As the plane glides down towards its destination, passengers in window seats are greeted by a spectacular birds-eye view of one of an island cluster that bare the distinct topographic fingerprint of the Maldives. Yet, the unique traits too are unmistakable. Island after island snake its way across one side of what is a massive natural harbour. The first, Gan, can easily be distinguished by those with a keen sense of history. Feydhoo now has doubled in size, with its newly-reclaimed land shimmering in the reflection of the midday sun. The beautiful mangrove wetlands act as signatures of the different islands. The urban development that is scattered across the island chain, though, would be less familiar to those who were fortunate enough to visit, live or work here during the era of the British RAF base.
Currently Addu is the second largest city of the Republic of Maldives, with a population nearing 40,000. An ill-advised journey further south of Addu would take you to the US Military Base in Diego Garcia – part of the British Indian Ocean Territories. Until recently, the highlight of the post-World War II history of Addu has been the travails and results of a secessionist movement. Since the country replaced its age-old monarchy with a modern Republic and attainment of full independence, Addu had been treated by successive governments with a degree of caution and apprehension. The influence of its inhabitants in shaping the country’s economy and political fortunes is unquestionable. Yet, the feeling of unfulfilled promise is evidently coupled with unattained goals.
A tour of the city’s district-islands throws up its key landmarks and infrastructure. The link road that starts at Gan airport and ends at Hithadhoo, the hospital and schools, a port, a convention facility and a stadium, among others. The token gestures have been many, and they are easy to pinpoint. Yet, the unattained goals are harder to find. You would need to listen to the people to know and appreciate them.
“Addu has been a city now for five years. All the signposting and name boards that prove our urban status are here. We got most of them in recent years. But what about what is behind these boards?”, a local man explains to me over a cup of coffee in one of the city’s trendy seaside bistros.
Closer analysis of the man’s claims reinforced his view. Addu does have an international airport, but the runway and critical infrastructure could only accommodate smaller Boeing 757 and Airbus A-320 aircrafts, at best. With few scheduled international flights and even fewer chartered flights, it has been a major bottleneck in attaining Addu’s promise as a tourist hotspot. With a unique landscape, historical landmarks and less claustrophobic settings, Addu probably has more to offer to aspiring sun, sea and sand enthusiasts that flock to the country annually. A lack of quality tourist accommodation was another drawback.One after another, the mismatch between services and signposts that the Adduan had indicated came to the fore.
Until recently, the so-called international port at Addu was not servicing direct freight traffic with neighbouring countries and little in the way of exports.Addu has an expensive Convention Centre, but no conventions! A white elephant, the people of Addu have been appealing non-stop for better utility of this building.
The hospital was archaic. The strong fishing fleet of Addu had to travel long distances to neighbouring atolls to get supplies and to sell their stock. Regular power outages were frequent. Fresh water wasn’t always a guaranteed commodity. A modern sanitation and sewerage system was a priority. Young people had little infrastructure to excel in sports. There was few in the way of good job prospects for them.
“We are hopeful. The current government’s focus on economy and youth has brought new hope here. In three years, we have already seen a major change. Instead of appeasement for political gains, the government is now trying to address the shortcomings. We are seeing improvements at a steady pace…improvements worthy of a city!”, the man concluded.
I spoke to two ruling party lawmakers representing Addu, to better understand the government’s plans for Addu City.
“Feydhoo is now double its size. My constituents dreamt of a day when they could have a better life. The newly reclaimed land will carry hundreds of new flats, a zone for banking and more tourist guest houses. A brand new sports arena awaits the youth. The most important thing, though, is that thousands of new jobs will be created soon”, Feydhoo MP Ibrahim Didi (IB) explained.
“Early next year, the new tuna cannery and fishery complex will be opened in my constituency. Gone are the days of black outs. Two new gensets, each of 2 megawatts, as well as better distribution paneling and cabling has seen to that…across the city. There is clean water now. For everyone. Soon, there will be a modern sewerage network in all districts. Two islands are on tender for development as resorts. The privatization of Herethere hotel has made it profitable and brought a lot of new jobs. The stadium has been upgraded, and there is a futsal court now in each district. The new blocks of flats…that is great news! President Yameen has delivered for Addu. And more good news is also on the way”, Addu Hulhudhoo MP Ahmed Shahid (Shaad) elaborates.
“The government has also recently upgraded services in the port, which is now all about hustle and bustle. The airport has also been upgraded, by reclaiming nearly one kilometer of extra land. “Gan International Airport can now accommodate wide-body aircraft, including the 777 and the A-380. It is a USD 45 million project. The next stage is the increase in tourist bed capacity in Addu. There is tremendous interest from major airlines to start scheduled and chartered flights. This is going to be the next big destination in the Maldives”, Managing Director of Addu International Airport Company (AIA), Ms Ibthishama Ahmed Saeed says.
Finally, there is the small matter of utlising the elephant. “The Convention Centre will be transformed, with many modern additions, to become the brand new, state-of-the-art hospital of Addu City. The people can then get tertiary medicare without going to Male’ or overseas”, MP Shaad explains.
What was once Britain’s secret is today about to reveal itself as a must-see, must-visit, must-experience holiday destination. It is about to take its rightful place in the Maldives as a city that rivals the capital city, Male’ in economic prospects. The Adduan people can also look forward with confidence to better living standards, more jobs, improved infrastructure, more tourist dollars, easier fish exports, accessible banking and other essential modern conveniences. Addu has finally arrived! It is now open for business!