The Maldives’ president has come up with a solution to the world’s problems
LOSING one’s home is a sadly common experience in these dark economic days, but it normally happens at an individual, rather than a national, level. The residents of the Maldives, however, face collective homelessness as a result of rising sea levels, which are expected eventually to engulf the 1,200-island nation, whose highest point is 2.3 metres above sea level. Faced with this alarming prospect, the country’s new president, Mohamed Nasheed, has come up with an equally dramatic solution: put aside some of the Maldives’ tourism revenues to buy another homeland.
At first blush Mr Nasheed’s notion seems a bit over the top. Countries don’t usually go round purchasing large lumps of other nations. The only precedent he cites—Jews buying up bits of Palestine before Israel was established—does not inspire confidence that his plan would increase world harmony. And since the rich countries that caused the climate to change and the seas to rise can easily absorb the Maldives’ 370,000 people, it seems reasonable to assume that Mr Nasheed and his compatriots will be offered citizenship elsewhere.
Reasonable, but wrong. Australia’s government has already turned down a request to offer citizenship to the 12,000 people of Tuvalu, another small, drowning island; so a few hundred thousand Maldivians knocking on rich-country doors seem likely to get even shorter shrift. Anyway, they may not want to be absorbed into a larger nation. They might prefer to stay together to maintain their community spirit and traditions of folk-dancing and imprisoning political dissidents. So a solution as radical as Mr Nasheed’s may be the only answer.
It’s a buyer’s market in property these days; and, if the Maldivians are looking for an island, Iceland is said to be going cheap. But they may be spoilt for choice: think of all the tiresome bits of territory that other countries would like to offload. The snooty English, for instance, have long disparaged Wales, which they caricature unfairly as being populated mostly by Methodist preachers and disaffected sheep. It might be a challenge to persuade the Maldivians to swap their palm-fringed paradise for Llandudno pier on a wet Sunday afternoon; still, a bit of adroit marketing, focusing on the height of the hills, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins (both sadly no longer resident) might do the trick.
Once Mr Nasheed’s visionary notion gains acceptance, it could have far wider application. The Israelis, for instance, could put an end to a hundred years of futile hostilities by buying somewhere for the Palestinians. If they clubbed together, they could get somewhere really nice—Florida, maybe. China could stop making aggressive gestures towards Taiwan and buy Malaysia instead. It’s already run by Chinese, so they’d hardly notice the difference. And Barack Obama, committed to uniting America, could defuse the nation’s culture wars by purchasing an alternative homeland for those of his countrymen who want more use of the death penalty, less gun control and no gay marriage. A slice of Saudia Arabia’s empty quarter would do nicely: there’s plenty of space and the new occupants would have lots in common with the locals.
The British are familiar with the notion that, if you’re bored at home, you grab somebody else’s country; but recent experience suggests that invading places can be expensive and troublesome, so a market solution seems a better way of dealing with national dissatisfaction. The British are, let’s face it, fed up with their damp little country. Instead of renting villas in Tuscany, they should buy the place; instead of complaining about the weather, they could complain about Silvio Berlusconi. The Russians suffer from too much crime and too much snow; the Gulf Arabs from too much heat and too little fun. Both should think of buying a temperate, orderly city with decent nightlife, such as London. Wait a minute…
(from The Economist)