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Pulitzer Center Update April 28, 2014

This Week: When the Aid Dries Up


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Image by Rijasolo. Madagascar, 2013.

What happens to an aid-dependent country when the tap suddenly runs dry? Since a 2009 coup...

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Maurice Pierre Herynirina holds a photograph of his wife, Solange Razafindrasoa, in an Antananarivo cafe last December. He learned in February that she had died in Saudi Arabia, where she was working as a domestic servant. Image by Rijasolo / Riva Press. Madagascar, 2013.


When wealthy nations decide to punish poor nations for alleged bad behavior, it is not the leaders of the poor nations who suffer, but rather the poor themselves. Case in point: Madagascar.

A coup in 2009 sent Madagascar's economy into a free fall. "Foreign aid, previously 40 percent of the state budget, was slashed across the board as the African Union, the United States and other major donors condemned strongman Andry Rajoelina's seizure of power," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Aaron Ross in a feature story for The Nation.

The consequences were swift and devastating. According to Aaron, the poverty rate has climbed about 10 percent since the coup, and school drop-outs tripled in the six months immediately following Rajoelina's takeover. U.S. trade sanctions on the country's textile industry put tens of thousands of women out of work, many of whom ended up being trafficked to wretched jobs in the Middle East.

Seeing the unintended results of the punitive measures, the World Bank has decided to ease up on its sanctions, but U.S. sanctions remain in place. "The general economic malaise in Madagascar is largely a result of regime inattention to good governance, democracy, fostering investment," a U.S. official explained to Aaron.


In the summer of 2012, when jihadists aligned with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—AQIM—stormed the Malian city of Timbuktu, the world feared for the survival of the fabled city's irreplaceable collection of medieval manuscripts. The world needn't have feared; Abdel Kader Haidara had a plan.

Pulitzer Center grantee Josh Hammer, writing for National Geographic, tells the back story of how Haidara, whose family is chiefly responsible for assembling the Timbuktu collection, orchestrated the rescue of 350,000 manuscripts from some 45 libraries, evading not only the AQIM zealots intent of destroying the trove, but also government soldiers and French Special Forces who assumed it was weapons, not books, that were being smuggled down the Niger River.

The situation in northern Mali is still too unsettled to return the manuscripts to Timbuktu. They remain in Bamako, the Malian capital. This continuing uncertainty is a worry for Haidara, who told Josh, "My only ambition is to rehabilitate all these libraries in Timbuktu so that I can bring all the manuscripts back to each family that entrusted them to me. That will give me a little bit of peace."


Pulitzer Center grantee Caryle Murphy writes that few decisions by the Saudi government "have provoked as much mystification as the recent one designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, a move described by some Saudis in recent interviews as 'weird,' 'emotional' and 'stupid.'"

The Brotherhood has deep roots in Saudi Arabia, but the government has not backed down, and it now risks alienating the sector of the population "that is generally well-educated and prominent among the staff of state, religious and media organizations." Caryle's analysis in Al Monitor is part of her continuing project that examines Saudi Arabia's changing religious landscape.