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Pulitzer Center Update March 29, 2013

This Week in Review: Mali Falls Apart

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In northern Mali, far from Western eyes, a powerful Al Qaeda affiliate has managed to carve out what...

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A sign erected by the Islamists on the main road to Gao, the biggest city in the northern region of Mali. It reads 'Welcome to the Islamic State of Gao.' Image by Yochi Dreazen. Mali, 2013.


The neighborhood of garishly opulent mansions is aptly known to locals as "Cocainebougou," or Cocaine Town. It stands as testament to the sudden collapse of Mali, and the likelihood that large swaths of the once-stable West African nation could become a safe haven for drug lords and jihadists.

Pulitzer Center grantee Yochi Dreazen, reporting from Gao in northern Mali, notes that drugs and jihad have already formed deadly partnerships in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon. "A similar dynamic has emerged here in Mali, where the Islamists used their time ruling the north to forge close ties to many of the region's local drug lords," Yochi writes in Foreign Policy. "Western and Malian defense officials say militants from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) basically run an old-fashioned protection racket, offering the smugglers a free hand to safely move their product through the north in exchange for a hefty tax of 10-15 percent of the total value of the drugs."

It wasn't so long ago that Mali was better known for its vibrant music scene rather than its radical jihadists. In Bamako, Mali's capital, Yochi visits with Baba Salah, a popular songwriter and guitarist who now sings of the need for the Malian people to take their country back from the jihadists. "The north used to be full of music and dancing, but that's gone now," Baba Salah tells Yochi in a story for The Atlantic. "These terrorists took a culture that had been there for centuries and tried to destroy it in a few months."


Music also figures prominently in the journalism of grantees Jens Erik Gould and David Rochkind, which appeared this week in Time and on NPR's Morning Edition. Their reporting on the Garifuna, an Afro-Caribbean community in Honduras that is struggling with an AIDS epidemic, combines David's powerful photography with Jens's talent as a songwriter and musician.

"Colorful community theatre, dance and music groups in many Garifuna towns are giving performances that offer messages about HIV prevention in a bid to educate the population. From local social workers to health ministry and NGO officials, those who know the Garifuna epidemic best say this cultural approach can be more effective than traditional forms of education such as handing out pamphlets," writes Jens for Time. "That's because music, dance and storytelling are such vital components of Garifuna culture that they engage people and help them reverse bad habits such as unprotected sex."


We were delighted to learn that our e-book, "In Search of Home," by grantees Stephanie Hanes and Greg Constantine received an Honorable Mention from the National Press Photographers Association in the Tablet/Mobile Delivery category. It can be downloaded here.

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The Garifuna have historically been forgotten in Honduras and currently face one of the highest HIV...

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