President Mohamed Nasheed has welcomed a series of events in the Maldives designed to try and forge closer cultural and development partnerships with France, claiming they are indicative of a country that is looking to become “more democratic, more liberal” and ultimately, freer.
Speaking last night during a reception at the National Art Gallery in Male’, Nasheed joined Christine Robichon, French ambassador to the Maldives, in playing up the latest developments in what he claimed was a long relationship that dated back to the 1700’s and was continuing to benefit the nation in a variety of different ways.
This week in particular has seen a number of developments relating to French culture and expertise in the Maldives, including the naval ship FS Mistral docked in the country’s waters as part of a long-term training deployment and the more scaled back establishment of the Alliance Francaise in the recently opened National Library in Male’.
The Alliance Francaise is an organisation that works to promote French cultural language programmes across the world, and is running a Film Festival of productions from French speaking nations. The group was first officially recognised in the Maldives in 2009 and estimates that the number of students now learning French at public schools has increased to 400 people from just four during the last two years.
Historically the Maldives has seen significant interest from French tourists in visiting its waters and resorts. While conceding that the strength of this interest had fallen behind other markets like China, Ambassador Robichon told guests at the gallery that the option for a growing number of students in the country to learn French may not make as much business sense locally, but still offered the “variety” of speaking a major international language for Maldivian students.
President Nasheed said that he hoped a growing number of Maldivian children and the wider population were looking to embrace different history, culture and languages through education.
“We want to welcome everyone to the country, we want to become multicultural and we are moving along these lines and with our new found friendship I am sure we will be able to achieve that,” he said.
Along with the potential cultural pursuits being offered to Maldivians, President Nasheed also announced that work was beginning on French-sponsored development assistance projects to provide sewerage and water systems to islands in the country.
Whilst thanking the French ambassador for her country’s assistance with these developments, Nasheed claimed that with its recent ascension from being designated as a UN ‘least developed country’ (LDC) to a middle income nation, the Maldives was having to learn to try and stand on its own two feet.
“Recently we have been promoted from a least developed country and we want to stand up to that. We want to be able to fend for ourselves and live within our means,” he said. “We do not want aid, we want understanding and friendship and I am sure we will find that in France.”