Following the arrest of 26 people in a special operation to try and curb rising gang violence in Malé, Minivan News today spoke to three gang members, on condition of anonymity, to try and learn if both the operation was proving effective, and what was contributing to rising gang violence in the first place.
The first gang member identified himself as ‘Matey’, from a gang in Henveiru. The second gang member, ‘Don’, wished to keep his gang anonymous, likewise the third, a senior gang member.
The gang members spoke candidly about their reasons for being involved in gangs, finding jobs, crime, the police and politicians.
Joining the gang
All three gang members joined for different reasons and under circumstances, but they all speak about their gangs as “a second family”, with particular emphasis on a sense of community within the gang.
Matey said he loves being in the gang “because my family does not care about me, but the gang members always help me in every way.”
He said his parents “hated” him because he had a close relationship with his brother, also a gangster.
”I did not use to go and hang out with the gangs with him,” Matey said. ”I just hung out with him sometimes because he is my brother. But then my Mum and Dad thought I was becoming like him, and started ignoring me.”
Matey said he likes being with the gang because they help him “in everything he does” and he can “refresh his mind” with marijuana and alcohol.
He said first smoked marijuana because his parents always accused of him being drunk while he wasn’t, ”so one day I just tried it to see what happened.”
Don told Minivan News that he joined the gang after the police took him one day to police custody and kept him there as a suspect.
”As you know, that place is full of gangsters and I had to be in [police custody] with them,” he said.
”When I came out a few days later, I saw them on the streets and started hanging out with them.”
He said after completing his O’ levels he met the leader of the gang, who was “a friend of a friend.”
”I just joined with them to start a business,” he said.
Don said he also likes being in the gang because they “love me as much as my parents.”
The senior gang member told Minivan News he likes being in a gang because the other members “help me with everything and always back me up.”
The gang members said they wanted jobs, but felt unable to get them because of the stigma attached to their police records.
Matey said he now prefers selling drugs instead of looking for a job “because it pays more”, but Don said he was compelled to stay in the gang until his police record was cleared in five years.
”In five years when my police records are cleared I will get a job,” he said.
The senior gang member said his family forced him to earn money but he was unable to get a job, also because of his police record.
”I would like to be like other people, going to work and earning money,” he said.
He added that the government “must provide more job opportunities for the people.”
The police did not know how to handle gangs, Matey said: ”They arrest anyone with long hair and earrings.”
Because the police sometimes arrested innocent people, he explained, it had became a way for innocent people to get into gangs through association with gangsters.
”When [innocent people] are taken into police custody they meet lots of gangsters and become friends with them,” he said.
Don added ”the new government is trying to make Maldives a carbon neutral country, but don’t they know police vans, jeeps and motorbikes patrolling 24 hours harms the environment a lot?”
Many people are continuing to join gangs for protection, the gang members explained.
Matey said the need for protection was driving people who did not have any family problems to become involved in crimes with gangs, because they wanted support and protection from other gangs.
Don said this was particularly common for the younger gang members, who were seeking protection and support from the gang.
While the gangs were not particularly interested in the country’s politics, Don explained that “some political figures support the gangs by paying them to do crimes, sometimes to attack someone or for their protection.”
The senior gang member said his gang received support from political figures, usually for ‘protecting’ their business.
”In return they provide funds for our needs,” he said.
Matey said he did not think rising crime in Malé could be prevented, while Don said the way to make Malé peaceful was “for police to leave the gangs alone.”
However the senior member suggested that to make Malé peaceful “police should arrest everyone connected to crimes.”
“The gangs don’t just commit crimes,” he said. ”We conducted a diving course this year, and once I was offered [the opportunity] to go abroad for studies.”
He said the leaders of the gangs did not want to create violence in Malé, but warned “we will attack if we are attacked.”
Crime and income
Matey agreed with the senior gang member that robbery was proving the most lucrative crime in Malé, although the latter said drug dealing also was also a main source of income for the gangs.
He said the public “respect anybody who has lots of money”, and did not appear to worry too much about how it was earned. Regarding robberies, he said, “we normally get information for our missions from expats who work with [the places we are robbing],” he said. ”In return, we give them a share of what we get.”
The senior gang member said that ”the most important thing is to avoid corruption in the country, because today we can buy anything for money; the police, Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation (DPRS), jail officers and judges, too,” he said. ”There are gang members inside the police.”
A police spokesperson confirmed that criminal records were kept for five years, but that they were only applied if the person was convicted by a court.
He reiterated that police would only arrest someone if they had enough evidence, as the court would not accept a case otherwise.