This is a fictional story originally published in Dhivehi Observer on 31st July 2004. Story written by Muju Naeem, Edited by Andrew Finn.
A Nation of the Rise
It was the second year since the departure of Gayoom or as I like to call it the second year of our nations rebirth.
The project announced by the new president and his government was the biggest rebuilding of a nation ever announced in the history of all small nations anywhere in the world.
The developments spearheaded by Gayoom were stopped. Old plans by Gayoom to expand tourism throughout the atolls and upgrade the harbors of all inhabited islands, as utopian as it sounds were an economic waste of resources. Any body would tell you trying to build and modernize 200 inhabited islands are a near impossible task. Given the time when the Gayoom’s plans were announced, it is safe to say it was never really going to happen, but merely an empty promise to shut up the population getting restless over issues of political, economic and social reform. It seems that is was merely propaganda employed by Gayoom to subdue the population.
Instead a plan was announced to divide the Maldives into four economic zones for development. Instead of one city in the form of Male’, in the coming decades there will be 4 major cities in the Maldives and the expansion of tourism to every atoll would still go ahead as planed. This new plan was probably the best initiative ever taken by a Maldivian leader in its long and sometimes painful history. The new government was on a roll and it seemed anything was possible at the time.
Addu Atoll (Seenu) was announced to be the port city of Maldives. In time a massive harbour will be built in the inter-connected islands of Addu Atoll. The harbour would be more than capable of competing with the harbours of Sri Lankaand Singapore. Since Maldives does not have many natural resources to create our own products for export, re-export would be key to solving most of our problems. Many other specializing industries would follow to sustain such a massive project. Higher education for all and incentives for new businesses were high on the government agenda. A subsidy system was created to encourage business to establish themselves around the port. This would apply for other regions based on the industries.
The rest of the interconnected islands in the atoll would be given the Hulhumale’ treatment. Instead of giving small plots of land to massive families that is later going to be divided up to matchboxes for living in congested areas, planned cities and apartment style living would be the new Maldivian way of life. Every married couple will be given the opportunity to buy apartments with government incentives for home ownership.
As development carries on, every existing resident of the islands would have the priority choice on the apartments as the government decided to purchase all land in the island from the inhabitants. Second choice would be given to residents of the newly divided economic region before it goes on sale nation wide. The population of the new island of Addu would be around the 50,000 mark. Nearby unconnected islands would also be given the Hulhumale’ treatment as satellite towns of Addu, the new city. It was exiting times for Maldivian’s.
Nearby atolls Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu and Gnaviyani were also included in this economic region. All fisheries related developments would be concentrated into this region.
The second zone for economic development was the Laamu Atoll. The connected islands in this atoll are to be developed to handle inner-city tourism. Hotels, activities for tourist and locals to co-exist in a peaceful manner in a uniquely designed Island (the Hulhumale’ treatment) that caters for every aspect of city tourism. This would be available in theLaamu Atoll Island. The idea behind this region is to compete with such lucrative markets like Bali, Tahiti and Ibiza. Again satellite towns of the main island would come in time according to demand.
The third economic zone is the existing Male’ zone. Solving the problems of overcrowding of this region was the main issue on the new governments plan. Public announcement and awareness campaigns went into full gear within months of the announcement. Opportunities for a lucrative real estate market, re-export, city based tourism, and home owner ship of every married couple and public partnership in achieving these incredible dreams were all part of that campaign.
The satellite town of Villingili in Male’ Atoll was announced as the home of the new University of Maldives. The streets were gradually widened to allow a Hulhumale’ treatment for the island. Along side the existing population of Villingili, it will be mostly shared with students staying at hostels coming from all over the nation. University buildings, student hostels, apartments and a central shopping and services area would be developed.
Maldivian’s are a funny bunch of people. Even at the most critical of times we would get worked up about the most irrelevant of things. In the second year of the New Maldives, the fight regarding what to do with the presidential palace was one of the prime examples. One group wanted it to be a university building while the others wanted it to remain as the presidential palace. In the end Muleeaage became the white house of Maldives. It is both the presidential office and residence. In a full compromise by the government, the new office building on the seafront became a University Faculty building. Theemuge along with Medhu Ziyaarai became the new National Museum.
Efforts to clean up Male’ and to make it more people friendly would include the removal of the wall surrounding the Sultan Park making it a one of kind unique “Hiffaseyha Maidhaan”. It was later renamed, “The Sultans Botanical Gardens”.
He would also privatise, STO, Dhiraagu, TVM and the Voice of Maldives. It was followed by fair competitive businesses to compete with the respective businesses.
The forth economic development zone would be the atolls located in the northern most end of Maldives. Even with years of neglect by Gayoom of this region, as a personal vendetta against the people of the region, the island of Hanimaadhoowith already existing facilities like an adequate sized airport and such would be made the centre of development. As the region contains many large islands with quite large populations it would be a difficult to implement such drastic methods of development, but this does not mean that it would be ignored. Instead it was actually crucial to the sustainability of the four economic zone system.
Hanimadhoo will be the first island to receive the coveted dream like planned city treatment. More would follow in time. The same regulations and rules would apply as the other regions and factory work would be the main objective for this region. Incentives would be given to entrepreneurs of this region to start up garment, house hold furniture and traditional arts and crafts factories would be the main source of income for the region. This sector would be encouraged to house much of the Maldives existing and new industries.
The populations of these new cities would be around a manageable 50,000 or so. Opportunities for private businesses to operate ferry type transportation by seaplane between all major cities and satellite towns would be made possible.
This plan created uproar among the local communities as fears of resort style living for family and friends of the president and high ranking officials were assumed to be behind such a project. All fears were laid to rest in due time as the projects started to take life and jobs and opportunities became abundant.
Regardless of the economic zone all uninhabited island are going to be considered for tourism development. It was the president’s belief that all benefits from the lucrative tourism market belonged to the people and not to a select few or to a selected region.
As the new developments were being implemented, preparations were underway to bring justice to the remnants of the Gayoom regime. Assets of these criminals were frozen and confiscated by the government and hefty sentences were passed on. Ilyas Ibrahim, Yameen, Anbaree Abdul Sattar, Abdullah Hameed, Adam Zahir, Koli Ali Maniku, Fathuhula Jameel, Zahir Hussein all got life imprisonment with without possibility of parole with hard labour. Ahmed Abdullah got 15 years while Ismail Shafeeu got 10 years. Many others in the lower ranks were also prosecuted. Koli Ali Maniku died of a heart attack in prison. Even without Gayoom being brought to justice this gave some relief to the Maldivian people that had suffered during the brutal dictatorship of Gayoom.
As a final act of greatness by the president, he would officially complete the work he started and establish the 4 states of the nation. These were all headed by elected governors who reported to a federal government based in the capital Male’. The atolls that fell into the individual states would still have an atoll chief as before, who now reported to the governors of their respective state instead to the federal government. The atoll chiefs would also be elected.
The story also appeared in my previous blog here on Saturday, May 22nd, 2007.