Nasheed's Underwater Cabinet meeting in 2009.
Nasheed’s Underwater Cabinet meeting in 2009.

Mohamed Nasheed, known as President Nasheed, was elected president in 2008, defeating incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives from 1978-2008. Arrested, imprisoned and tortured in the Maldives on numerous occasions for his political activities, Nasheed is widely credited for playing an instrumental part in bringing freedom and democracy to the Maldives.

On 7 February 2012, democratic progress in the Maldives suffered a major setback when Nasheed was forced to resign the presidency under the threat of violence, in a coup d’etat perpetrated by security forces loyal to Gayoom.

Nasheed was born in Male, Maldives, in 1967. His early political career was dominated by his non-violent struggle for democracy in the Maldives. In 1990, he helped establish Sangu, a political magazine that scrutinized the ruling political class. Within its first year, the government banned the publication, and Nasheed was arrested and jailed for the first of many times. In 1991, Amnesty International declared Nasheed a Prisoner of conscience.

In 1999, Nasheed was elected MP for Male but was stripped of his seat soon afterwards and jailed once again. He spent 18 months in jail, including long periods in solitary confinement.

On 20 September 2003, the Maldives was rocked by political unrest when hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Male after hearing of the murder of Evan Naseem, an imprisoned youth who was tortured to death by Maafushi Jail guards. Sensing an underlying current for change, Nasheed fled the Maldives and, on 10 November 2004, co-founded the country’s first opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), in exile in Sri Lanka.

In 2004, Nasheed was granted refugee status by the British government and granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. After spending 18 months in self-imposed exile, Nasheed returned to the Maldives on 30 April 2005 to establish the MDP in the Maldives, defying a government edict banning political parties. The government overturned its ban on political parties on 2 June 2005, and Nasheed was elected Chairperson of the MDP on 20 December 2005.

Between 2005-2008, Nasheed initiated a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience in the Maldives, to pressure the government to speed up the implementation of democratic reforms. He was arrested in August 2005 during a non-violent protest and accused of ‘terrorism,’ a charge that the government later dropped.

In April 2008, Nasheed won the MDP primaries to become the MDP’s candidate for President.

President Nasheed won the 2009 Anna Lindh Prize, in recognition of his work promoting human rights, democracy, and environmental protection. In September 2009, Time Magazine declared President Nasheed a Hero of the Environment. In April 2010, the United Nations presented Nasheed with its Champions of the Earth environment award. In August 2010, Newsweek named President Nasheed in its list of World’s Ten Best Leaders. In 2012, The Island President, a documentary feature film about Nasheed, was released in theatres worldwide. In June 2012, Nasheed was presented with the James Lawson Award for the practice of non-violent action.

Mohamed Nasheed’s contribution to this exhibition includes the text Climate Change & The Struggle with Democracy in Paradise and a video speech he produced specially for the opening of the exhibition in New York, September 2014. He also stars in Jon Shenk’s award-winning documentary The Island President, which is part of the exhibition.

Read Nasheeds text here

For news about Nasheed, his speeches, the political situatian in Maldives and much more:

Independent news media in Maldives: Maldives Independent

Interview with Nasheed, 23rd May 2016, London.
By Søren Dahlgaard.
Transcript from audio recording:

Søren: To briefly introduce the context of this interview: I am currently doing an artist-led Ph.D. I am an artist, now doing a Ph.D. and maybe this or some of this interview will be used in my research. The other purpose of this interview is for The Maldives Exodus Caravan Show, the art exhibition about climate change, with Maldives as the starting point, where you take part with The Island President documentary we are screening and also your text contribution. I plan to produce a book on this project in a few years from now. Already now the caravan show has toured to 6 different countries and it has been invited to a museum show in Holland in September 2017, so a couple of places each year and is building some momentum, and if we put out a book with some good texts it will be a 5-6 year project. It is just to tell you what is happening.

Also just to catch up, it was really nice to meet Meera, your oldest daughter, when she came to Poland in 2015 for a week to help set up the exhibition as her work experience from school, same as Eskil, my 16-year-old son, they both did their work experience with us working with the caravan show. They had a good time and they were really great to have as part of the exhibition. Amani also went with us.

Nasheed: Yes, she was saying.

S: I want to ask you, we work on some of the same issues, overlapping agendas but in different ways. You have a back ground as a journalist. Do you see yourself as an activist in terms of fighting for a climate change and democracy agenda?

N: It is difficult to compartmentalise yourself into one single line of work. Am I an activist, a politician or a diplomat? In a sense, you are doing many types of work. Yes, you are trying to be active and activism is very, very important in my view. We are trying to get a message across and to impress upon people the gravity of the issue. For that to happen you do need activism. At the same time, you also need the diplomacy and the academic intellectual arguments, the rationale, the text for it. So it is difficult to view in a single track, I think I am trying to do as much as I can, in trying to bring the message across and the gravity of the situation of climate change.

S: Through using the media and giving keynote talks in conferences and through political work as well?

N: Political work is two types of works: One is to try and bring climate change issues into manifestos of your own political party. To bring renewable energy and other climate change policies into government policies when you are in government. That is an ongoing process in any political party; the process of building policies, so yes in that sense in politics, I do that work; I try to bring in climate change issues when we build our policies. And also in government, you are able to reach out to other governments and clarifying your position and give a rationale the reasons for your position, so that is the diplomatic work that is involved in that sense.

S: I am interested to hear what are your considerations in how to get your message across?

N: One of the messaging we did work out was the underwater cabinet meeting.

S: How did it come about, the idea?

N: One of the reasons was economics. If we had hired a publicity company to argue our, to advertise our campaign: the critical situation the Maldives is in, that would have been very, very expensive. But we felt if we acted ourselves this would be far more powerful and we would be able to impress the issue more profoundly than getting someone else to do it.

S: When I saw the image, it came out before the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, I also saw it as a performance, like you are an artist. Again it does not matter if you are thinking it was an artistic event, but the happening or the spectacle was a very successful media spectacle to then follow up on but how did the idea come to happen? Was it your idea?

N: It is our idea, we had a discussion about it in the cabinet and then people just started throwing in different ideas and how it might work and then we organized it and we though we will go ahead with that.

S: Did you have media there or did your team record the happening?

N: We had media present there, we invited the media.

S: So it was a live media happening?

N: We invited the media to film it.

S: It was an iconic image.

N: Well, that is where we are going.

S: The happening also has some of your personality and humour in it, so that is a way to communicate serious issues off course.

N: It is a serious issue that is the serious side of it.

S: The method is very interesting; it is also very creative and artistic. I only saw a bit of the video recording and the photos were you directing the event?

N: We agreed we would have the whole cabinet, so we had 2 or 3 cabinet ministers who had no training in scuba diving so we trained them for a few times first.

S: This media event opens doors in your quest to communicate the issues, so this artistic spectacle is a tool or a method for you. Could any publicity company have done anything as successful do you think?

N: That was the idea, we can ourselves do it and we didn’t have money to hire PR companies. Our means were very modest and we had to do it with whatever was available.

S: The caravan exhibition was created in the same spirit, with a minimal budget, so we had to be inventive. You have never seen the exhibition yourself; so let me describe it to you. There are some Maldivian artists and some international artists in it. One of the overall ideas is that there is no physical artwork, no sculpture, painting or object. Because if the sea level rise you have to move quickly you can’t bring many things with you, at the idea that is important, so we play Maldivian music on speakers, there are games you can play such as board games, all with the theme is climate change and a performance titled: Climate Wrestle, where is argue and then start to wrestle, it is fun and no one gets hurt. When you have an argument you are thinking and when you start to push each other around and wrestle.

N: There are many ways and avenues of getting the message across to as many people as possible. I think artists, writers, politicians, activists, everyone has a role to play and we should actively be more engaged in doing our part, so I think yes your exhibition and try and have it in as many places as possible.

S: I’d love to bring the exhibition to Maldives but as long as the situation is like this..

N: you need to take it to countries who are not the victims, the victims know it, the Maldives is a victim, but to the perpetrators.

S: It took part in the Climate Match in New York in September 2014 with The exhibition has an important educational aspect. When it was shown in an art centre in Auckland, New Zealand, it went around visiting schools. The exhibition came to the people. In the shopping street some people though we were selling trips to Maldives or even caravans but when they came inside they could see articles about Maldives, climate change and the political situation in Maldives, even the one you wrote for The New York Times. When the journalist Rilwan was abducted in August 2014, this was the story we focused on. The current news events become part of the exhibition so it is constantly changing. It is educational dealing with these complex issues that are so hard to grasp, so it is important to do something that is engaging.

N: I have a view that we have to map out a low carbon development strategy. All the models that we have, advocated by the World Bank and other multinational organisations – these development models are very much based on fossil fuel arguments and I think these arguments are now obsolete. There is a new development strategy and this has to be the low carbon strategy, so we need to come up with a complete model of development and we need to advocate that development model.

S: The world or Maldives?

N: The world. We have all the technology. We all need electricity, we all need a good life, we all need comforts and we can provide comforts but through new technologies. I think the fossil fuel combustion engine is a very obsolete, old, Victorian technology. It is big, loud and inefficient and other models are available. I like to think about it in this way: ‘Das Kapital’ has been around for a long time before the communist party manifesto came. The communist party manifesto was operationalising ‘Das Kapital’ into a governance system. Like ‘Das Kapital’, the technology is available, the rational, the arguments and the science are completely sorted, so we now need to operationalise that, all these arguments into a comprehensive governing method. For that to happen we need to assist political parties in formulating their policies, their manifestoes. People need to have green issues. ‘I will provide 100,000 jobs if I am elected in the next election’, comes out and say’s a politician. And then the politician goes on to show that these jobs will be provided through renewable energies, through green jobs, so the legislation and regulations involved in that. All these administrative and governance requirements must be all completely laid out. In order to change any of this, you have to start before you get elected and get these issues into the policies. There is a need to sell operational methods of low carbon development strategy. Now Paris (COP21, 2015) has come out and said: Ok, now everyone is going to live in their carbon admission, but how? Where is the plan? Who has the plan to reduce temperatures and maintain a temperature below 2 degrees rise from the current normal? How are you going to do this?

S: I have met a lot of climate scientist in Melbourne and elsewhere and they seem very frustrated about how to get the message out, the communication. They have all their research with pie charts etc but no one is listening. Their job is also to brief the politicians but if the politicians are not listening and it is hard for the scientist to explain the issues, what can they do?

N: They have to take to the first basic level of policy building. Not to the politician who has finished the policy. He has a piece of paper from his party saying this is your policy and come and advocate for that person, even if he or she believes in that, it will be difficult because they come with a mandate from a constituency and this constituency have decided. Working from the ground and up.
If you take any of these WHO programs, they work it inside government policies. Immunisation for example or the campaign against tobacco – how successful is has been! That is because they work it inside government policies, with workshops, with local engagement, with local training, human resource development. They have brought a whole generation of people who believe in public health such as immunisations programs and malaria for instance and dengue fever. All these deceases are very much challenged through a number of capacity building programs and grass root level activities. So, yes it is good for world leaders to sit down and talk but far more important for local authorities to decide amongst themselves to start a project. And also far more important for the World Bank and other banks to advocate and promote a working method that is far less risky to the environment. We need that kind of work going on.