Scale of the SAARC Summit

Addu’s new convention centre, purpose-built for the SAARC Summit, looms out of a deserted patch of swampy marshland in Hithadhoo like some kind of spaceship, thoroughly incongruous with the background.

When Minivan News first visited yesterday, a large crowd of local residents stood by the road leading to the giant building, staring at it dumbfounded as if waiting for extraterrestrials to emerge.

Past the polished lobby, the cavernous chamber inside is warmly lined with wood and resembles a modern concert hall. Opposition media outlets have ungenerously suggested the structure is sinking into the swamp, while assorted government officials were quick to attribute this to political jealousy.

Addu is a fiercely independent atoll, neglected by successive governments following an abortive attempt to secede from the Maldives alongside Huvadhu Atoll and Fuvahmulah as the United Suvadive Republic in 1959. This was brutally crushed in 1962 by then-President Ibrahim Nasir using a gunboat borrowed from Sri Lanka, and the entire island of Havaru Thinadhoo was depopulated and its inhabitants dispersed, killed or imprisoned.

The presence of the British airbase at Gan ensured steady employment, English proficiency and free medical treatment. Even today a disproportionate number of the country’s most successful businessmen are from Addu.

The departure of the RAF in 1976 hit the atoll’s independence hard, and the tourism boom beginning to take hold in other parts of the Maldives was slow to develop in Addu despite the presence of an airport and some of the country’s best dive spots.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to declare Addu Atoll a city prior to the local council elections, the declaration that it would be hosting the SAARC Summit, and the building of the convention centre has played to the atoll’s independent sentiment and given it unprecedented political recognition.

There are 30,000 votes in that sentiment – and an additional 8000 with the opening of the new airport at Fumuvalah, a single-island atoll and the country’s most isolated, surrounded by rough and inhospitable seas.

As a domestic political strategy, SAARC appears to be working. Driving along the link road from Gan to Hithadhoo yesterday, Minivan News observed amid the country flags of SAARC nations an abundance of yellow buildings, the colour of President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

A local woman, sweeping up weeds with a rake under a large billboard, described her work as a “national duty”. The billboard read: “Thank you President Nasheed, you led us to believe in dreams.”

Development after SAARC

Speaking to Minivan News in between juggling mobile phones, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem observed that conferencing and event tourism had “huge potential” in the Maldives, given the country’s already “five star personality”. It would shift the Maldives from its reliance on beach and sun tourism, he suggested.

There were, he noted, some “tabloid” opinions about the centre, but said there was already interest in the tender for running the centre post-SAARC and the construction of a nearby hotel from hoteliers around the country and region.

“The infrastructure has been developed and people have been trained to run this kind of event,” he said.

SAARC dignitaries have been staying at the upmarket Shangri-La Villingili resort, while journalists around the world from London to Bangladesh have taken over Equator Village, the former RAF Sergeant’s mess, moaning about the sporadic shuttle bus and opportunistic US$10 taxi fares.

The locals have meanwhile launched a campaign of parades and evening entertainment, with music performances and enough fairy lighting along the link road as to give the place a festive feel. Participation was initially muted, acknowleged one official – “everyone still seems surprised. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Among the most successful local operations is the Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival, which has set up stalls at major venues and been doing a brisk trade in T-shirts, local handicrafts, and peppery Adduan short-eats and banana-leaf wrapped medicines all made by local producers. Trails of foreign journalists crunching their way through packets of homemade spicy gulha are a common sight.

Stalls have been selling local foods and handicrafts to visitors

SAARC Summit

The key day of the Summit is November 10, the opening ceremony during which SAARC heads of state will give their address. During the two-day Summit all traffic in the atoll will be stalled, divers pulled out of the water, and travel on the link road restricted. Last night checkpoints backed up as police logged the registration of every passing vehicle.

During the presence of the world leaders mobile communications around the centre will be jammed; foreign journalists became flustered after being told they would be unable to take laptops or phones into the convention centre during the opening and closing ceremonies due to tight security.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem told Minivan News the most important objective of the Summit was to improve and promote trade in the region, and remove existing barriers and impediments: “only three percent of trade among SAARC countries is regional.”

“We should adopt SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) as soon as possible,” he said.

Economically, the Maldives is most concerned about developing ferry transport connections with countries in the region, reducing its dependence on air travel, and on the climate change front, “promoting renewable energy investment”.

Naseem also raised the prospect of introducing a human rights mechanism into SAARC, but acknowledged that it was ambitious and that SAARC had “an embedded system.”

There was, however, “a lot of good will on all sides”, he said. SAARC would be a success “even if we can agree on the issues to be solved.”

For Addu, the outcome of SAARC has already been assured.


20 thoughts on “Scale of the SAARC Summit”

  1. As a lot of your readers know,I was stationed on Gan[69/70]during the RAF era.I have been back many times,and still have many friends from those RAF days, as well as many new friends from my return visits.I loved the place and the people then,just as I do now,and therefore I wish Addu and everything that is good about the place/people,the very best of luck in the future...

  2. SAARC is a useless talk shop. A forum for India and Pakistan to meet for bilateral talks. Its achieved very little since its inception, except foster bloated egos of ruling heads of government

  3. MDP has proven itself to be a party that can energize and rally people around an activity and SAARC preparations is one of the good examples.

    SAARC preparations shows the good that can be achieve if MDP's energy used positively. Hope that this is an example of things to come in future.

  4. Once again our President has proved is a dynamic guy with positive thinking.
    The oppositions can say many negative things about his policies, but the general public has faith in him and his policies.

  5. Islamic republic of Iran has observer status in SAARC. The government should not hinder their participation in this summit. Letting other observer countries like America to participate with a big contingent and not letting iran to participate is very hypocritical of this government.

  6. JJ Robinson - get your facts right or don't do this at all.

    "Addu is a fiercely independent atoll, neglected by successive governments ..."

    "...and the tourism boom beginning to take hold in other parts of the Maldives was slow to develop in Addu..."

    Do you even know anything about Maldives? Everything was done in and around Male. Not in all of Maldives except Addu. Addu, Huvadhu and Foah Mullah have received far better treatment from Maumoon's and Anni's governments than other parts of Maldives outside of Male.

    This article is a real insult to people like me (who is from the far north). and I am deeptly hurt by what you are trying to say. This article should be retracted and an appology forwarded to the majority of the Maldivians who do not live in Male, Addu, Fuah Mullah or Huvadhu.

  7. Yep, an impressive achievement and the level of cooperation between the MDF, government department and agencies as well as the local people have been amazing.

    Who would have thought that something like this would have sprung out of a swamp in the middle of nowhere, in under a year. This really does show what we can achieve by working together.

    Hope we can continue to build the country like this, every single day. Maldives will become the envy of the world!

  8. Very good report.

    Gives a nice first-hand feel of the atmosphere there to the curious among us who happen to be far from Addu 😉

    I hope they pull this off well!

  9. SAARC will not succeed nor will it be a body of more strength and value to its own people and on the international arena unless its two main countries India and Pakistan makes real peace with each other. This mean resolving all your disputes mainly Kashmir, opening borders, free trade, absolute trust for each other and establishing zero tolerance to terrorism against each other. Until this happens, SAARC will always be just a summit which will happen every year in one of its member countries. India and Pakistan can resolves all their issues and make peace if they are honestly into and want to achieve it practically. They can lead SAARC into a union of vaòue just like the way Germany and France are leading the EU. India and Pakistan need to leave behind they decades old enemity and make peace in real just like the way Germany and France did after the war thus contributing to the creation of EU.

  10. MN reached Addu yesterday, lol, how slow are you covering this historical event for the Addu City and its people.

  11. A good opportunity for Shangri-La, they can promote themselves to large groups looking to gather for a conference.

    $10 taxi ride is not opportunistic. Petrol costs money here, in Bangladesh and in New York. I hope foreign journalists who live here realize this soon. Leave it it foreign journalists who visit for the first time to disparage about paying $3 for an espresso or $10 for a taxi ride in a "developing country"

  12. "...a large crowd of local residents stood by the road leading to the giant building, staring at it dumbfounded as if waiting for extraterrestrials to emerge."


    This is the true STATISTICS of Maldivian people. Most were deliberately DEPRIVED of good education by the 30yo dictator. He wants ppl to be DUMB. Under the pretext of "education" all he did was to educate them HALF by ONLY giving education to 10th or 12th grade. That's for Maldivians O'Levels and A'Levels. NOT UNIVERSITY EDUCATION WAS given. A nation WASTED COMPLETELY.

    🙁 🙁 🙁

    And still some of these FOOLISH ppl are TRYING to BRING BACK GAY-YOOM and his FAMILY to POWER AGAIN.

  13. Great opportunity for the people of Addu if this convention center manages to remain in business. Congratulations to the Government and people of Addu City. This is great achievement. I hope to visit Addu soon to see the new infrastructure first hand.

  14. Putting things into context, as far as Maldivians are concerned, i doubt SAARC will be able to enrich our lives or significantly improve any trade ties that will have a direct impact on this country.

    But what SAARC is doing and will do is plant the seed in Addu atoll for its future growth and development. it will also garner much support and tally future votes for MDP in 2013.

    The next question that comes to mind is was it worth the cost to invest in this as far as the country's financial position. probably not, but this does put a significant badge on Anni's shoulder and will be the highlight of the mid term of Anni's presidency.

  15. Saarc has indeed taken of the ground this 17th Summit has done nothing but make the Maldivians a little bit poorer than we were before.
    If Saarc is a forum for the Head of State to show off his ego, at the cost of the poorest people in the world! President Nasheed has fully attained it.

    Long live the people of Maldives

  16. @ahmed:

    Could not say more. SAARC means little to nothing in terms of immediate goals of the Maldivian State.

    However this spectacle will serve the political interests of the MDP government. Of course the peasant masses need a little spectacle now and then and they will enjoy this one as much as the next.

    The expenditure is a tad too much though. However it will be worth it for Nasheed. Not so much the Maldivian people.

  17. Well done gnashed you have proven what you said about six months back. We now believe in you and salute you.

  18. @HassanK

    "This article is a real insult to people like me (who is from the far north). and I am deeptly hurt by what you are trying to say."

    I don't think there's much wrong with the reporting in this article. You have to put this in the context of where Addu was in the 70s when Gan was handed over to Nasir and subsequently inherited by Gayyoom.

    Nasir's immediate actions were to loot as much of Gan's infrastructure as he could and pocket the money! Considering the fact that RAF left Gan's civilian infrastructure totally intact, both Nasir and Gayyoom could have kick started not just the economy of Addu and surroundings, but the whole of the country too! Neither had any interest in doing that.

    However, due to the well known and historical animosity of the Male ruling classes towards Addu and the southern atolls in general, the area was left to decay.

    You cannot compare this to the North. In fact, a lot of tourism investment took place in the North and there was a hell of a lot more investment in the North during Gayyoom's era.

  19. JJ Robinson, if you had done your research more thoroughly you would have found out that the southern revolt was not ended "using a gunboat borrowed from Sri Lanka". The Government sent armed expeditions to the south on two occasions, once in 1959 under the command of Officer Dhapparu Moosa Maniku of the National Security Service and then in 1962, under the command of Prime Minister Nasir. The 1959 expedition was on board the SS Elizabeth Boye which was then operated as a cargo vessel by the Maldivian National Trading Corporation (Ceylon) Limited. The vessel was charted from a European shipping line. At that time the Maldivian National Trading Corporation (Ceylon) Limited was wholly owned by the Government of the Maldive Islands. The second expedition involved two ships, the Silver Crest which was a Government-owned official yacht and the SS (later MV) Maldive Star (previously known as the SS Nordic Queen), a UK-registered cargo ship owned by the Maldivian National Trading Corporation (Ceylon) Limited. No gunboats were borrowed from Sri Lanka. My guess is that you saw an abbreviation of the company name Maldivian National Trading Corporation (Ceylon) Limited [MNTC (Ceylon) Limited] and lazily assumed that the Maldive Star was a Sri Lankan gunboat, although the term “Maldive” in the ship’s name is a dead giveaway that it was not. Lazy journalism is not good, JJ Robinson.


Comments are closed.