Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is Maldives heading towards a failed state? Can we get out of the vicious cycle?

The recent events of unrest in Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain remind us of so many things; which are frightening and exciting too. It seems that some form of democracy is preferred in all countries. Hence, to change an existing autocratic regime, most times require social turmoil, involving deaths and destructions to property. It’s not necessary that change occur after some form of turmoil. The main reason why political instability and elicit widespread action for change is triggered is that people become too ‘unhappy’. This unhappiness most of the time comes through tough, hardship life circumstances, in other words, through high unemployment, higher prices, high inequality, and overt corruption. Widespread distrust and feelings of hopelessness by large segments of the population, leads to uprisings. Seem familiar?

When Maldives embraced many political and governance reforms during 2007-2008, and a significant proportion of the population wanted a regime change, people, or at least I had high hopes for the country. We’d hoped that our judiciary and other institutions will be freed from corruption, and break away from the vicious cycle that we were in for the last 30 years. The reason we were trapped in a vicious cycle was that there was uneven distribution of economic power. The natural resources were unfairly controlled by very few families in the country. In such a situation, in order to protect their property and wealth, they obtained the political power to even influence the judicial system in the country. Hence, an environment that enables constraining the powerful emerges only when a significant share of the population has economic power through their property holdings or their human capital. When there are many (instead of a few), with properties and wealth, there can be a collective power to advocate for an effective police force and an impartial judicial system. We can have a failed state, and stay failed if we do not have an even distribution of economic power.

Why do you think we are all faced with increased in crimes in the form of killings, rapes, stabbing, overt corruption, and many more in our country? It is because we have a judiciary without the appropriate distribution of power backing them. In simple words, majority of the population are not able (or do not have the power) to pressure the judiciary to become impartial, majority of the people do not have the political power to pressure the government to enforce the court sentences. In the case of protecting properties; and ordinary citizen does not have the power to do so, while a powerful businessman has his own private ‘gangs’ to protect his property. They don’t need an effective fair court or a helpful policeman. However, if there are numerous ‘businessmen’ with the enough resources and wealth, when they come well-organized, collectively they can have the political and economical might to make sure the institutions work.

What I’m trying to say is that, having the control of our country’s resources in the hands of only a few people, is inimical to the broader protection of property, because either way, the large powerful owners can protect their interests even without a fair and objective judicial system, hence they have no interest developing the system. In fact, for them it would be better if the judicial system does not develop, so that their privileged violations can be continued.

Just like ownership of property or resources, increasing the widespread distribution of improved human capital also plays an important role in bringing about the balance of power. Hence, broadening access to education, and skill acquisition offers another route to spreading economic power in a country.

So, we will be heading towards a failed state, if our country’s wealth continues to be controlled by the strongest businessmen, who effectively also runs (or influence) the government. In the end, we will be in the same situation as the last 30 years, as we were under a dictatorship.


  1. this is most appropreate time to talk about this. we had changed 30 year old regine in order bring justice and economic well being. are we there now.......????
    its not all about change of power. Democratization does not ensure distribution of economic well being and justice, as far as maldives experience is concerned.

  2. we cant do anything in Mladives if you guys are doing the things that text book says..text book is mostly written by people who are from developed countries and their research was done for their big economy.this is order to do anything here u guys should think how maldivians behave.
    for example if the price of basic things go up it is very unlikely that it will go down.cause maldivians are spenders, not savers.they will buy anything that they want by giving the amount the shopkeeper asks. so price wont go down and inflation will be high. pls think of this small nation before u do anything. its not going to work as IMF says. its going to work as maldivian says.