I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am consumed by the coup. Immediately after February 7th, it was shock and denial, end of February and March to mid April it was anger. Mid April to mid June – begrudging apathy tinged with bouts of melancholy, interspersed with fits of anger. Although to be fair, the coup coalition has provided a lot of incredulous laughs in June, with their condoms, cursed cockerel and black magic women. Acceptance is supposed to hit at some point in this despicable cycle, is it not?
Except, it isn’t. The constant hate filled vitriolic exchanges over twitter, Facebook, on the road, and on TV, is draining, but strangely addictive. Worse is the frustration when you try to counter a coup conspirator/condoner with logic. Those are the times when you realise that there really is nothing either more appropriate or satisfying as responding with ‘Baaghee’ or ‘Kaarrr Kaarrr’. There have of course been moments, dire and demanding, which have highlighted that there are bigger issues than this coup claustrophobia that some of us have managed to wrap ourselves in. Cancer is one, knife crime the other. Essentially, primordial issues of life and death.
Many, angry over the continued political circus that is the Maldives, have pleaded for the country’s politicians to get over themselves and to sit down and start focussing on the issues that matter – reducing violence and fixing the economy. I understand the sentiment. The parents of children knifed to death in a park or on the street don’t want to deal with bickering politicians bargaining over inquiries surrounding transfers of power, crowd size or rallying grounds. They want their children back, they want security, and barring all, they want justice. However, no matter how petty the politics may seem, the issues aren’t disconnected. We live in a time where there are institutions whose sole purpose is to guarantee accountability, yet these same institutions are openly acknowledged as having no legitimacy. Judicial Service Commission, I’m talking about you. The problem lies that in a democracy, it is the people that are supposed to be holding these institutions to account, and yet those who’ve voiced these demands are few and far between.
Holding people accountable for their actions or inactions has never been a strong point for the Maldives. Corruption is rampant across all sectors, MPs continue to faff about in Majlis without tackling bills such as the Penal Code which has been delayed for over 5 years, leaders continue to appoint individuals who have proven to be incompetent, the Civil Service Commission formulates dress codes rather than monitoring the achievement of national objectives, independent institutions aren’t ballsy enough to condemn violations even when confronted with video evidence, MPS and MNDF don’t cooperate unless they are instigating or defending a coup, civil society continue to hide behind their defence of ‘infant institution’ and a large number of people are satisfied as long their own personal and financial security is guaranteed, even if that is the equivalent of a small cash injection prior to an election. Lets not even get into the judiciary, which is truly the bane of all things unaccountable. Ablo Gazee. Enough said.
There are three distinct attitudes that are central to the policy of holding individuals accountable in the Maldives. They are – vendettas, verikan, and varihama.
Vendetta – gangs and some national politicians operate in a similar manner. They feel a challenge towards their territory, power and ego and they respond immediately to eradicate the opposition. Whether this means, stabbing someone to death or opposing a policy/bill because it conflicts with their personal business interests, there is no ‘hihthirikurun’ here. Of course the nexus between politicians, businessmen and gangs are no surprise. 7/2 was clearly the biggest political and personal vendetta to date. Engineered by senior Police/Military officers who served under MAG, legitimised by a sulky VP sick of waiting in the shadows and fronted by those whose egos were most dented with Nasheed and the MDP in power. Vengeance, thy name is #mvcoup. And really, if those who overthrow a democratically elected government, brutalise unarmed civilians and continue to corrupt the judiciary carry on with impunity, who’s to stop an intoxicated, knife-wielding teenager with a chip on his shoulder, from doing the same?
Leading us to – Verikan. Accountability sort of gets lost in the corridors of power doesn’t it? Not always as a result of a corrupt mind set, but sometimes due to a naïve sense of loyalty or ignorance to what may seem minor issues over the more important ones like campaign pledges. Isn’t that why people who have proven time and time again to be incompetent, ineffective and actually disloyal keep being appointed to key positions in government? Lubna Zahir Hussain, and Nexbis Ilyas to name a few. Or what about those like Dr. Waheed and his family, who now very conveniently forget their involvement in the MDP government, when they pass on accountability of all alleged wrong doing in the last three years solely onto Nasheed? Gangs, play the same game. It doesn’t matter what they do, and who they hurt, as long as they stay on top and protect their turf. Loyalty to a person and money over loyalty to society and principles. The only thing accountable to them and their benevolent political and financial masters are monetary accounts. But who are we kidding? We are a deeply feudal system who jumped into democracy in 2008 and are still learning how to tread water. Well some of us anyway. Waheed, definitely, a fish (crow?) out of water.
In between those who are obsessed with vendettas and verikan, are the ‘varihamas’. The ones who quite simply couldn’t care less about who’s in power, who Ablo Gazee is, whether the Police are actually entitled to use their batons this way and not that way, and who find it easier to be horrified at a chair being broken rather than a person, who walk past a person in need of assistance or laugh along with the teenage bullies intimidating the Bangladeshi labourer on a bicycle. You know, the ones who go fabric shopping while there’s tear gas being flung all over the street, and who couldn’t care less whether it was a coup or a cuckold, as long as it doesn’t interfere with Kasauti. How does accountability fare in a society where significant portions are politically apathetic or socially selfish to the point of being cruel? It doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist because there is not enough social will for it to exist, and the political and legislative systems that have been mandated to guarantee it find it more conducive to live in a culture of impunity. But maybe Maldivians have to hit rock bottom before we realise the necessity of a criminal justice system that talks to each other, politicians who debate policy rather than demonstrating the worse of their personalities, and parents, teachers and colleagues who tell you off, and help, rather than enabling your bad behaviour. To the families of those who have suffered as a result of knife crime, gang violence and even police brutality, here’s hoping this is rock bottom.