The small town of Bani-Bangou lies in rural southwestern Niger in the Tillaberi Region, near the border with and along the main highway to Mali. Despite being the district capital, the city remains poor and insecure owing to its location on the transition line between Sahel grasslands to the south and west, and desert to the north and east; proximity to the border; and increasing environmental pressures.
Multiple extremist groups prey on the vulnerable population, alternately looting and extorting resources to support their operations and recruiting from the disenfranchised youth. The poverty and lack of government resources in the region fan the flames of this extremism and magnify the toll it takes on communities. At the same time, competition for resources between the agrarian Djerma people and semi-nomadic Tuareg herders adds to the tensions and often boils over into violence.
The youth in these communities are the most vulnerable to extremist influences. Ethnic militias, smugglers, and extremist militants with connections to ISIS and/or al-Qaeda such as the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) operate with near impunity in the region and seek to recruit and gain support from locals who lack opportunity, hope, and an outlet for their energy.
One US Army Civil Affairs Team is working to address this issue through increased community engagement and by supporting local grassroots efforts. Their best partner in the region is Salifou Agali, the local Youth Director. He organizes athletic competitions, barbecues, soccer matches with local security forces, and meetings to discuss peace at the Bani Bangou Youth Center. However, he lacks the resources to properly accommodate the 50-100 youths that typically attend his events.
By providing some basic equipment to the youth center, Spirit of America can increase the efficacy of the youth programs, improve local counter-radicalization efforts, and provide a sustainable way for Mr Agali and the Civil Affairs team to continue their efforts and relationship.
New chairs, mattresses, mats, and a speaker system will allow the center to host larger and better events and provide lodging for attendees from distant communities. At the same time, the center will be able to rent out the chairs and speakers for outside events, raising much-needed funds for future programming.
With your support Spirit of America can fund this equipment, improving efforts to counter violent extremist groups in the area and increasing local security.