Protesters call for boycott of “coup-financer’s businesses”

Hundreds of people marched in Malé on Monday calling for a boycott of businesses they claimed were owned by those responsible for financing the alleged coup d’état on February 7.

The march was organised by the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the NOON campaign (‘Noon’ means ‘no’ in Dhivehi). The campaign is the second boycott campaign targeting businessmen who support President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives (FOM) has also revived a 2006 selective boycott of resorts.

Both campaigns primarily target resorts and businesses owned by local tycoon MP Gasim Ibrahim, and Vice-President nominee Mohamed Waheed Deen. The NOON campaign also calls for a boycott of the food importer Euro Store and businesses owned by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Vice President Umar Naseer, PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof, Defense Minister Ahmed Nazim and MP “Redwave” Ahmed Saleem.

“We have numbers, they have money. If we don’t buy from them, they won’t get the money,” said Shamau Shareef, a member of the NOON campaign. “We want to show this brutal regime and its business tycoons that we citizens are against the coup and police brutality in the Maldives.”

A Euro Store marketing official who identified himself as Fahmy said the boycott was “not based on truth or facts.”

“We don’t think Euro Store will be affected. Our sales have actually increased since all of this happened,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said he was “saddened” by FOM’s “irresponsible” resort boycott. “How did they derive these conclusions? What proof do they have?” he asked.

Consumer Boycott

Hundreds of protesters, waving yellow MDP flags, set out on foot and on motorbikes from Raalhugandu (surf point) at 5:00 pm calling on the public to boycott restaurants, shops and businesses that belong to “coup- financers.”

Products under boycott include Granini juice, popular Lavazza coffee, Red Bull energy drinks, Marlboro cigarettes and Lindt chocolate. These products are imported to the Maldives by Euro Store. Shops under boycott include MP Saleem’s ‘Redwave’ grocery chain and MP Mahloof’s clothing store ‘The Jeans’.

Protestors also called for a boycott of Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Gas and his airline Flyme. The campaigners alleged Gasim Ibrahim to be one of the main financiers of the coup.

Rasheed Carpentry and Construction Company, alleged to have ties to defense minister Ahmed Nazim, and PPM VP Umar Naseer’s security services Alarms and Whale Submarine tourist attraction are also included in the list.

“We have a long list of businesses, but we are still verifying most of them,” Shamau Shareef said. The campaign was only targeting businesses who have expressed outward support for the alleged coup d’état, Shamau said.

“For example the Euro Store supplied lavazza coffee and Red Bull to the 23 December alliance,” he claimed. The December 23 alliance is a group of political parties and NGOs that stood up against deposed President Mohamed Nasheed, claiming his administration was “irreligious”.

The NOON campaign had gathered over 1400 supporters within 24 hours of its launch on Facebook on Sunday. “It’s caught on very quickly. People support this campaign. If we can get mass public support, then we can be quite effective,” Shamau said.

The campaign intends to distribute leaflets on products under boycott to every household in Malé city, he added.

Responsible Traveler

The Friends of Maldives first called for a boycott of resorts owned and operated by supporters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2006. The NGO relaunched the selective boycott under the name Maldives Travel Advisory in late February.

The NGO stressed the campaign was not a boycott of the Maldives, but rather a boycott of resorts “linked to individuals or groups who we suspect to be involved in the subversion of democracy and in human rights abuses in the Maldives.”

Resorts are classified into categories; “those we encourage you to visit, those under consideration and those which should be avoided.”

Seven resorts are currently on the avoid list; six belong to Gasim Ibrahim and one belongs to Mohamed Waheed Deen. Twelve resorts connected to businessmen Salah Shihab, Abdullah Jabir and Hussein “Champa” Afeef are under consideration.

“We also urge you to consider the idea of being a responsible traveler. Don’t let your pleasant holiday contribute to the suffering of others, whether it is to the Maldives or to any other place,” FOM said.

Ahmed Adeeb said he was “unsure” if the campaign would be effective as FOM is based in the UK, and because the UK market competes with the European and the Chinese markets. However, he said the government was working to counter FOM’s claims.

“From day one of my appointment, I have been trying to address cancellations,” he said. The UK and Germany issued travel advisories following the February 7 unrest, but revoked them in early March.


Tourism Minister holds London press conference to reassure travellers

While the Maldives Tourism Minister hosted a press conference in London to soothe the fears of the tourism industry over the ongoing political instability in the Maldives, opposition activists distributed leaflets outside.

Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal distributed leaflets highlighting police brutality in the crackdown on demonstrators on February 8, while the Friends of Maldives NGO distributed its travel advisory highlighting the involvement of several politicians and resort owners in the change of government on February 7.

Monday’s professionally managed event was attended by 25 journalists from a host of prominent UK travel publications.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) recently appointed Rooster Creative Public Relations Ltd as its official PR agent in the UK. MMPRC Acting Managing Director Mohamed Adam explained this decision.

“The purpose of having a full time PR and Marketing agency is to overcome the image that is continuously spoiling in the UK market due to the current political turbulence,” Adam said.

Adam’s aims were stymied somewhat by the presence of former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal and the former Deputy High Commissioner, and brother of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed.

MDP supporters Farahanaz and Naushad took the opportunity to distribute leaflets focussing on police brutality in the Maldives. The leaflet described the Maldives as undergoing “one of the most painful and brutal periods of its history”.

Business as usual?

Despite the demonstrations outside, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor remained upbeat about the prospects of the Maldives tourism industry. The minister told Travel Weekly that he was expecting one million tourists to visit the country in 2012, breaking previous records.

He spoke of having visited tour operators during his trip who are eager to launch charter flights to the Maldives and begin new projects.

Referring to the demonstrations, he said, “The press conference was not affected by that. The journalists did not seem bothered. The press conference was a success.”

Former Tourism MinisterDr Mariyam Zulfa has expressed confidence in the sector’s durability, saying, “I don’t think that the political situation is actually affecting the tourism industry as such because Maldives is a well-established destination.”

This current government’s veneer of confidence, however, is belied by the hiring of the professional PR group to protect its image and by reports that bookings were down six percent  in February, according to Travel Weekly.

Speaking with Minivan this week, Dr Zulfa made clear the importance the MDP attributes to protecting the tourism industry.

“It has never been the MDPs intention and it will never be the MDPs intention to obstruct the progress that we have made in the tourism industry,” said Zulfa. “It’s not in our agenda to affect the traveller’s decision to choose Maldives as a destination at all.”

“But I think the tourist industry has a responsibility to provide correct information about Maldivian life in general.”

The awareness-raising efforts of the government’s opponents, indeed, do not appear to be registering with those travelling to the Maldives at present, supporting the views of Tourism Ministers past and present.

Asking the opinions of tourists at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport yesterday, the most common response was a vague notion that the Maldives had been in the news recently, without any specific details being recalled.

This was perhaps typified by the response of a couple from the UK who were asked how they felt about what was happening in the Maldives at the moment: “What is happening?” came the response.

Travel advisory

Also outside the press conference was David Hardingham, founder of Friends of Maldives (FOM), who distributed a second set of leaflets publicising his group’s travel advisory.

FOM is a UK based NGO focusing on the protection of human rights, the promotion of social justice and democracy in the Maldives.

The content of the FOM leaflet was interpreted by the Maldivian media outlet Sun Online as claiming that the Maldives was an unsafe travel destination. Newspaper Haveeru also reported that the NGO was advocating a “tourism boycott”.

Referring to Sun’s article Hardingham said, “Responsible journalism involves getting both sides of the story – so we were disappointed not to be asked by Sun for our views as their article is one sided, has factual errors and is somewhat misleading – however it’s not entirely surprising as its owners are known to be supportive of the recent coup.”

Hardingham forwarded the leaflet distributed by the NGO (page one, two), which lists resorts and businesses owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, and Bandos Island Resort and Spa owned by Vice-President designate Waheed Deen, and urges “responsible” travellers to avoid these resorts specifically.

“The current political turmoil in the Maldives has deterred people from visiting the islands. Friends of Maldives urges tourists to continue to visit Maldives, as tourism is the mainstay of the economy. We feel the situation is not so bad, as the airport and resort islands are not linked to any population centres,” the leaflet notes.

The leaflet goes on to recommend the travel advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which currently has no restrictions in its Maldives travel notice.

The FOM leaflet continues to briefly outline recent events in the Maldives before asking that potential tourists “consider the idea of being a responsible traveller” by avoiding resorts that are allegedly involved in “the subversion of democracy, and human rights abuses in the Maldives”.


President Waheed abolishes Maldives Volunteer Corps

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has abolished the Maldives Volunteers Corps (MVC) and its work has been reassigned to the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports.

“The Maldives Volunteers Corps was abolished because a number of its functions are performed by the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports,” the President’s Office said in a statement.

The Ministry is now overseen by Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, spokesperson for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The Maldives Volunteer Corps was established in 2009 under the Ministry of Human Resources, to increase the participation of youth volunteers in various national and regional level social and economic programs.

Its international branch, the International Volunteers Programme (IVP), places international volunteers in positions within the health and education sectors in the country and was established in partnership with the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives (FOM) NGO, and coordinated by the Maldives High Commission in London.

FOM recently announced a travel advisory concerning four resorts whose owners it alleged were involved in the ousting of the Maldives’ first democratically-elected President.

“Since the first free and fair presidential elections in the Maldives in October 2008, FOM has worked on promoting social issues and other development programs, primarily in Health and Education Sectors, with the International Volunteer Programme (IVP), the Maldives Volunteer Corps (MVC) and the Maldives High Commission (London),’ FOM said in a statement on its website.

“This activity has been jeopardised due to the violent removal of the democratically-elected government on February 7, 2012. Where health workers and teachers are able to stay, without danger to their safety, they will continue to work to benefit the Maldivian people.

“Unfortunately, this situation is becoming increasingly fragile as Maldivian people have been beaten, hospitalised and imprisoned across the country, and FOM’s focus is required to revert to protecting human rights and promoting social justice until safety and democracy is restored.”

There are 28 volunteers with the IVP program based across the Maldives for the current academic year.

MVC was the program’s local counterpart with the role of taking care of the volunteers, provide their induction and orientation, and liaise with the Ministry of Education throughout the academic cycle, explained former head of MVC, Mariyam Seena.

“The IVP was designed to meet the shortfall of skilled personnel in the academic sector and if the program is shut down, then it will be the children and the schools that will suffer,” she said.

“The schools that have IVP volunteers rely on them a lot – not only with teaching the students but running English programs for the local teachers as well.

“In late 2010 MVC received close to 100 requests for volunteers from schools all over the country which shows the urgent need for British volunteers.The program is into the third year and beginning to make a huge impact on the education system, so shutting it down would be a huge injustice for Maldivian students from the islands,” she concluded.

In an email to the IVP volunteers currently working in the Maldives, FOM founder David Hardingham advised them to register with the British High Commission in Colombo, “and please leave the country if you feel you are in any danger at all.”

“Friends of Maldives are now no longer official stakeholders in the program and following the events in Male and now in Addu, we are now resorting back to our former role as a human rights NGO,” he said.

Volunteers choosing to stay were advised to “follow their instincts”, “steer clear of gatherings”, and “don’t express an interest in one side or the other.”

“Things are unlikely to improve, at least in the short term,” Hardingham wrote. “The military coup and the subsequent crackdown on the huge Male demonstration has caused a lot of concern amongst progressive Maldivians who remember the heavy-handed former dictatorship. There is a lot of pain and anger out there and if demands are not met for elections then things could spiral for the worse.”

The Maldives Volunteer Corps was inaugurated in 2009 by Dr Waheed and then-President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a statement following the inauguration, Dr Waheed “noted the importance given by the President in establishing the Volunteers Corps.”

“Further, he said that Maldivians, in all walks of life, have been known for their helpfulness and kindness to each other. Speaking in this regard, the Vice President said that purpose of the Maldives Volunteers Corps included strengthening the spirit of cooperation and solidarity among the people and to increase interest in voluntary services.”


Much Maldivian tourism development neither economically or environmentally sustainable: Tourism Concern

Much of the current tourism development in the Maldives does not seem sustainable in terms of its impact on the environment or on the economy, writes Friends of Maldives (FoM) NGO founder David Hardingham for Tourism Concern, a UK-based charity ‘fighting exploitation in tourism’.

“Tourism has already played a pivotal role in bringing democracy to the country. It will also be the means by which the country achieves economic recovery. Now the ethical tourist’s attention must turn to sustainable tourism.

“Preference must be given to resorts making efforts at recycling, alternative energy and environmental protection (with particular reference to the coral reef ecosystem). The government must be called to task on these issues.

“A new and exciting development is that of the family-owned guesthouse. This sector of the industry deserves whatever help it can get – especially since benefits will flow directly to those most in need. The finest beaches in the world await the intrepid traveller who wants to see the real Maldives.”

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