The Island President who ran out of power
11th March 2012,
By Daniel NelsonIt’s sad that a film about the poster boy of climate change, Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, will launch in Britain just weeks after he was ousted from power.
The documentary opens the London Human Rights Watch Film Festival on 21 March, and the timing highlights the political fragility of the climate movement. A politician such as Nasheed may pick up the climate issue and run with it, but successors may not consider it a priority and there’s usually little public pressure.
Nasheed recently blamed his toppling on a group of businessmen because they wanted to bring in tax cuts, but even if true the failure of his rival party to espouse the cause of action to combat climate change underlines the point that the world is not yet at the stage where all parties and leaders accept the need for climate action.
The Island President gives no clues about public opinion in the Maldives, or the opinion of other politicians, because it’s the sort of documentary that sticks to one subject as it follows him around from meeting to meeting, conference to conference. It’s good fly-on-the-wall stuff – and is particularly revealing when it picks up conversations with other island leaders about preparations for international climate negotiations. But the topic of conversation is only ever about climate and half-way through the film I began to wonder about the context.
When did he decide to make fighting climate change a personal and national priority (there’s a suggestion that his conversion came at his first Cabinet meeting)? Do many people in his Indian Ocean country of 2,000 islands share his views? Is the public proud that he took the fight to the United Nations or did they think he was spending too much time away from home? What did party activists think? The luxury hotel industry? Journalists? Women? Religious leaders?
The filmmakers would say that’s a different film, but that’s not entirely true. The film’s title is about Nasheed the politician not Nasheed the climate campaigner. The opening section is about his fight against autocracy and repression during which he was repeatedly jailed and tortured twice. So it’s not just about his climate activities – though he links the two when he says, “I didn’t want my children to fear solitary confinement… neither should they be environmental refugees.”
But The Island President is worth seeing. It paints a vividly impressionistic picture of his efforts to get a small country’s voice heard; to make an impact; to persuade stodgy, unimaginative allies to change tactics; to negotiate on the basis of what’s needed for the world rather than what my nation can get out of these talks.
It was a lonely battle: the climate negotiations at the UN are conducted between geographic, geopolitical and economic power blocs, and Nasheed was fighting largely on his own outside the blocs.
The film is a testament to a valiant struggle, and puts the focus on a country whose voice is almost never heard.
“The most important fight is the fight for our survival,” says Nasheed. And that’s still true, even though he’s no longer in power
* The Island President, March 22, 6:30pm, Curzon Soho. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Mark Lynas, climate advisor to former President Nasheed, and Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa, former envoy for science and technology in the President's Office.
* Human Rights Watch Film Festival, London, 21-30 March