INDIA PARTNERS WITH THE MALDIVES IN THEIR BIGGEST INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT
On 26 August, the Maldives government officially signed an agreement with Mumbai-based company AFCONS for the construction of a 6.74km-long bridge and causeway link that will connect the capital, Malé, with the strategic neighbouring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. The Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) has been under discussion since the visit of India’s External Affairs Minister to Malé in September 2019 and is hoped to boost the Maldivian economy, at a time when the tourism-dependent economy has suffered its largest shock due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on travel. While the Maldives was heralded as a development success that attained upper-middle-income status, the World Bank estimates that the country’s economy contracted by 28% in 2020 as tourism and construction activity slumped. Even before the pandemic, the South Asian nation was already at high risk of overall and external debt distress, caused by reliance on external non-concessional loans to finance its ambitious public infrastructure agenda. Government officials have welcomed India’s development assistance as low-cost and transparent in comparison to China’s loans, which have been referred to as part of Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy”. India is investing $500 million into the GMCP, of which $100 million is a grant and $400 million is a loan to be paid back after a five-year grace period at an interest rate of 1.75% over 20 years. India has several incentives to finish the bridge by the 2023 deadline, including improving its reputation as an alternative development partner to China (whose Sinamalé Bridge connecting Malé with the Hulhulé and Hulhumalé islands is only 1.39km long) and encouraging an India-friendly (rather than pro-Chinese) political party to succeed in the 2023 presidential elections and 2024 parliamentary elections. The Maldives holds strategic importance for India, which has invested in numerous other projects in the Maldives and has referred to itself as their ‘First Responder’ in any emergency.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
|POPULATION:||± 515,000||CHRISTIAN:||unknown ?|
|UNREACHED GROUPS:||7 (99.99% of pop.)|
The Maldives is widely viewed as a luxury holiday destination, but behind the physical beauty of the island paradise lies a harsh Sunni Islamist regime that ranks 15th on the World Watch List for the countries that most severely persecute Christians. It is illegal to convert to Christianity, which is seen as a violation of Sharia law punishable by imprisonment or losing Maldivian citizenship. The close-knit homogenous communities that densely populate the 1,190 islands are closely monitored for any signs of deviation, including religious choice. Expatriate Christians, who mostly come from India and Sri Lanka and work in the tourist sector, are also carefully monitored, making Christian fellowship very difficult. One of the ways that Maldivians have been reached in the past is through evangelisation during periods of studying abroad in India. It is hoped that Indian Christians could find new ways to be witnesses within the Maldives through business opportunities linked to the GMCP and other projects, like Chinese Christians have sought ways to be used by God through opportunities provided by the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in various partner countries. The economic investment could potentially provide a window of opportunity where Maldivians are more open to the importation of foreign ideas as there is favour towards the donor country. Nonetheless, in such a tightly controlled environment where the Government generally seeks to minimise outside influences, the Global Church can pray for creative ways to share with Maldivians. While it is illegal to import Bibles, some Maldivians access Scripture through the internet. Translation of the Bible into the dominant language, Dhivehi, is slow due to the small number of Christian converts. Let the Global Church pray that God, who makes light shine out of darkness, will make the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Jesus Christ infiltrate the islands of the Maldives and awaken her spiritual beauty (2 Cor 4:6).
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the GMCP to benefit the people of the Maldives and for God’s will to be done through this partnership
- For the completion of the Dhivehi Bible translation, for workers to respond to the call to go to the harvest field of the Maldives – whether through the new opportunities provided by the GMCP or otherwise – and for Maldivian migrant workers working in other countries to be exposed to the Gospel
- For a softening attitude among government officials and staunch community members towards Christians, and for believers to be able to meet and encourage each other
File Image: REUTERS/Ashwa Faheem