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Preventing Conflict in West Africa


What do a US Army team, an American Ambassador and Spirit of America have to do with these two girls from a small village in West Africa?

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For the past 15 months Spirit of America has been supporting US Army teams and the US Ambassador in Mauritania, West Africa as they help local people, improve security and counter the expansion of Al Qaeda.

SoA has been doing this with an entrepreneurial approach: helping local people make money by solving their most important problems. The two girls above are among those who have benefited.

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Now, West Africa is in the news every day and the motivation for SoA's support of the US Army team is clear. There was the hostage crisis in Algeria. The French sent troops to Mali to stop Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's expanding influence. Northern Mali is now the largest Al Qaeda-controlled territory in the world.

West Africa, security and livestock health

Captain Mark Atkinson, below, is one of the US Army Civil Affairs team leaders tasked with improving security and stability in remote areas of Mauritania along its border with Mali.

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Photo credit: Airman Valerie Lloyd, Armed Forces Network

The Army team identified livestock health as the #1 local concern. Cattle and goats are the primary food source and the basis of the economy. When they are sick or they die it's a big problem. But because of security issues no US government civilian agencies or conventional aid organizations operate in these remote parts of Mauritania.

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Enter Spirit of America

Because we work side-by-side with our troops and support their mission, SoA operates in places that others don't. We asked the Army team a simple question: "what is needed and how can we help?"

With US government funding, the Army team could build "vaccination parks" in 7 remote villages. Vaccination parks are big corrals that allow animals to be treated more efficiently (otherwise, cattle and goats wander around the desert).

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But vaccination parks are only infrastructure. More was needed. Working with the Army team and the US Ambassador in Mauritania we developed a plan.

Spirit of America would train and equip Mauritanian men to go into business as for-profit veterinarians treating cattle and goats in the 7 villages where the Army team is building the vaccination parks. In this way, Spirit of America's support would build on, and complement, what could be done with US government funds.

SoA hired the Mauritanian National Center for Livestock and Veterinary Research (CNERV) to train and mentor the village veterinarians. We also understood that if our veterinarians were successful in their businesses they would sell a lot of animal medications. So we negotiated with a pharmaceutical company to provide our veterinarians with start up medications and marketing assistance.

In April 2012 the 7 villages selected 11 local men to be their first veterinarians. In June those men received the initial training and equipment they needed to launch their businesses.

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In August and again in November, the Army team, Spirit of America and CNERV visited our village veterinarians to check the results. Below, Spirit of America's Isaac Eagan with veterinarians, Captain Atkinson and Major Kelly.

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Photo credit: Airman Valerie Lloyd, Armed Forces Network (type added by SoA)

And, Spirit of America's Matt Valkovic in August with one of our most successful veterinarians in Um Leksheb, Mauritania.

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Project results

In just a few months, the cattle treated by our veterinarians showed dramatic increases in size, health and weight. In one case, a cow that was close to death regained its health after treatment and was sold for $185 – 20% of the average annual income in Mauritania.

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The bottom line is that with radically-improved livestock health, people have more milk, more meat and more money. This makes it harder for Al Qaeda and other extremists to exploit poverty as a recruiting tool. Border communities are more stable and girls like the two pictured above – and the mother and baby below - have a much brighter future.

Captain Atkinson said, "The project was a huge success. It exceeded my expectations. By supporting the communities that are along the Malian border, it helps to prevent the spread of the violence that's happening in Mali from coming across the border into Mauritania."

The Army team and Spirit of America also built relationships, trust and goodwill with the people of eastern Mauritania.

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Captain Atkinson explains, "We could see the effect this project had on the local populace. It's more than just a business opportunity for them – this is their way of life. Livestock is very important to them, this whole project is very important to them, and they accept you as one of their family when you visit these communities."

Please go here to learn more about this project. This is part of our troops' efforts to address problems before they erupt into conflict. The idea is that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. And Spirit of America is a unique and valued partner.

We've assembled a few links about what is happening in West Africa. If you'd like to learn more, go here.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.

All the best,
Jim Hake and the Spirit of America team