Nauru, where are you?
February 21, 2003 9:56 AM   Subscribe

The tiny island nation of Nauru (pop 12,329) once had one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Recently, though, the "poor little rich kid of the Pacific" has dissolved into political chaos. In an address three weeks ago, just before the country's telecommunications network collapsed, President Bernard Dowiyogo said, “You are all aware and conscious of our critical situation.” Since then – silence. (via boingboing)
posted by gottabefunky (28 comments total)
Someone call international rescue. This is the world's smallest democracy we're talking about!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:10 AM on February 21, 2003

More info on this strange little place here.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2003

This is what happens when the NationStates server times out.
posted by stbalbach at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2003

The Nauru story is actually rather extraordinary and tragic.

After essentially destroying the entire interior of the island by strip-mining - to a degree that I believe at one point the population was considering moving en masse to a different island - Nauru turned to offshore banking of the shadiest kind. It has been a mecca for money laundering for a while - although it may be that its current problems are related to the collapse of this industry (with new, more stringent, anti-money laundering regimes going into place around the world). At one point it cost something like $100 to set up a bank there, and it was practically impossible to trace any transaction going through Nauru.

If this story is at all of interest to you, I have to recommend the book 'Siege of the Villa Lipp' by Eric Ambler (perhaps the finest mystery/spy novelist ever, and this is certainly the best financial shennanigans thriller ever). Nauru is either the best case of life immitating art I've ever seen or Ambler could see the future very clearly.
posted by fluffy1984 at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2003

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

Is it me or is the global fabric of society just unravelled lately?
posted by BentPenguin at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2003

12,000 people and no economy doesn't seem very viable. . .
posted by tiamat at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2003

Economist: Injury followed insult when, soon after his first walk, Mr Harris had to be flown to Australia for emergency medical treatment.

Ahaha. Oho. Oh my.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2003

Just a moment... just a moment... I've just picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to go a hundred percent failure within seventy-two hours.
posted by mathis23 at 10:42 AM on February 21, 2003

Yoo hoo, Lonely Planet, time to update your Nauru page as you did with Iraq.
posted by brownpau at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2003

And they need to pay their Boeing bill; apparently the news still gets out.
posted by rschram at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2003

I think it is absolutely astounding that there could be a country which previously had telecom access and then looses it completely. What are we in, The Road Warrior? Or the fall or Rome?
posted by pjgulliver at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2003

Great links. Thanks.
posted by mikrophon at 12:37 PM on February 21, 2003

Hmm, if only I had some Ice-9 I could be someone in Nauru...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2003

The Road Warrior? Or the fall or Rome?

Easter Island?
posted by raygirvan at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2003

I lived in Micronesia, on the island of Saipan. Firstly, for anything to fail out there is not uncommon. The harsh environment tends to destroy everything, and in short order. Secondly, regular maintenence is a foreign concept to many people out there. Perfectly good equipment would be allowed to rot because proper maintenence is an inconvenience. People with new cars would drive them for years without oil changes. Yes, I realize this sort of thing occurs everywhere, but out there it was an endemic behavior pattern.

I met a few people that worked on Nauru, also. During its heyday, Nauruans would actually abandon theirs cars for minor problems to purchase a new one. The waste was enormous. And although Nauru attempted to invest their phosphate proceeds wisely, they ended up putting money into foolish endeavors. On Saipan, they built what was once a state-of-the-art building (it was the first building on Saipan with escalators, and a had a revolving restaurant on the top floor!), but is now a crumbling relic. Virtually nothing inside works (including the escalators and revolving restaurant), most of the rental space is empty, and the place occasionally is overwhelmed with the stench of sewage.

It's the island way...
posted by drstrangelove at 1:50 PM on February 21, 2003

Sounds like my experiences in Africa Dr. Strangelove. The first time I was there I was appalled by all the capital products--from automobiles to factory equipment to entire buildings--just left to rot away. Or, even worse, still used by having no maintanence whatsoever. It reminds me of the collapse of the US in "Atlas Shrugged."
posted by pjgulliver at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2003

I think they ought to sell the island to the US government, evacuate the citizenry, and turn it into an "Escape From New York"-type prison for violent criminals.
posted by davidmsc at 2:42 PM on February 21, 2003

I was thinking about building some cryptonomiconish data haven. But perhaps they've already used up their street cred after all the money laundering. Here is more information, including an aerial shot that shows a stripped and barren interior surrounded by a ring of still habitable land. beware bad midi - if you're at work or just sensitive, turn down the volume
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2003

That was called "Australia", it didn't work too well for the Brits. It's a bit futher south from Nauru.
posted by Dillenger69 at 3:14 PM on February 21, 2003

12,000 people and no economy doesn't seem very viable. . .

Welcome to the South Pacific, tiamat.

Nauru has been strip mined, powdered, shipped offshore, and then dropped from sixty feet all over Australia and New Zealand. Kind of a symbol for what happened to the region during the course of the twentieth century...
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:50 PM on February 21, 2003

it probably didn't work for the brits because they hadn't arrived in the dark and gritty future. I think we're there now, and the world is ready for a brutal anything-goes island prison.

however, i'm not sure the world is ready for snake pliskin. maybe we should hold off.
posted by chrisege at 3:50 PM on February 21, 2003

i'm not sure the world is ready for snake pliskin

I thought he was dead.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:31 PM on February 21, 2003

Or Ray Liotta (No Escape)
posted by pjgulliver at 4:48 PM on February 21, 2003

I forgot to add a couple of other points.

Even on Saipan, which is a US Commonwealth (CNMI), hard economic times have ravaged a government once flush with cash. Tax rebates from last year have not been repaid, employees for the government constantly face the threat of not being being paid, and the government health insurance plan is essentially bankrupt. The hospital is unable to keep necessary medicines stocked, etc, etc. However, at least the CNMI can fall back on the Feds if times really get too hard, unlike Nauru.

Also, on Pacific islands, political intrigue is a game. Palau saw one President murdered and another committed suicide within a few years. The elections on Saipan were usually a circus, and people generally voted for whoever was most closely related...
posted by drstrangelove at 5:32 PM on February 21, 2003

That's why I propose the following axiom:
Democracy only works in populations where family relations doesn't matter.

Either they have to be very small and equally related (all are siblings), completely unrelated or a large population.
posted by spazzm at 7:00 PM on February 21, 2003

drstrangelove, I'm kind of curious about something - you described the environment of Micronesia as harsh, which isn't something I'd heard about before. Could you please explain what you mean?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:50 PM on February 21, 2003


The weather is usually nice, but it's a tough environment. High humidity, exposure to salt, intense sunlight, insects, etc. A car will rust into oblivion within 10 years (seeing any car from the 80s is a rare sight.) Books left in a non-air conditioned house will mildew within a few months. Termites ravage exposed wood. The sun bleaches things with surprising rapidity.

A guy I worked for owned a car that he kept immaculately maintained, yet he'd find stupid things like glovebox hinges rusting. Even with superb upkeep, things just don't last on the islands...
posted by drstrangelove at 9:43 PM on February 21, 2003

Thanks, dr. for the explanation.
posted by pyramid termite at 5:17 AM on February 22, 2003

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