A Troubled Paradise

Beneath the outsiders’ vision of the Maldives lurks a troubled reality- one shaped by 30 years of a brutal dictatorship. No one knows this better than Mohamed Nasheed, the nation’s new democratically elected President, who unseated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives’ ruler since 1978, in a landmark election in October 2008. Nasheed was imprisoned thirteen times by Gayoom and was named an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience in 1991.

Nasheed is determined to secure liberal democracy in the Maldives, but the country is facing pressing challenges at home. Despite significant tourism revenue – the Maldives has South Asia’s highest GDP per capita – almost half of the Maldives’ population earns less than $2 a day. And Maldivian youth are in the middle of a heroin epidemic that may be one of the worst in the world. The legacy of Gayoom’s rule lingers, and the process of unraveling it will take time as entire political institutions, like a free press, an independent judiciary, and a multiparty legislature will need to be built from the ground up, emerging from the long shadows of three decades of tyranny.

As if all that was not enough, the archipelago nation faces a larger challenge. It could find itself submerged by a swelling sea. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body of scientists, forecasts that sea levels will rise an estimated 2 ft. (60 cm) this century, enough to inundate most of the country, many of whose 1,190 isles sit just 3 ft. (1 m) above the ocean. For a nation of so small a size, the new government’s task is monumental.