“Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, xenophobic country”: former President Nasheed

The following speech was given by former President Mohamed Nasheed at the launch of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s foreign policy. President Mohamed Waheed’s Independence Day address is available here.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

We live in turbulent times. Times have always been turbulent.

We sit in the Indian Ocean, across a 1000km from North to South, where the bulk of the international trade passes. We are so strategically located that when the big boys fight, we are hemmed and wedged in-between.

The basis of our foreign policy is what my grandmother used to say, find a friend and stick with them, be good and be honest to them.

Our relationships do not depend on our fortunes, but on our ideals.

We are saddened that a number of countries with whom we shared our sentiments didn’t live up to our expectations.

But still our relationships do not depend on our political fortunes.

Down and under or up and above we still stick to our principles and beliefs.

A tolerant Islamic society, friends with everyone, enemies of no one.

The Maldives recently embarked on a remarkable journey towards democracy that sought to allow our people to live free, prosperous and dignified lives.

The adoption of a new constitution that guaranteed fundamental rights and allowed for separation of powers and term limits for the president was a key achievement.

So were the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections that took place in quick succession from late 2008 onwards.

Our party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, had the good fortune to become the first democratically elected government in our country’s history.

It is remarkable that after 30 years of one-man rule, the change took place through the ballot box, and that the transfer of power was peaceful and recognised as legitimate by both Maldivians and the international community.

We were also particularly proud and hopeful to be the first Muslim country in South Asia to have achieved a peaceful transition to democracy.

The people of Maldives placed a great deal of trust in us, and had high expectations that we would be able to deliver on our pledges so that the quality of their lives would be better.

In order to build the kind of society we want, we felt that it was imperative that we engage with the wider world and become responsible global citizens.

The Maldives has always maintained contact with the outside world. Historically we have been seafarers, traders, and explorers. We have never lived in isolation and we must not live in isolation in an interdependent world.

The mainstay of our economy is our hospitality industry. Close to a million tourists visit our shores every year to enjoy our country’s natural beauty and our people’s hospitality. Visitors to the Maldives has always been the norm.

Thus we feel that Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, and xenophobic country.

We need to be outward looking and cosmopolitan.

This is the foreign policy that the first MDP government pursued.

Human rights were an important part of our domestic policy platform. It was only natural that we took the promotion of these values to the wider world.

Our membership of the Human Rights Council was an important achievement. Indeed, we secured the highest number of votes in that election, and we used our platform to press for stronger global human rights protection mechanisms.

We aimed to increase foreign investment in the Maldives, through our pivot towards commercial diplomacy.

As we graduated from a Least Developed Country to a middle-income country, we knew that economic opportunities had to be expanded.

Trade not aid, became our new mantra. And the results were remarkable.

Statistics maintained by our Ministry of Economic Development show that out of the 1.5 billion dollars that flowed in through non-tourism foreign direct investment since 1980, over 50 percent was secured during our three years in government.

At US$500 million, the contract with GMR–Malaysia Airports consortium to develop the international airport in Male’ was the single largest investment in the country’s history.

A loan from the Export-Import Bank of China facilitated the development of 1,500 housing units in Hulhumale’ through a Chinese contractor.

By selling shares in Dhiraagu to the British company Cable and Wireless, we were able to begin work on a submarine cable project in partnership with the Japanese Hitachi Corporation that will provide high-speed internet connectivity throughout the length and breadth of the Maldives.

Climate change is a real existential threat to our country. Under the MDP government, Maldives moved away from being a victim of climate change to a leading voice in the debate. The role we played at the COP 15 Summit in Copenhagen attempted to bridge countries on different sides of the argument. We were pleased that the Copenhagen Accord pledged much needed funding for climate change adaptation for us and other countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We spoke on behalf of the Small Island States on the same platform as the world’s largest economies.

Maldives’ took a ‘can-do’ approach on climate change. We made a bold decision to become a carbon neutral country by 2020 and we were in the process of submitting our renewable energy investment plan to the World Bank in February 2012.

There were many other instances where our relationships with the outside world have proved fruitful to our people.

We have had important cultural exchanges, for instance through the Hay literary festival.

We set up an International Volunteer Corp, so that volunteers could travel to our beautiful country and help us with important social services.

We increased scholarships for our youth to study abroad.

These are just some examples of our interactions with our international partners and the benefits that our citizens gained through our foreign policy.

But of course, as you know, this story did not have a happy ending.

Fledgling democracies are fragile.

The success of a democracy does not rest upon the ability to give people a vote and to hold an election every few years. It requires a massive shift in power from a stronghold “deep state” to the masses.
On the 7th of February last year, I was forced out of the office that I was elected to just three years before. I set out the details of the coup in great detail in my testimony to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI). So I will not belabour the point here.

Some chose not to recognise the events that forced the country’s first democratically elected government out of office as a coup.

But what was clear to all even then, was that this was not how a democratically elected government in any country should be changed.

And what has become increasingly clear over time, is that the coup has reversed many political and developmental gains that the country had made during our three years of democracy.

We had taken one step forward, but were quickly forced to move two steps back.

The security forces continue to act with impunity and use excessive force against peaceful protesters.

Politically motivated prosecutions have become the norm. There are currently cases pending against all levels of the opposition, from the MDP’s presidential candidate to several hundred grassroots party activists.

Mismanagement of the economy has led to the government budget already being exhausted mid-way through the year, and many essential services are neglected.

Infrastructure projects in many islands initiated by the MDP government have come to a sudden halt.

The universal health insurance scheme established by our government has been scaled down.

The transport network we set up to connect our islands and bring goods and services closer to the people has become dormant in many parts of the country.

Local fishermen earn less for their catch after the competitive market has once again been monopolised.

While 115 schools were converted to single session by the end of 2011, no progress has been made on the program since then.

The airport’s roof still leaks when it rains and we have to rely on an archipelago of buckets to keep travelers dry.

Most recently, we saw how the thalassemia centre has been mismanaged to the extent that lives were put at risk.

One of our greatest achievements in our three years, I believe, were the gains in media freedom. With the ousting of the democratically elected government, Maldives’ press freedom fell 30 points back to pre 2008 levels.

Since the February 7th, 2012 coup, the country has not just seen the backsliding of democracy and greater affronts being committed against human rights. The state of our economy is deeply worrying. It has also seen decline in the country’s foreign relations.

There has been a nasty tide against many of our international partners, be it the Commonwealth, the EU, or indeed, India.

The coup government unceremoniously terminated the airport contract with GMR, amid some very unsavoury anti-Indian rhetoric. We now face a 1.5 billion dollar claim by GMR in international courts. This is a relationship that we cannot afford to turn sour, and a compensation bill that we cannot afford to pay.

In contrast, when the MDP took office in 2008 we made the decision to honour all financial commitments of the previous government. We believed in the importance of upholding contracts. It was the responsible thing to do. And it is a great tragedy that our example was not followed.

The bad relations with the international community means that there is little by way of assistance as our country’s democratic institutions and social and economic infrastructure crumbles.

It has meant that crucial visa arrangements have been jeopardized, making it harder for Maldivians to travel abroad.

And yet the coup government turns deeper inwards and shuns the wider world.

We were a beacon of hope.

We are no longer a leading voice in the climate change debate.

We are less concerned about widespread human rights abuse in Syria and Egypt.

We have once again become just another member state.

It is high time that this insular mentality is dropped, and that we reapply for our old job of being a responsible international citizen.

We pledge to repair our damaged relations with the wider world.

We pledge to work with our international partners to uphold human rights and establish a justice system that our citizens can have confidence in.

We pledge to carry on the increase in inward investment and outward trade to bring greater prosperity to our people.

We pledge to, once again, become a responsible member of the global community of nations.

An MDP government will reset important bilateral relations including those with our neighbours. South Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. But it needs strong partnerships and strong leadership.

We will not seek to play one country against the other, but rather, maintain a balanced network of bilateral ties.

We were proud to host the SAARC Summit in 2011 and proposed the establishment of a regional transport link. But we greatly regret the fact that the coup meant that Maldives was not able to take advantage of its position as chair of SAARC to make our proposals a reality.

We will continue our advocacy of a two-state solution to the Middle-East crisis.

We will strive hard to push forward our human rights agenda. We successfully completed the Universal Periodic Review process between November 2010 and March 2011 and accepted over 100 recommendations. But of course, as the tragic events since the coup have shown, much more needs to be done to embed these values in our society.

The next MDP government will redouble our efforts to implement our international human rights commitments and to end the culture of impunity that is now so prevalent in the Maldives.

We will work with our international partners to reform crucial institutions such as the police, the military and the judiciary.

The actions of the Waheed regime have frightened away foreign investors. We will slowly, but surely, regain their confidence by strengthening our rule of law and respecting commercial contracts.

Our diplomatic missions will be encouraged to seek commercial opportunities from a diverse range of partners. This will be crucial to support our policy of economic diversification in areas such as mid-range tourism through guesthouses, as well as mariculture and agriculture projects.

Part of this effort will be to integrate Maldives and its people into the global village by promoting visa agreements, educational opportunities abroad and cultural exchanges.

An MDP government will work hard to solve global problems through multilateral institutions. We are proud of the role we played in reforming the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, to make it more proactive in holding perpetrators accountable.

It is no secret that we were extremely disappointed by the outcome of CoNI. But we will continue to engage with CMAG to ensure events that took place in the Maldives are not repeated elsewhere.

MDP will return climate change to the centre of Maldives foreign policy. It will return to its pragmatic approach of leading by example – by getting our carbon neutrality back on track. Maldives will once again lead at the UNFCCC, and will redouble its domestic efforts on building a more climate resilient and sustainable Maldives.

We thought democracy and human rights were here to stay simply because we had free elections and a new constitution. We were wrong. No country in the world has a perfect democracy. It takes constant effort. For that, we need strong institutions, an independent judiciary, good laws, and an active and vigilant civil society.

And we need the assistance of our partners to build these essential blocks of our country.

The flame of liberty and hope that once burned brightly has quickly dimmed to nothing more than a few embers. On the 7th of September we once again have the opportunity to rekindle this flame by having an elected government with a legitimate mandate from the people.

We need your assistance to ensure that these elections are free and fair, and that there will be a peaceful transfer of power once again to whomever emerges successful at the polls.
We urge you to be vigilant and welcome your engagement during this crucial time, as we in the Maldives, once again, find ourselves at the cross roads of history.

Five years ago we pledged to take our citizens to Another Maldives where they would enjoy freedom, prosperity and dignity. That journey was brutally cut short, but not before we delivered on important reforms domestically, and established ourselves as a responsible and globally connected nation.

We have been tortured. We have been beaten up. We have been threatened.
Yet, we continue to seek strength from one another.

Our strength has always been the people of the Maldives.

Our hope lies with the people.

Today, as we renew that promise, I am confident that brighter days are once again around the corner.

It has given me great pleasure to spend this time with you here today and share with you the foreign policy priorities of a re-elected MDP government.

Thank you very much.


23 thoughts on ““Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, xenophobic country”: former President Nasheed”

  1. Your inability to find the common ground in your people will be nothing but your failure Mr.President.

  2. It depends on the cost of finding this so called common ground. Compromise is a part of politics, but when you compromise your principles to the degree where what is valuable in your message is totally changed, then compromise is harmful to the nation. This is exactly why Waheed's government failed- the so called common ground became an arena for people to fight for their personal ambitions. MDP should stay faithful to their values. Their hope to win the elction in one round is exactly what is best for the nation

  3. people all divided everywhere in their opinion. Same in mordis.taht coni was big farce.

  4. Nasheed has a better foreign policy then the other jokers and his major failure had been his leniency towards the former dictator and his partners

  5. Anni, here my comments:

    1) We are saddened that a number of countries with whom we shared our sentiments didn’t live up to our expectations -> they didn't live up to our expectations??? I think it's the other way around;

    2) In order to build the kind of society we want, we felt that it was imperative that we engage with the wider world and become responsible global citizens -> we responsbile citizens??? We don't even know that word;

    3) Climate change is a real existential threat to our country -> very true, so just get more international and domestic flights, more people visiting so more boat traffic, more people producing more rubbish. You don't get the point at all;

    4) Since the February 7th, 2012 coup -> you, yourself resigned;

    In your speech, you indirectly blame all others by saying that we should not blame others.
    Get real and get a life Anni

  6. One more thing Anni:

    We will continue our advocacy of a two-state solution to the Middle-East crisis -> since ages, developed countries, have been trying to solve that issue, and you think that we Maldivians can solve it? Pakassss

  7. "Maldives cannot afford to be an inward looking, and xenophobic country"

    This is 180 degrees opposite to what Mullahs want.

    Mullahs fear if Mordisian public sees non-muslims living peacefully,prosperously, Mordisians will realize that the Mullah strategy of intimidation is a lie.

    The sooner Mordisians 'see' and embrace the world of multi-culture, the better. God loves all, except the criminals. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims ... all equally. EQUALITY is the message that Mordisians must realize. Very soon.

    God does not strike bolts of lightening for eating pork. for drinking beer. for having sex. Never have punished for these actions.

    Mullahs take upon themselves to execute Gods 'foretold' actions, as Mullahs do not like when God does not hit Buddhists with lightening, every time they bow to a Buddha. Which is why Mullahs rant and call for their-hands on execution, at apostates.

    What a sick way to swindle and con human minds of the weak!

  8. Well said Mr President. We are all with you.
    @Alifutha obviously you dont have anything common with the ordinary citizens of this country!

  9. Well said Prez Nasheed!

    A vast number of us Maldivians do believe that Maldives can't afford to be a xenophobic inward looking, intolerant society - Intolerant towards not just people of other faiths but also fellow countrymen of women who do not follow the fundamentalist Islamic way of life that is promoted by a vocal minority amongst us.

    But while this may be the case, the country is rapidly sliding into a fundamentalist intolerant society where it is becoming increasingly difficult for moderate Maldivians to live.

    Prez Nasheed's brave words are not enough to save this nation from this 'tsunami" of intolerance & xenophobia.

    I say its time to emigrate!

  10. The failure cause, he gave freedom to the real Dictator and Gayoom and his bugs. No other reason.People of Maldives must eliminate the kind of elements.

  11. The problem with our "far too loaded loud mouths" is, when they don't know to keep their mouths shut!

    I think President Nasheed has got ideas and values! Time will tell!

  12. I do not believe a corrupt person such as Nasheed is capable of doing anything.

  13. I like the part when Nasheed says ' friends with everyone, enemies of no one'

    But by far this foreign policy prescription is riddled with internal contradictions as schizophrenic as the statements of former 'Mordis' foreign minister shaheed. Example, a nation has to reach a certain level of economic developmt before talking on lofty ideals as human rights and climate change. And when u say trade not aid, this is not what u hear from human rights and climate priests,

    Pragmatism is lacking in this policy

  14. @Andrew Andreas: "God loves all, except the criminals...."

    I agree with the overall point of your message.

    But, God loves all, EVEN the criminals.

    This does not mean that I believe criminals should not be punished. But, the emphasis of punishment should be rehabillitation, the restoration of at least some of the Divine Image in the offender.

    Some offenders are so far gone they cannot be rehabillitated in this life and may need to live out the rest of their days in jail. But God can deal with them in the after life.

    God is SOMETIMES angered and grieved for the offender by the circumstances which lead to the criminal behaviour. The SYSTEM is criminal, and the so called offenders are SOMETIMES the VICTIMS.

  15. Nasheed is the man who are trying to derail our foreign relationship with other country just for his own benefit.

    GMR corrupt deal is only an " investment" that Nasheed can talk of brining. But that was not really an investment since GMR was using the revenue generated through the airport to do the renovations.

    The loan was taken under the sovereign guarantee ? What kind of Foreign investment is he talking about ?

    He thinks that we all are nuts and he is only the man who knows anything in this country.

    Get a life and be the president of Kenereege and not Maldives.

    We will kick you out on the first round.

  16. manike if have nothing common with the people i Nasheed will get 99.9% vote. I don't expect all people think a like. There are very different views and also similarities where u don't expect.

    From my view, on this issue President Nasheed had only focused in advocating values that divide us, where as he can work to find common ground in other issues. One such case is here with Judicial reform. http://cnm.mv/scnm/f/?id=15129

    I don't expect everyone who vote for other candidates or don't vote nasheed are bad people or bagees. We should encourage tolerance. But at the same time that doesn't mean not taking actions against people who need it.

  17. @Ben Plewright on Sun, 28th Jul 2013 8:58 AM

    Mordisian psyche has been programmed to hate all non-muslims with vehemence. You would see this specially during Ramazan, if any one sees a person, say an expat, having food daytime, they would skin him alive. Even if the expat is not a muslim. Its as though the more violent you get, is related to how devout you are.

    Basically, Mordis needs to understand the concept of keeping religion to one-self, and not to poke their noses into others beliefs. Only then, Mordisians can integrate into the multicultural world outside.

  18. There's only one way Nasheed can keep his manifesto and promises afloat when he resumes power. That is, by having the right team of people behind him.

    Last time, he had idiots like Afeef, Tholhath and so on. Lesson learned, I hope.

    Also, here's an interesting idea for a future leader to try. Make sure every Maldivian experiences people of different faiths and cultures. A bit like a cultural exchange program for the whole country. This could involve sending people abroad for cultural exchanges, or by bringing people from outside and living within our community.

    There's one way to get rid of xenophobia. In a society cut off from the rest of the world, and even internally within communities; xenophobia is easily exploited. Once people experience other cultures, religions and ways of life at a personal level, a whole new world will open up.

    In fact, we do have that opportunity by opening up tourism into the local community. F**k the Mullahs, just do it!

  19. Nasheed wants subservience to India, Israel, kisses up to European colonialists. I don't recommend closing all your ties but u have to be careful. China, Pakistan, Muslim and South American countries, Sri Lanka, you can be close too.

    But those warmongerers in US, Europe, India, bhuddist generals in Burma, best to be careful. Look at Iraq, the US invades and evangelist Christians follow. Yikes! Be street smart too Maldives. Best from Canada.

  20. Nasheed is pragmatic leader and I don’t know why anyone would comment negatively on his speech. His view how Maldives should engage with foreign countries, is only foreign policy that is relevant with Maldives. Xenophobia (the fear of foreign influence) has to be removed from Maldives Psyche. This fear is natural and mainly inherent in uncivilized primitive people. This irrational fear is the only problem that hinders the development in the Maldives. The Maldivians mostly fear that the foreigners are going to steal their most valuables heritage Islam, Why would anyone fear that someone can steal your belief from you. This is the most stupid fear a grown man could have. There can be one reason why you can be driven out from what you believe; it is that you know deep inside that you are on a shaky ground. On the other hand, why would foreigners want to mess up with you unless you are a threat to them? Definitely you can’t be a threat to anyone in the world?

    This kind of xenophobia is baseless mental issue especially because of religion. This gives nothing instead you are losing. If it was something to do with economy or survival than may be this could be a healthy phobia. It would have been better if you have Bangliphobia.

    Maldives depends on Tourism and fisheries and both industries can survive with good relationship with non Musilm countries, Arabs don’t travel for leisure and they don’t eat fish.

  21. He is right. The rest of the world work together for a higher standard of living collectively. So must we.

  22. @Fishy Head on Sun, 28th Jul 2013 11:33 PM

    "Arabs don’t travel for leisure and they don’t eat fish."

    They do travel, but mainly eat meat and lots of it. If you ever happen to visit the Edgware Road area of London during Ramadan, you'll figure out why Arabs travel. They'll sit inside cafes (during Ramadan) drinking a brown liquid that'd appear to be tea, but it's not. I'd leave you to guess what the actual stuff is.

    The also like to travel to Las Vegas, Paris, Milan, Mallorca, Monaco etc. They are not the "sit on the beach" variety or even the diving variety. Those places I mentioned cater for their tastes.

  23. Those who say Maldivain are Xenephobic have not read history. Ibn Batuta would turn in his grave laughing at such an assumption.

    Problem of Nasheed foreign policy it schizophrenic. Here is why

    On the global stage there is continuous preaching of all populist causes. Human rights, LGBT rights, climate change etc.. Basically if a pot smoking hippy scruffy looking NGO teenager supports an issue, MDP is behind it. On the home turf, however, the game is different. Nasheed's foregn policy circle is a close knit family of elites who are related to each other - hardly the sprit of the the Universal Human Rights vales..

    So there is a conflicting and contradictory message, one message at home, another abroad..


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