Thoughts on Fiji: The Wrong End of the Stick

 John de Bueger,  a New Plymouth writer and engineer,  reckons we might all have got the wrong end of the stick about Fijian hard man Frank Bainimarama.

After a less than perfect in-transit-stop-off-holiday in Tahiti about 30 years ago, I declared that nothing short of a team of wild horses would drag me to sample afresh the tropical delights of silver sands, balmy breezes and coconut trees - anywhere. Consequently I have never been to Fiji.

The place has seldom been far from the headlines since the last coup, and the recent crop of stiff penalties against journalists and media organisations who portray the present regime in less-than-glowing terms, suggests Helen Clark had grounds for waging a vendetta against the good commodore and his merry men. But is Commodore Bainimarama in fact a better interim deal than the bunch of racially riven gentlemen he turfed out?

It is all very well harping on about how terrible losing democracy is - as if that is the sole criterion by which to judge a country. Try telling the Chinese that and see how far you get. They will curtly remind you that after 5000 years of civilised turmoil, they are not about to risk hare-brained ideas like democracy.

The old adage that democracy cannot be imported was demonstrated again when it delivered the Gaza Strip into the hands of Hamas; and its record in tribal whirlpools such as Iraq or Africa shows it's not for everyone. Unless a country has a dominant law-abiding middle class who will not countenance corruption, you can forget about democratic universal suffrage. Where this essential element is missing, democracy just won't work. As far as Fiji is concerned, Helen Clark and Murray McCully both signally failed to understand this fundamental truth, and barked up the wrong tree.

A few months ago we had a brunch with my daughter's boyfriend's parents - who had recently returned home after lecturing at the University of the South Pacific in Suva for several years. They confirmed what I had long suspected: we aren't being fed the whole truth about Fiji.

Not everyone in Fiji is unhappy at the turn of events - particularly those who had been on the wrong end of tribal dictates, corruption or racial discrimination. There is an implicit general understanding that the place needs cleaning up, and that this can only happen under a strongman who won't tolerate the mates-rates, sweetheart deals that had proliferated under democracy.

Recently, I had a most interesting chat with a Taranaki businessman who travels to Fiji regularly, and who has many contacts throughout that country. He told me most people in Fiji aren't in a state of sullen acceptance, but, on balance, consider the commodore to be a welcome change, and a great improvement on his predecessor, Laisenia Qarase. The latter was installed as prime minister after being rescued by Frank Bainimarama from the thug George Speight, who is at present incarcerated. Also, the essential changes are being made, slowly but surely.

Under the commodore, street gangs who had terrorised neighbourhoods have been well and truly sorted, schoolchildren get free transport to school, and native landowners have been ordered either to use their arable land or lease it (thereby putting it back into production). For the first time, dual citizenship is allowed, giving the expatriate community some certainty about their futures, efforts and investments.

It is not widely appreciated that the reason for the coup was to stop three Bills being passed by the Qarase Government: "The Qoli Qoli Bill", which would have handed ownership of the foreshore and seabed (and the huge tourist industry) to local villagers, and given them a windfall at the expense of those in the interior; the "The Forgive and Forget Bill", which would have freed George Speight; and the "This is Mine Bill", a load of crazy nonsense whereby if you think that something belongs to you, then others have to disprove it.

Fiji is a strategic neighbour which needs help to develop its huge resources for the benefit of its people. At last, it has a genuinely non-racist leader who, while being a rough disciplinarian, is not corrupt.

Bainimarama is a resolute, honourable man, who won't be bullied and who is probably about right when he says it will take until 2014 to sort the place out. His main worry is potential assassination.

It would make rather more sense if we calmed down and asked, "Neighbour, how can we help?"


SOE said…
Oh my goodness! How long does it take to get the 'right' end of the stick? But when gotten, it is truly appreciated. As the potentially able assistance of New Zealanders will be anytime soon?
Thakur Ranjit Singh said…
A Good and enligtening article.

This is what I said in New Zealand Herald perspective of January, 9 2007 (over 3.5 years ago):

What Bainimarama did was to stop another Zimbabwe on New Zealand's doorstep. Perhaps he was a bit late, because Fiji's lush green cane farms have already been rendered into bush, as has happened to the farms confiscated from white farmers in Zimbabwe. That country is now on the verge of bankruptcy.

Fiji has been lucky in this respect. Things are still reversible with good, visionary national leadership and good governance.

New Zealand and Australia need to pitch in and act like good and caring neighbours and help Fijians to mould Fiji into a model of democracy that we all can be proud of.

Go ahead, Clark, Howard and Downer, make our day, drop all sanctions and help to bring Fiji's young and faltering democracy back on its feet. Fiji today needs help and understanding, not punishment from our caring big brothers and neighbours.

The shame is that Australia and New Zealand failed to heed such advance warnings, and look what we have today.

Get the full NZ Herald article at this link:
Red Dragon said…
What a wonderful word 'resolute' is! "Determined, having a fixed resolve, constant". That is what it will take to fix Fiji: to eradicate corruption and the corrupt and dishonourable and greedy persons now devouring us. Why have so many of us refused to see and have become part of the problem instead of working towards a solution? Greedy, cowardly, dissolute people live and work among us daily. They have bought Police Officers and government officials and we still refuse to acknowledge this. It will take constant resolve and honour to get us out of this mess and send all these vultures packing....back from where they came.
sara'ssista said…
As i have said previously, as long as this regime is happy for the precedent to be set, that anyone who is disinclined to accept the decisions of the elected government of the day, and they have agood reason , should be allowed to overthrow it on a whim. as long as they give kids a free ride on a bus. The regimes' PM should be concerned about assissination as he again has cemented the convention that everyone should have a go at a coup and just fumble there way through trampling on everyone's rights and spewing out decree after decree as it was perfectly okay for him to do it. They will reap what they so. If this is the form of govenrment fiji is happy to have then so be it, do not expect that the neighbours will applaud and help. You are on you own.

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