Tagged: sustainable development

First they came for Faafu

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by Azra Naseem

1. Of Kings and Pawns

Just over a 100 kilometres south west of Male’, rising up  from the deep blue lagoon, are 26 islands forming the atoll formally known as Faafu. This beautiful reef structure, one of twenty such natural island chains in the Maldives archipelago, is roughly 30 kilometres long and 25 kilometres wide. Five of the atoll’s islands are inhabited. Of the rest, four are under the jurisdiction of the Tourism Ministry, five leased on varuvaa[1], and five under the Atoll Council.

A sum total of just over four thousand people live on the islands of Feeali, Bileiydhoo, Magoodhoo, Dharan’boodhoo, and Nilandhoo the capital. Nilandhoo is large by Maldivian standards, measuring 56 hectares or half a square kilometre.

Faafu is historically significant. On Nilandhoo is the Maldives’ second oldest mosque, Aasaari Miskiyy, built over 800 years ago. As Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl recounts in his book, The Maldive Mystery, he discovered the ruins of no less than seven Hindu temples and a Buddhist stupa on the island.

Life in Faafu goes a long way back; much further back than written Maldivian history is officially allowed to go.

Today Faafu is about to change beyond recognition.

Making Faafu Great

On 24 January President Yameen announced the atoll would soon see development ‘never before seen’ in the Maldives.

The president was speaking at a ceremony to inaugurate a ‘beautiful, modern’ mosque—gifted to the people of Magoodhoo by King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The new mosque, Masjid Al Taqwa, is not merely a place of worship, but a manifestation of the ‘special love and respect’ the desert monarch holds in his ‘noble heart’ for the islanders of Maldives. Maldivians would soon have the opportunity to welcome The King in person, said the President, God willing.

“Faafu Atoll is happy. And Faafu Atoll is lucky”, said the President. Because, Faafu is “an atoll that the Saudi government, or rather, leading figures in Saudi, have a special interest in”.

Fortunate Faafu, The Chosen Atoll.

Drawing out the suspense like the host of a cheap daytime TV gameshow, the President continued, “A huge massive project is planned for Faafu Atoll. All charts and drawings have been completed.”

In other words, the future of Faafu is a done deal. Drawn up and signed by the Saudi King and the Dhivehi President. Why should the people be consulted? Why should they have a say? They only live there.

The ‘Huge Massive Project’, Yameen said, could make Faafu the most prosperous atoll in the Maldives. “It will be open to the world, to people from all walks of life, travellers and such.”

It will be a township, he said. Presumably not Soweto in the Apartheid era.

“Only three or four such townships exist in the entire world”, he boasted. “It will set the standards for such projects”, and “will be copied” by future generations. The Faafu Township will be the giant on the shoulders of which future township visionaries will stand.

“That is what those elevated persons [the Royal Sauds] have in their noble hearts. We, too, have good hopes for this. We, too, are praying to Allah, that these things do happen to the Maldives, and that this will bring to Faafu Atoll the kind of development we have never seen before.”

That, and no more than that, is what the President cared to share. Pressed later by Mihaaru for details, his spokesperson said the government will “disclose information about its policies and initiatives as it sees fit”.

But, of course. The subjects must wait patiently for The King’s pleasure.

The questions people want answers to, meanwhile, frantically fly around public spaces on- and offline: How much of Faafu Atoll is the House of Saud taking for the so-called Huge Massive Township? Is it the entire atoll? If so, where are the people of Faafu to go? Will they be made to move en masse to Hulhumale’? If the Sauds are taking ‘only’ some islands, which ones would it be? What purpose the land? How much dredging and reclamation? With what consequences?

Land-grabs are, sadly, common across the poor world. Superrich global developers, with deep pockets and unlimited greed, criss-cross the earth with eyes keenly peeled for the perfect opportunity: natural beauty, corrupt leaders, and populations made weak by disasters both natural and man-made. Today’s Maldives combines those magic ingredients. It is breathtakingly beautiful, its people have been weakened by years of political unrest, societal strife, and continuous lack of prosperity. Most importantly, its leaders are immensely corrupt.

What more could the House of Saud—or the House of Trump, or whichever house sitting on whichever throne of dollars—ask for?

Sweeteners and sovereignty

Maldives has been courting Saudi benevolence for most of this decade. Dr Waheed, the ‘Immediate Past President’, before he finally handed the reigns over to Yameen, visited Saudi Arabia in July 2013. He met the then Crown Prince Salman, and successfully begged for money and patronage.

In March 2015, shortly after the Prince was crowned King, Yameen was granted an audience. The President returned with the promise of more money and a joint communiqué to facilitate investment opportunities in both countries. A US$20 million grant ‘to manage cash flow’ and a US$80 million loan for development projects were announced. Much more—an embassy right next to the President’s Office, additional loans, scholarships, Saudi-cabinet approved sponsorship of Maldives Islamic University—were to follow.

In July 2015, three months after that first visit of Yameen’s to Saudi Arabia, Article 251 of the Constitution forbidding sale of Maldivian territory to foreigners was up for amendment in the Parliament. To pass, it required a three-quarters majority.

Flush with Saudi endowments, the government made sure money was readily available for greasing palms—all the way from the parliament to the regional councils and island leaders.

Unconfirmed reports say part of Saudi money earmarked as sweeteners later went missing. Missing money—whether cash from Saudi as widely alleged, or stolen from MMPRC in the biggest embezzlement in Maldives’ known history—is at the heart of the epic fall-out between Yameen and his Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Whether the cash handouts came from Saudi ‘generosity’ or from robbery of state coffers, that many MPs gladly received shares of the bounty is a known fact.

The amendment passed with ease. Only 14 out of 85 Members of the People’s Majlis voted against. The Ruling party PPM and its allies cited ‘mega development’ [always good]; the opposition MDP cited ‘being a centre-right party’ [free market always supreme]. These, people were told, were the reasons for pushing the Constitutional amendment through without so much as the customary eyebrow lifted in askance: what do you think?

11 of the seventy MPs who voted for the amendment were from MDP. Without their votes the proposal would have failed. In the days that followed, the party came into criticism from many members who, although in the minority, were vocal in their dissatisfaction. MDP secretariat shrugged off the criticism, justifying it by referencing its ‘centre-right position’. It was as if being centre-right, and being staunchly for neoliberalism, is a law written in stone MDP could not deviate from, whatever the cost.

Dangled before MDP MPs was also the promise of Mohamed Nasheed’s release from wrongful imprisonment. This—not cash in hand or party ideology—some MPs later claimed, was really what drove the MDP vote in favour.

Challenged on Twitter on Wednesday, MP Fayyaz Ismail (who voted against the amendment), explained that discussions within the party ahead of the vote largely agreed ‘the political situation’ should be the chief consideration for MPs casting the vote.

The ‘political situation’ MP Fayyaz referred to is widely understood to mean party leader Nasheed’s continued captivity and the chance to secure his release by voting the way Yameen, his jailer, wanted.

The potentially destructive power Yameen was granted through the constitutional amendment was an issue that could be confronted later, once Nasheed was released.

That this was an important part of the thinking behind MDP’s rationalisation of the majority Yes vote at the time is borne out by the party’s announcement on Wednesday that, (with Nasheed no longer at Yameen’s mercy,) the party will now do everything possible to repeal the amendment that would have been impossible without it in the first place.

Whither the immovable centre-right neoliberal position?

Until the vote cast on 22 July 2015, the constitution safeguarded Maldivian land by prohibiting both government and individuals from selling any of its territory to any foreign party. It was bad enough that the laws as they stood allowed leasing of islands for up to 99 years, in itself a moneymaking racket that has, over the years, created a rich/poor divide so great that less than a minute fraction own well over 99% of the country’s tourism wealth.

Laying claim to the Maldives for a century was not sufficient for the likes of the House of Saud. They need ownership. The government, therefore, engineered the second constitutional amendment with the Saudi Royal family in mind; just as it engineered the first constitutional amendment with Adeeb in mind. Now, all that an interested buyer has to do is invest US$1 billion (pocket change for the superrich), get some territory preferably with an island, reclaim enough lagoon so that the artificial land becomes 70 percent of the entire territory they’ve invested in, and voila, a piece of ‘paradise’ is theirs.

Opposition to the sale is intense, but lacks unity. Adhaalath Party is against, and it voted No to amending the Constitution. But it has only one member in parliament. MDP is against, but only because the government is not being transparent enough in doing the deal. Independent member Mahloof Ahmed–an influential voice, voted No. But he is in jail. Voices of JP and MDP MPs who went against the party position and voted No are subsumed by their parties that have been respectively unwilling and unable to oppose the sale effectively. Civil society campaigns, people-led movements, and vocal individuals, are mostly restricted to social media.

Generally, all dissatisfaction and angst–of party, society and individual alike–is kept in check by Yameen’s repressive policies that have banned democratic protests in the name of social harmony. Democracy is bad for development, he maintains.

The Maldives is on sale to the highest bidder. Islands, lagoons and reefs are going fast. At a time when the world has woken up to the calamities of man-made climate change, when sustainable development has come to the fore of the thinking person’s agenda, this most fragile of countries on earth lacks a unifying leader, party or movement that stands both in principle and practice, for people before profit, for sustainable development over short-term gain, and for development with consciousness over supplication to the so-called invisible hand of the market.

The future is bleak.

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First they came for Faafu II: Of Myths and Monsters

First they came for Faafu III: Muizzing Maldives

[1] A system of patronage dating back to the monarchy when rulers ‘gifted’ islands to favoured subjects. With the start of the tourism industry, the system turned into one of privilege and corruption, as will be explored in more detail later in this series.

Image: NASA

Forced migration around the corner: time to act

by Salma Fikry*

For several years, we in the Maldives have accepted that we are a country with few natural resources. Our development policies were formulated and implemented with the underlying justification that the biggest challenge to our development was the highly dispersed nature of sparsely populated communities, over a vast spread of the ocean.  

This being the case, it was seen as unfeasible to provide services and opportunities to every inhabited island. Priority was given to develop the capital island Male’ and subsequently, Vilingili or ViliMale’ (a resort island in the vicinity of Male’ changed to an inhabited island). Since then, we saw a huge stretch of land reclaimed near Male’, that is HulhuMale’, and the efforts to develop and relocate Maldivians to the artificial island of HulhuMale’. In recent years, we also witnessed a grand project to develop “GulhiMale’’ in the lagoon of Gulhi nearby Male’. And today we witness the reclamation of land for HulhuMale’ Phase II.

These projects at creating artificial islands took place while there remained already existing natural land, undeveloped and underdeveloped, in the north, mid and south of Maldives. Development policies were formulated and implemented such that Maldivians were forced to abandon their land/homes and migrate to one corner of the country. The trend continues even today and at a much more alarming pace.

While we Maldivians accepted ours as a country with few natural resources and understood this factor as the most challenging to our development as a nation; the truth is that a select few individuals became powerful, wealthy oligarchs using the same “few” natural resources. It is also a reality that the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen through the years. It is also an undeniable fact that the development disparity in income, services and opportunities are glaringly obvious between the capital Male’ and the atolls of Maldives.

Maldivians are paying a high social and economic cost for development policies that enforce atoll populations to migrate to Male’ – the capital island, which today, is among the most congested places on earth. A place, burdened with environmental degradation, societal problems and ever increasing crimes. Regardless, our development policies are still geared in that very same direction that has brought us to the present unsustainable, inequitable development. We are still pursuing policies and investing our finances to congest all Maldivians into one little corner of our archipelago, while abandoning the rest.

Today, we should ask ourselves what will happen to our birthright, i.e the land we leave behind and its natural capital, as we migrate to one corner of the country, in the perusal of better development opportunities and services. Today, we should question who will gain the benefits of the land, the lagoons, the reefs, the seas and other natural resources that we as Maldivians proudly thought belonged to us.


 

* Salma Fikry is a recipient of the National Award for services to decentralisation in the Maldives, and is an advocate of sustainable development through community empowerment.

The above article is a translation of the Foreword Salma wrote for Falhu Aliran Muiy, a book by Muna Mohamed on the inhabited islands of Maldives, including the islands being abandoned to pursue a relentless corporate agenda; and on the history, present and future of forced migration in the Maldives.

Muna Mohamed, Falhu Aliran Muiy, Published: Novelty Bookshop, June 2016, MVR240

Consciousness and the Development Paradigm

Leftover Illustration

Illustration by Ahmed Fauzan

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created It. ” - Albert Einstein 

by Salma Fikry

Here I am traveling in Denmark, in a rickety van, cramped together with people from all around the world trying to learn about sustainable development. From the Freetown of Christiania in Copenhagen to the remote island of Samsoe to the appropriately entitled Friland (Freeland) near Arhus, I found people trying to return to the very roots that they came from.

I try to understand why Pia and Johan have chosen to live in a caravan with their two children for the past three years while their ‘home’ is being built on “The Self-Sufficient Village”, using second-hand material. I try to understand the purposefulness in Mai, the gentle but strong woman with whom I cooked a meal for 70 people for the dinner they have as a community four days a week. She chose to build her own house with her bare hands when she could have got hired help or a construction company to do it. I try to understand why Christiania (Freetown) functions with its community rules and community spirit, even while not having any elected body to oversee those rules or foster that community spirit. I try to comprehend why Soren and Anna, the sophisticated and obviously wealthy couple, chose to built their own home, with recycled material and live in the remoteness of Halingelille. I am amazed at the leadership of Soren Hermanson, an Environment Teacher who mobilized the Samsingers to turn the island of Samso into a model of Renewable Energy, no longer dependant on fuel from the mainland.

Sadly, they are just a few. They are just a handful of people in the Global North, seeking to reverse the harm done. The majority is still driven by ideologies of capitalism and democracy, propagated by institutions and powerful nations that brought ruin to many of our life-systems in the Global South.

In the search for superiority and certainty, the Global North taught us to split subject from object – res cogitans – thinking substance, consciousness was separated from res extensa – matter, the physical universe. Monotheistic religions taught us that Man was superior to all else in the world and everything in the universe was there to satisfy Man. Devoid of soul, the material world was investigated like a machine, vivisected and exploited through colonialism, Newtonian physics, the industrial revolution and more recently through vehicles of globalization. Thus developed our contemporary development paradigm.

We were given engineering and mechanization plans and money for capital-intensive infrastructure development as the key to alleviating poverty. In doing so, we pushed ourselves into the concrete jungles of cities, where clean air and water became a commodity to be bought and sold. We were forced to give up traditional livelihoods and millions were made jobless. In doing so our self-sufficiency was converted to the laws of demand and supply, driven by market forces. We were told that norms should be prescribed into Constitutions and Laws in order to ensure participation of people. In doing so, millions of years of traditions, social norms and social contracts that were sacred and unwritten in the Global South, were eroded.

And here we are now. We now regard the environment and our communities as a problem to be solved. We look for technological and institutional innovations. Few of us stop to ponder that it is neither the environment nor the lack of institutions that is the problem. The problem was and is Us. It is our individual mindsets and habits that have contributed to Collective Ruin. Our level of consciousness is such that we have moved from exploiting resources for human comfort, to trying to develop systems where technology and democracy can revert the degradation that we ourselves have brought to our environment and our once thriving participatory communities. We fail to realize that the environment has its secrets and it will outlast us; it is the fittest in the great scheme of things where we are the weakest link, especially when we are not united by the bonds that make us a community.

As I sit in the community dinners with old and young alike, who come from varied backgrounds, talking about their vision and plans for the community, talking about the chores for the next day, I become nostalgic. I remember how I used to belong to and live under one roof with an extended family. I remember how the neighborhood got together to mark festivals, clean the road, celebrate a birth or mourn a death. It was not so long ago. Life has changed now, although there are a few remnants of what it was like before. I remember how inspired I was working in small communities when people came whole-heartedly to participate in community projects to renovate their school, to build their sea-wall, to clean their roads, to build their water tanks, to do a lot of things that were deemed as ‘collective’– for the service and enjoyment of everyone and not a few. There were no laws subscribed, they did it voluntarily. Ironical that I, who found it so beautiful had wanted to and worked to ‘institutionalize’ this aspect of social capital not knowing that I would be contributing to consolidating ‘power and politics’ into the hands of a few.

I realize painfully, that our mindsets, mine included, and our development paradigm remains at the same level of consciousness as those that crafted this vicious cycle of rootless growth, a few thousand years ago.

It is the level of consciousness that we have made many mistakes, that we need to rectify the harm done and rise above our individual mindsets to develop a new paradigm, a new life system for our world that strikes me in the eco-villages. Perhaps, Pia , Johan, Mai, Soren, Anna and Hermanson reached a new level of consciousness in order to do what they are doing now. Sadly, I have not reached that level of consciousness yet. My mindset is changing but it is not totally there yet…


Salma Fikry advocates decentralised governance and sustainable development through community empowerment. She wrote the above in November 2010, while on a study trip to Denmark. She has a Master’s in Development Management. She is a recipient of the National Award of Recognition for her services towards improving good governance in the Maldives.

If you are worried about the government’s plans to concentrate all development in the ‘Greater Male’ Area’ while ignoring all other parts of the country, sign the Avaaz petition and lobby the government for more sustainable ways that would decrease rather than increase the inequalities that currently exist among the Maldivian population.