returned from supporting the annual Cure Salée Festival and associated livestock vaccination campaign in central Niger. This is the third year Spirit of America has worked with US Army teams to support the Government of Niger’s Cure Salée-related efforts. We first told you about these efforts here. This year, Spirit of America employed graduates of the veterinary scholarship program we’ve funded over the past two years to vaccinate the herds and publicize the campaign through the nomad camps scattered across the area. This led to the most successful vaccination campaign to date, increasing regional security by addressing local vulnerabilities like food security, incomes, and herd and human health. The Cure Salée festival is held annually in Ingall, Niger. Every fall at the end of the rainy season, Tuareg and Fulani herders from across the region descend on the city for its salty watering-holes, essential for their herds’ survival in the harsh desert climate, and for a few days of celebration before returning to their traditional grazing lands. This provides a unique opportunity to engage this population and affect health and security across multiple countries in an area three times the size of Texas. The associated vaccination campaign specifically addresses the root causes of instability and vulnerability to extremist influence: health, food security, livelihoods, and opportunity. Healthier herds mean more income, more food, and more stability for a tribal population, denying extremists the opportunity to spread their messages and recruit from disaffected youth. Each year, our support has been tailored to the specific and changing needs of local communities, the Government of Niger, and the assessment of their US Army partners. This year, for the first time, that support included funding three young men to communicate the importance of the vaccination campaign to the herders and encourage participation. By citing increases in herd yields, improved market prices, and individual animal growth these publicists were able to mobilize significantly more herders to participate. As they explained it to me “vaccines mean bigger animals, more meat, better prices. The herders see this now and want what their neighbors [previous vaccination campaign participants] have.” These points, highlighted by the publicists, are exactly the reason we support the Cure year after year. Livelihoods, food security, and human and animal health were among the key vulnerabilities identified by SoA’s Isaac Eagan, and a US Army Team Leader through their discussions with tribal elders and local leaders back in 2014. We’re seeing gradual but important gains in all of these areas while simultaneously building lasting positive relationships with regional leaders. This is the best way to counter violent extremism and insecurity in these remote and disparate communities. Talking after the campaign, the US Army Civil Affairs Team Leader told me “the 2016 [Government of Niger] Vaccine Campaign was unquestionably effective. During the Cure Salée event, nomadic tribesman stated that the vaccinations would help improve their livestock health, therefore increasing their abilities to provide for their families and communities. Better livestock health provides the nomadic tribes with better milk for children and more nutritious meat for their families. Also, a healthy herd of livestock ensures greater market access and a greater profit for vulnerable nomadic pastoral communities.” The Cure Salée also provides us with an important opportunity to engage with and support previous SoA veterinary scholarship recipients. This year, we again employed some of these community vet techs during the livestock vaccination campaign, allowing them to continue impacting their communities and serving as positive examples to other tribal youth. One of the graduates, Ibrahim Moussé, explained “this is the kind of work where you can directly help your community. It is the best way to help in communities where most of the people are herders.” Spirit of America’s support of the Cure Salée, the Nigerien Government, and the US Army teams working around the Agadez region represents a highly targeted, long-term approach to defeating violent extremism in a critically important but vulnerable area. With your support, we can continue this effort and others like it in the world’s toughest places. Thanks, Chris VanJohnson Project Manager – Africa
Chris is a US Army veteran having served as an Armor officer with a deployment to Baghdad in 2008-09 and then as a Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer with multiple deployments to Nepal in 2011-12.