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The aftermath of the southern revolt
Michael O'Shea
The Suvadive Republic 1959-1963, part 8



British colonialism in the Maldives
By 1963, formal British colonialism was in its death throes. Since 1956, thirteen former British colonies had been granted independence but in Maldives, the British had invested over 4.5 million pounds in a new air base and shed a torrent of diplomatic sweat. They had backed an independence movement in 1959, and then signed an expensive lease/aid agreement in 1960 with the Male' government, effectively ending their support for Afeef and the rebel republic.

Now the British in Maldives found themselves being squeezed for complete independence. The Times editorial on 30 September 1963 reveals London's frustrated weariness with Maldivian nationalism, and the UK's continuing failure to take responsibility for its self-imposed role in Maldivian politics:
Fashion has inspired this Government to strike its own stance in the world... So this string of islands, 500 miles from north to south, inhabited by 80,000 people who are mostly fishermen, is the latest aspirant to membership of the United Nations. Does this mean that it wants to set up embassies in Washington, London and Moscow, or send delegates to international conferences in Geneva, or join in hurling abuse at the imperialists at the kind of conference called for the purpose? ...[Maldives] is an odd little cradle of anti-colonialism - if that is what it is? - a comedy by any standard, but for the geographical position of the islands which makes them suitable for staging posts... The money involved should see an agreement possible.


Prime Minister Nasir and his government reacted with outrage to the news of Afeef's safe departure for the Seychelles. The British were accused of colonialist interference in the internal affairs of the Maldives, and the Gan base and the UK representative near Male' were isolated and subjected to concerted harassment campaigns. Hulhule' airport was vandalised and eventually closed, requiring the UK representative to be supplied by airdrops from Gan until finally being evacuated from Male' in June 1964.

The focus of tension then shifted to Addu where, under instructions from the Male' government, the British were ostracised and disputes with the Maldivian labour force at the base were encouraged. After a number of violent demonstrations in early September 1964, the British found themselves accused by the Maldivian government's newsletter in Colombo of 'mercilessly beating Maldivians and inflicting wounds and injuries.' In the midst of actively negotiating an independence agreement, British diplomats remained philosophical, telling The Times: 'The explanation lies, largely at least, in understandable but chronic suspiciousness on the part of the leaders of an underdeveloped territory, who have throughout felt themselves much at a disadvantage in negotiating with the British government.'

In fact, it was the British who were being difficult. The Times reported in September that 'the British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations Mr Sandys said on 23 June 1964 that the British were willing to revise the existing agreement of 1960, to enable Maldives to become a fully independent sovereign state, on the understanding that the rights and facilities enjoyed at present by the British Government in Addu atoll would be confirmed and that no military rights and facilities would be accorded to any other country.' In other words, the British were only offering limited independence. This was unacceptable to the rulers in Male'.

Addu and the 1964 uprising against atoll chief Moosa Ali Didi
The removal of Afeef left the atoll temporarily leaderless. The Maldivian government did not at first understand the rapidity of the change in Addu sentiment, which was now resignedly pro-Male'. 'Enthusiastic preparation is being made on all islands to welcome back their government representatives,' according to the Gan base records, 'but suspicion and mistrust still prevail in the north... On Addu the non-arrival of Maldivian government representatives caused disappointment and resentment, and the British political adviser, Rounswaite, was forced to assume control of the situation.'

Rival factions gathered around Moosa Ali Didi, and Rounswaite's close friend Mohamed Saeed. 'Mohamed Saeed had the opportunity to stand as atoll chief but he left that job for Moosa Ali Didi,' said Hassan Saeed in 1997. 'Mohamed Saeed thought that since he was the person in charge of Gan, head of the liaison office, he had much more control over employment and money and therefore more power and respect than the atoll chief. There was conflict between Mohamed Saeed and Moosa Ali Didi because of this power, and Moosa Ali Didi wanted influence through his own representatives in Gan. So it was ordered that Gan jobs had to be processed by the atoll office and Mohamed Saeed was asked to go to Male' where he was arrested.'

Moosa Ali Didi, acting under Male' government instructions, restricted the British completely to Gan and cut them out of Addu's ceremonial social life. The Gan base records claim: 'We had a verbal message from him (Moosa Ali Didi) explaining that as a person he was pro-British but acting under pressure from his government. At the same time he made requests for various items to be sold to him from service sources - all under the cloak of confidence.'

Moosa Ali Didi's links with prime minister Nasir had become strong when Moosa's son had been attending school and living at Nasir's house in Male' during the time of the USIR, and it was widely believed that Moosa Ali Didi had sent private letters to Nasir keeping him informed of plans within the rebel republic. 'Afeef could not bring himself to believe this,' said Salih Ali Didi in 1997. 'Moosa was married to Afeef's niece and had been married to his sister before she died. At times, Afeef did believe Moosa was betraying him, but he did not act because of his close friendship with Moosa and the fact he was a member of the family.'

While Afeef had played the statesman, Moosa Ali Didi was the most powerful inside political operator in Addu. Moosabe Kokko said in 1997 that it was to Moosa's house that the Male' government's liaison office safe, containing Rf 700,000, had been taken after the sacking of Maaran'ga in January 1959.

Nasir recognised Moosa Ali Didi's talents and loyalty, and with the demise of the USIR, he openly became the government man in Addu, even shopping for Nasir and his family at the NAAFI store on Gan. As usual, local politics were dominated by questions over trading. Addu was still a lucrative and well-supplied market, and although Afeef was gone, the Addu Trading Company remained, and it was controlled by Moosa Ali Didi.

Speaking in 1997, Mohamed Manikfaan gave a lengthy account of the trouble that ensued: 'Two months after the end of the USIR, the Male' government ordered the Addu Trading Company closed down, but it never happened. In fact, new branches were opened up. Dried fish from Huvadhu was kept in a large building in Maradhoo. Produce was being sent out of the atoll however the shareholders were not receiving any money:
One Friday afternoon in early August 1964 after prayers, some people decided to find out when the trading company was going to be wound up and went to visit the atoll chief Moosa Ali Didi. They were met by his secretary who told them the atoll chief would only see them individually, tomorrow, and not as a group. None of the island's leading men were among these men, and they may have been acting on behalf of others.

The next night the leading and influential Hithadhoo men were asked to go and meet the atoll chief. Moosa Ali Didi spoke at length, condemning the men who were behind this agitation and telling them it was totally against the law. People returned home at 11.30 pm. That night more than 40 people were arrested in the darkness and put in a large store room in the atoll office compound. Some resisted arrest and there was violence. One of the people at the meeting, Faiz, escaped and in the morning he slipped into Gan... At the labour relations office, Faiz informed Bushree, Hussein Ahmed, known as RAF Hussein, and Ahmed Ugaid the police interpreter, about the night's events. The three of them organised the workers on Gan and planned to go after work to the atoll office on Hithadhoo to demand an explanation for the arrests.

A British officer, Flight Lieutenant Daykin, took them aside as they were leaving and said that since they were a big crowd, there was likely to be violence and if the atoll chief, Moosa Ali Didi was killed it could easily turn into a revolt. Then a new chief would be sent from Male', he said, but if the atoll chief was not killed but only assaulted, the result would still be disastrous. So his advice was they were more likely to win something if the atoll chief was killed.

As it happened, Moosa Ali Didi was seriously assaulted in Hithadhoo but in the midst of the beatings he was rescued by RAF Hussein, who put him under house arrest. During the assault the Maldivian flag was cut down from the atoll office flagpole, so technically this assault was a revolt. But RAF Hussein wasn't intelligent enough to run the atoll. He was well liked but didn't listen to good advice. So there was no one in charge, no atoll chief, no administration. For eighteen days this situation lasted.

In the meantime, Moosa Ali Didi recovered and wrote to the commanding officer in Gan saying: 'You are behind this trouble, I am going to inform Male'. The only way you can prove you are not behind this is to stop all Maldivians from going to Gan.' Immediately the commander sent out orders that banned all Maldivians from Gan, even from the hospital and from the RAF station on Hithadhoo. This standoff lasted for a week with divisions growing between the atoll people.

Moosa Ali Didi accompanied by friends and the British, went to Gan. Later he drove around with an amplifier, publicly naming a number of people as traitors and criminals. Then men from Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo came in dhoanis to support Moosa Ali Didi. A crowd of Hithadhoo people at the beach welcomed them but at first the men thought the crowd was hostile and they began to sail away. The crowd yelled out that they meant no harm and urged them to come ashore.

Eventually they landed, one dhoani at a time. They were armed with spears and sticks. They ransacked RAF Hussein's house and took away many valuable possessions. They arrested as many people as they could find of the mob who had attacked Moosa Ali Didi. The men were tied tightly and painfully in sandy coir rope by their forearms. They were held in the atoll office then moved to another nearby storeroom while being beaten by the Hulhudhoo and Meedhoo men who lined the way. Once they were inside the room Moosa Ali Didi's wife lit an incense bowl outside and filled it with chillies and other foul and irritating substances and fanned the smoke a small hole in the wall, making the men choke and cough. Division among the Hithadhoo people allowed these things to happen.


RAF Hussein was the only one who actually admitted he had attempted a revolt. He was arrested along with over 70 others and sent into exile. After his release, he stayed in Male' while Moosa Ali Didi was atoll chief. When he returned, Ahmed Salih Ali Didi was the atoll chief. RAF Hussein considered this man to be a friend of his, and he applied for a job in Gan. The atoll office in Addu had to check this application and they referred it to the home ministry in Male'. Eventually Hussein went to Male' and was told that the new atoll chief was against him being given the job. He had a breakdown after this. Hussein stayed in Hithadhoo for a while but became a public nuisance and was sent to the mental asylum on an island near Male'.

The coming of Maldives independence 1965
Moosa Ali Didi thus proved himself to be a staunch political and financial ally of the Maldivian government, willing to confront even the reluctant and hostile British. The gravest effect of the prolonged 1964-5 campaign of non-co-operation against the British at the base was the disruption of health services and the control mosquito-borne diseases. There were nasty epidemics and Moosa Ali Didi and the people of Addu were relieved when the independence agreement was finally ready for signing: 'local reaction to the new agreement had been one of pleasure although most Adduans have little knowledge of the content or meaning of the agreement,' say the Gan base records. In June 1965, the atoll chief told the British he was willing 'to run with the RAF and forget the bad days of 1964.'

Independence was formally granted to the Maldives in July 1965, but it was plainly a grudging act by the British, accompanied by a patronising and negative attitude towards the new state. 'Although the islands are now technically independent it is not expected that this rather diffuse state,' huffed The Times in UK, 'that has never been under British rule as such, will seek membership of the Commonwealth or the United Nations.... it seems unlikely that a country with such a rudimentary economy will seek to do more than enjoy in its ocean seclusion the independence now accorded to it.'

A month later The Times concluded its comments on Maldivian independence in a frivolous article which confused the Indian-controlled Lakshadweep with the Maldives. It opened with a gratuitous insult: 'Recently I heard on the news that the newly appointed delegates at the United Nations from the Maldive Islands were overdue in New York. There was some concern over this was because nobody knew how they were travelling and it had been suggested unkindly that the officials might be coming by canoe.'

The British commentators could have shown a little respect, and less ignorance. The Male' government had won complete independence for Maldives for the first time in three hundred years. Regardless of the economic and security consequences of leaving the British Empire, many Maldivians believed their national independence was a very good thing.




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