Sean Carey

Change of President in the Maldives – ‘no coup just the wish of the people’

– Sean Carey

Little did I know when I wrote a recent article on the Maldives (Maldives and open society, 3 February) that President Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, would soon be out of office. On the other hand, there was sufficient information available that the political and economic crisis in the Indian Ocean archipelago was escalating rapidly, and anything was possible. So all things considered the news about the change in government did not come as a big surprise.

 

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Nasheed, 43, had asked India to intervene to quell unrest from opposition groups but the request was refused. A spokesperson for the Indian government later said that the issue was an “internal” issue, which should be “resolved in a peaceful and democratic manner”.

The political crisis came to a head on Monday evening and Tuesday morning after clashes between police and army personnel in the capital, Male. Some civilians, who were protesting about the recent arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, the chief judge of the Criminal Court, on charges of misconduct – in effect, of being in the pocket of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose 30-year autocratic reign ended after elections in 2008 – formed alliances on the streets with rebel police officers.

The government was also under sustained ideological attack from opposition Islamic parties, which accused the President of undermining the identity of the nation of some 330,000 Sunni Muslims by permitting the sale of alcohol and allowing the proliferation of luxury spas in the country’s tourist resorts. The latter were operating as brothels according to opposition activists, who staged a protest in the capital in December.

The Nasheed government was clearly on the ropes and felt obliged to impose a ban on all spas offering beauty treatments and massages. However, this was soon lifted once the disastrous implications for the high-end visitor economy became apparent. Then there was another furore after the Ministry of Transport signalled that it was proposing to authorise direct flights from Israel, which brought predictable accusations of the Nasheed government being “pro-Zionist”.

Nasheed, known as Anni to his supporters, realised that his time in office was up. “I resign because I am not the person who wishes to rule with the use of power,” he said in a television address to the nation. “I believe that if the government were to remain in power it would require the use of force which would harm many citizens. I resign because I believe that if the government stays in power, it is very likely that we may face foreign influences.”

The identity of the “foreign influences” was left hanging in the air. But it is a safe bet that while neighbouring India might be willing to stand aside in the short term while order is restored, any deepening crisis would almost certainly see the authorisation of military intervention.

Former Vice President Waheed Hassan was sworn in as President on Tuesday afternoon. The Stanford University-educated politician promised to uphold the rule of law and form a government of national unity before general elections in 2013.

In a globalised world, all countries but especially those where tourism is a significant sector in the economy – in the Maldives it is worth $1.5 billion, around 30 per cent of GDP — worry about reputation and brand image. No surprise, then, that an aide to President Hassan was putting the best possible spin on recent events. The change of government was not a coup, journalists were informed; instead, “it was the wish of the people.”

However, Eva Abdulla, a spokesperson for the former President’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), claimed that the new President is a “puppet leader” for the police force. “This is not a legitimate government,” she said. “We will not negotiate with an unconstitutional government.” Unrest has also spread to some of the outer islands, including the country’s second-largest city Addu. Meanwhile Nasheed’s wife and daughters have fled to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

In a piece published on Wednesday for the New York Times, Nasheed said:

“The problems we are facing in the Maldives are a warning for other Muslim nations undergoing democratic reform. At times, dealing with the corrupt system of patronage the former regime left behind can feel like wrestling with a Hydra: when you remove one head, two more grow back. With patience and determination, the beast can be slain. But let the Maldives be a lesson for aspiring democrats everywhere: the dictator can be removed in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of his dictatorship.”

No fatalities have been reported so far. Nevertheless, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is advising “against all but essential travel to Male island.”

Many of the tourists who are holidaying in the Maldives remain blissfully unaware of events unfolding a few miles away from their luxury resorts.

 Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the School Social Sciences and visiting lecturer in the Business School, University of Roehampton

***

Football drives health education
among schoolchildren in Mauritius and other African nations

– Sean Carey

Like the populations of many African countries, Mauritians are football mad. The game played in stadiums and streets all over the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island is a legacy of 19th century British colonialism — administrators, missionaries, soldiers and sailors introduced the game to locals — whereas in other African nations it was popularized by the Portuguese and French.

Traditionally, Mauritius split into two more or less equal groups — those who supported Liverpool and those who supported Manchester United. Now, because of increased television coverage and the ready availability of football merchandise, especially branded t-shirts, other UK Premier League teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City are gaining support as younger people choose different football clubs as vehicles for sporting and other identities appropriate to their age sets.

But Mauritians from all of the country’s diverse ethnic groups — Hindu, Muslim, Creole, Chinese and French — know that a Frenchman of Mauritian descent — in fact, of Hindu Telugu heritage — Vikash Dhorasoo, a member of the French team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, was one of the most gifted midfielders in modern times.

The former AC Milan, Lyon and Paris St Germain player is also the most prominent footballer of South Asian descent in the history of the game, and very well known for his views on the importance of combating racism, homophobia and gender discrimination in sport. The regret among Mauritian football fans is that Dhorasoo never played for a Premier League team before his retirement in January 2008. However, he did visit Mauritius in May 2009 to promote FIFA’s Grassroots programme, which was inaugurated on the island.

The Mauritius football team did not make it to this year’s African Cup of Nations, the finals of which are being co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But the country is following the championship closely through local and international TV channels and local press coverage.

Significantly, Mauritius along with Zimbabwe, another former British colony, has been part of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre’s research into “11 for Health”, a football-based health education programme for young and teenage children. It had previously been piloted in a smaller study in Khayelitsha township in South Africa in 2009.

In Mauritius, 389 schoolchildren, boys and girls, aged 12-15 years, at 11 secondary schools took part in eleven 90 minute sessions which combined learning or refining a football skill with linked information about 10 health issues – for example, heading a football and avoiding HIV infection, defending well and washing one’s hands, shooting for goal and vaccination for self and family, building fitness and eating a varied diet, and good teamwork and fair play. The study was conducted between February and June 2010.

Questionnaires assessed participants’ pre and post-intervention health knowledge as well as views about the “11 for Health” programme. The results carried out in co-operation with the Mauritius Football Association and the Mauritius Ministries of Heath and Quality of Life, Education, Culture and Human Resources, and Youth and Sport were extremely positive. The results among a similar group of children in an out-of-school setting In Zimbabwe were also excellent. That said, it would have been useful to know something regarding the ethnicity, social class and geographical location (urban vs. rural) of the Mauritian schoolchildren in order to more fully assess the relative importance of other sources of information available from families, peer groups and mass media on health issues. But there can be little doubt that using football, the most popular game globally for adults and children, to increase knowledge of health issues is likely to be an effective social marketing tool among many groups in many countries.

Indeed, the authors of the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommended “that the programme be widely implemented in Africa in co-operation with government and non-government organisations” in order to reduce communicable and non-communicable diseases through the promotion of “exercise and healthy behaviours.”

In fact, since the research was carried out in Mauritius and Zimbabwe, “11 for Health” has been rolled out in smaller African countries like Botswana, Namibia and Malawi. Then last month a high-level FIFA delegation also visited Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia in order to develop the programme in larger nations. As Professor Jim Dvorak, FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer, explained: “The experiences of the past couple of years have been very successful but the challenge for FIFA now is to implement the same concept in much more populated countries and vast regions.”

He added: “It’s very exciting, of course, to start this kind of project in such large countries, and moreover to receive such terrific support from the stakeholders involved. We know that there is a huge passion for football among children in these countries and, equally, that there is a huge need for increased knowledge about health issues.”

Which goes to prove as the old saying goes that football isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life.

Dr Sean Carey is research fellow in the School Social Sciences and visiting lecturer in the Business School, University of Roehampton

A version of this article has also appeared at anthropologyworks

 

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