Luke Heslop and Laura Jeffery, University of Edinburgh:
This paper examines a 17km link-road that connects four islands of the Maldives archipelago. The Maldive’s longest and most developed road, the Laamu link-road, was a gift from the Chinese government and constructed by the Jiangsu Transportation Engineering Group (J-TEG). The implications of this road have been diverse. There is no consensus on how it should be used, driven on, or marked. In the planning phases, some professed to want a good road to the school and the mosque while others preferred a road from the harbour to the market. Such appeals, bifurcated along gender lines, represented local mobility concerns and were tied to existing political rifts between the islands, intensified by the arrival of anew infrastructural asset. While the link-road affords a multitude of local encounters as people travel further more regularly, it is also an instantiation of modernity, a sure sign of what is to come. It is through the road that islanders encounter the global forces of capital and construction that shape their islands. Amidst inter-island politics and local mobility concerns, swirl rumours and hearsay of land-grabs and international power struggles between India, China, and Saudi Arabia. This paper explores the road as a social experience, as it cross-cuts competing visions of modernity, global connectivity, and anxiety about material change on a small island in the Indian Ocean.