Ahmed fears for the life of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and well-known environmental campaigner, who is now fighting for re-election a year after a violent uprising forced him from power. And Ahmed should know – he says he was once offered the contract to carry out his assassination, writes Eric Randolph for the UAE’s publication The National.
Picture the Maldives, and you’re probably imagining crystalline waters and perfectly groomed white beaches. Yet outside the five-star resorts, real life is very different and the image of an idyllic paradise has been tarnished by the growing problems of gang violence, drug addiction, unemployment, political corruption and religious extremism.
Having been one of the most notorious members of one of the country’s most feared gangs, Ahmed (not his real name) knows this side of the Maldives all too well. We meet in the cramped one-bedroom “apartment” he shares with his parents and two siblings. Apartment is a stretch – it’s a small room down a dingy ground-floor corridor, walls painted a lurid green, with an extended bunk bed that somehow accommodates all five of them and takes up most of the space.
In 2006, a leading politician allegedly offered Ahmed a contract to kill “or severely injure” Mohamed Nasheed, the man who was trying to bring down the 30-year authoritarian rule of Maumoon Gayoom. Local politicians and elites had been using the gangs to run their drug and alcohol operations on the streets for several years by this point. Street fights over territory and girls were leading to nine or 10 deaths a year.
Ahmed won’t talk about the violence in his past, though at one stage he draws me a picture of the knives he used to carry at all times (guns, mercifully, have yet to make it to Maldives). “This is my favourite,” he says, pointing at a serrated blade that looks like a Christmas tree in his sketch.