Engaging with Fiji by Thakur Ranjit Singh
A history in making that can no longer be ignored
History is a testimony to the fact that most big things today had a humble, in fact, some, very insignificant beginnings. Whether it be the genesis of Colonel’s Sander’s KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), the Mc Donald’s, the World Disney, Chaudhry’s Fiji Labour Party and Qarase’s SDL which respectively once ruled Fiji, the formation of United Nations which replaced the League of Nations and so on.
Perhaps the coming generation may view the Natadola Fiji Engaging meeting that had a humble and ironically somewhat accidental beginning, in a similar manner.
What the Western media, especially in New Zealand and Australia, were deafeningly silent about was the Communiqué that have been passed as resolutions from the two day engaging meeting. While some have recognised them, and written positively in their blogs others gave the opposite view. This is what Michael Field had to say:
Natadola and its communiqué will quickly fade away. It was nothing but an ego fest for one man.
I disagree with Field’s destructive commentary on this issue. This somewhat inadvertent Natadola meeting will turn out to be the genesis of a historical event which will begin to recognise history written by insignificant non-European Pacific Islanders. I am reminded of my former Fiji countryman Rajendra Prasad (not the doctor) who authored Tears in Paradise on Fiji’s indenture history. He was perplexed as to why the Indo Fijians, who were a significant part of Fiji and had made an enormous contribution towards its economic, social, cultural and political development, had escaped the history books. He got the answer to his enigma from Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who in The discovery of India observed that:
“History is almost always written by the victors and conquerors and gives their viewpoint; or, at any rate, the victor’s version is given prominence and holds the field. “(Pun intended)
The tragedy in the Pacific in general and Melanesia in particular is that the European colonisers who colonised these countries gave them their system of rule and democracy which is some cases were not suited to these countries whose people had just come out of the relative “stone age” and were given an alien system that may not have been the best fit or that which ran contrary to or conflicted with their past local arrangement. But given the lack of any better alternative to “civilise” the once “bush” people, the legacy of systems left by respective colonisers may have been the best at the time. But the successive failures of such systems and political mayhem in Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji) demonstrate that there is something wrong somewhere. I suggest this subject deserves further discussion and deliberations, as I do not have answers, and hope more credible and qualified people endeavour to look outside the box. It is not upon Australia and New Zealand to act as the policemen for the apparently failed systems bequeathed by the Europeans colonisers to these Pacific countries.
For argument sake, Fiji may have had its racial tensions because of its two different breeds of people from two distinct and distant parts of the world: India and Melanesia. But what is the problem in the Solomon Islands? Which two worlds do people from Malaita and Guadal Canal come from? When the system failed and the country went into anarchy, they were perhaps not as lucky as Fiji with its home-grown military which came to rescue the country from a faltering democracy in 2006. That is where the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) found an excuse to “re-colonise” the “natives” in the Solomon Islands.
But the frustration of Australia and New Zealand has been that they could not do that in Fiji. Despite their efforts, they have been unable to break Bainimarama’s resolve which is like a raging rhino, as I had written in March 2009 in an opinion article in The Fiji Times:
“They say, when a rhinoceros rushes on its prey, it puts its head down, with its deadly horn protruding with a resolute to accomplish its mission of striking its target by demolishing all obstacles in its way. It is unfortunate that sections of the Fiji and the international community have failed to realise, appreciate or understand the mood of Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. It can be summed up as a raging rhino which is out to accomplish its mission.
Those who are pushing and rushing Fiji for an election need to honestly ponder: what would an election achieve for Fiji when it failed to deliver true democracy in the past three and half decades? Why should Fiji not be allowed to sort out its unique problem in its own unique way, when the elections of the past failed to deliver democracy and social justice to all Fiji citizens? We have politicians hijacking democracy which allows unscrupulous leaders to discriminate against their own people under the revered shelter of democratic sovereignty. What will the Commonwealth, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island Forum do if an election sends back the same culprits who were raping democracy under the sanctity of supposedly democratic elections, and continue doing what they were doing before December 2006? It is time Fiji was allowed to sort out and find home grown permanent solutions to its political problems.”
In fact what I had written some 15 months ago has come to reality in the Engaging meeting at Natadola on 22 and 23 July, 2010. Certain sections of the Communiqué reveal that the island countries which attended the meeting showed an understanding, and perhaps an acceptance and appreciation of Fiji situation. This obviously is not shared by Australia and New Zealand. This is what the relevant resolutions read:
5. Agreed that Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change (SFC) is a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation and to hold true democratic elections;
6. Agreed that important lessons could be learnt and shared within the region, from Fiji’s experience and Fiji’s implementation of the Strategic Framework for Change;
7. Recognised the need for Fiji’s continuous engagement with the region and its full participation in regional development, initiatives and aspirations.
What one can deduce out of these is an expression that the system under which Fiji had been governed was a failure and there was a need to substitute the old imported system with a home-grown one. It was also recognised that the development process in Fiji which was trying to implement changes conducive to its current level of developments and other environmental factors, was to be a lesson to other countries on how they could implement changes that suited them. With a strategic and leadership position that Fiji occupies in the Pacific, it cannot be ignored by the other sections of the Pacific community.
What effectively has happened at Natadola is a process of change that says that the Westminster system may not be “fit for all sizes” in the Pacific of today. Tonga is going through changes, Fiji is going through changes, Solomon Islands would need to have a home grown solution to resolve its tribal fights, perhaps so does Papua New Guinea. What historians and writers on the Pacific need to realise is the process of change that has commenced in Fiji and ultimately acknowledged at the Natadola will, in time to come, become a prototype or model for other developing governments where people would be forced to question the propriety, suitability, success and quality of the imported systems that had failed to bring political stability, economic development and peace in those countries. What the western writers and commentators on Fiji have to realise is that the once backward people have come out of the bush and in this globalised world, all solutions need not originate in Europe or any other first world country. Singapore and Malaysia are living proof that despite authoritarian regimes and strict controls on the media, those countries could still deliver reasonable prosperity, economic development, peace and stability in their respective countries.
The doomsday pundit commentators from the West cannot ignore the fact that eleven regional countries were represented through their leaders or heads of delegation (with exclusion of Australia, New Zealand and Samoa very prominent). It was agreed that the engaging meeting was an important and timely forum to discuss key issues of common interest on trade, security, sustainable development, good governance, climate change as well as Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change.
Perhaps what may be hurting for those who were absent, and in light of the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting, is the silent message and perception that the current model of Pacific regionalism (read PIF) may have failed to effectively address key development and governance challenges faced by
Pacific Small Island Developing States.
Australia and New Zealand, with their cheque book diplomacy, can no longer afford to ignore this raging rhino, riding on the rumbling waves of Natadola.
(Thakur Ranjit Singh is political commentator and a post graduate student at AUT)