The curse of Kedah’s jewel

The 104 islands of the beautiful Langkawi archipelago, set in the Andaman Sea, are a world-famous tourist destination and lauded as ‘the jewel of Kedah’. Originally neglected and (according to ancient folklore) cursed, these isles owe their renaissance to former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In 1986, he decided to transform the islands into a tourist resort. Tax-free status was granted a year later. This was all part of Mahathir’s ‘2020 vision’, driving Malaysia to fully developed country status by 2020. This vision too was behind the prime minister’s enthusiasm for the Commonwealth.

Hosting the 1989 Commonwealth Summit – and later, the Commonwealth Games – required major infrastructure development and shone an international spotlight on Malaysia’s achievements. Even so, the Pelangi Beach Resort was barely ready to receive its important guests as Commonwealth leaders left Kuala Lumpur for their island ‘retreat’.

As the last lick of paint was drying and all signs of building work had been tidied away, a ferocious tropical thunderstorm hammered the new hotel. Quite soon, it was evident that not all was well. In their haste to complete the complex, the builders had fixed the roof tiles the wrong way round, and water was now pouring through the ceilings. As the leaders arrived, without their officials, they discovered that the storm had knocked out all but one of the telephone lines to the outside world. Sending nearly a quarter of the world’s presidents and prime ministers to a remote island, where they were now isolated and incommunicado, was a nightmare civil servants could normally only imagine.


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Amnesty International