Should there be a Better Ethnic Balance in the Army?

By Crosbie Walsh

Several readers have expressed their opinions on the overwhelming dominance of itaukei in the armed forces, and some have said that if Bainimarama really wanted to get rid of institutional racism, he’d be actively recruiting Indo-Fijians and the "Other" ethnicities for the army.  For the moment, I have no comment on this question but I’d like to share an earlier experience on the question: “Should there be a better ethnic balance in the army?”

This was one of four questions 16 of my USP postgraduate students  put to to some 620 people in a downtown Suva survey in 1994 whose purpose was to see whether the ethnicity and gender of the person asking the questions influenced the answers.  For the three contentious questions (on rape, the Sunday Ban, and the army) it did.  Only on the least contentious (fines for littering) was the result not statistically significant. 

Overall, taking no account of the ethnicity of the interviewer, some 78% of those interviewed (Fijians 71%; Indians 86%) said they wanted better ethnic balance in the army. The Fijian-Indian difference was significant but I was surprised so many ethnic Fijians said they wanted more Indians and "Others" in the army.   The explanation came when I looked at the ethnicities of the interviewers.

The table shows that when Fijian was speaking with Fijian, only 56%  wanted better ethnic balance, but when the the interviewer was a Fijian and and the respondent an Indian, the

There Should Be Better Ethnic Balance in the Army

Fijian (%)
Other (%) 
Indian (%)

 percentage increased to 77%.  

A similar change occurred when interviewers of ‘Other’ ethnicity (the “in between” ethnicities) spoke with Fijians (only 64% were for more ethnic balance) compared with  when they spoke to Indians (80% favoured balance).   The responses to Fijian interviewers was close to the Fijian to Fijian responses; and those to Indian interviewers close to the Indian to Indian responses.  

The differences with Indian interviewers was far less pronounced (80-87%) and not statistically significant, but there was a very big, and very significant, difference between Fijians speaking to Fijian interviewers (56%) and Fijians speaking to Indian interviewers (85%). 

These results led me to conclude that answers given when interviewer and respondent were of the same ethnicity were more likely to  reflect the true opinion of those interviewed,  while answers given where the ethnicity of the interviewer and respondent were different  were more likely to be significantly influenced by the ethnicity of the interviewer, possibly to avoid giving offence to the interviewer.   

There were similar results to the rape question. Man to man was more tolerant of rape, but when the gender of  the interviewer and interviewed differed, men speaking to women interviewers roundly condemned rape, and, surprisingly,  women speaking to male interviewers were more tolerant of rape than when speaking with woman interviewers.  It would seem that in cross-ethnic and cross-gender face-to-face situations people try to avoid giving offence on "delicate" issues. 

It has always surprised me that researchers in Fiji (and elsewhere, for that matter) have given so little attention to this type of bias. Researchers record and analyse the ethnicity (and other personal characteristics) of those interviewed or questioned, but their research design seldom, if ever, has checks in place to see if the results have been skewed  by subject bias, the personal characteristics of the persons asking the questions.


Umm said…
Another question to ask is should he be aiming for some balance in senior government appointments. The main criteria appears not to be race but first employed by the RFMF ! Is that not discrimination against those of us who do not or have not served in the RFMF ?
BASA said…
This also brings the recent poll into question without knowing the ethnic makeup of the interviewer.
I did not comment on the poll when it was published but it is not the result I have heard talking with my friends and I was surprised by the outcome. Maybe ethnic bias and a wish to please the interviewer has modified the result? Another poll with this taken into account should be run ASAP and even I would accept the result.
sara'ssista said…
@bassa...I am sure that those that are pro military regime don't really want to look too closely into that given the inconvenience of the argument.given in the last five says o have spoken with many many people from five different locations in fiji there is a willingness to talk about the current regime, and to dab fair, about one material progress, but certainly in whispers lest they be heard. This is the reality of what I see frequently. People are not 'happy', they just go along to get along. This is what the regime is all about wearing down the population with the help of a craven media who are not allowed to probe or question and then print or broadcast.
Nive said…
The real questions to be asked are: Does Fiji really need an army? And, how has participating in so-called peace-keeping missions changed the Fijian society? Let's face it, exposure to war-torn parts of the world have made our soldiers more violent, and more accepting of violence at home. They've also seen first-hand the extreme intolerance of different races to each other (Israelis and Palestanians) Does anyone remember how the whole nation mourned the loss of the first Fiji soldier to die on a peace-keeping mission? His name was Corporal Vidya Saagar. Yeah, those were the good old days, when we were taught to respect all races, right from primary school. Perhaps the UN should take some responsibility for the mess Fiji is in today? A good leader would get rid of the army in the long run.
Anonymous said…
@ Nive

Firstly, you have you facts wrong. Vidya Sagar was not the first Fiji soldier to die in peacekeeing operations in Lebanon.

Secondly, yu have obviosuly not read widely on the subject of peacekeeping and the effects it has had on Fiji. There have een studies made ny reputable people who show that Fiji's partication in international peacekeeping has had an enormous beneficial effect on the economy of Fiji and standards of living of those who served.

I suggest you read more widely. Dont concentrate on what you think are the seeming negatives of Fiji's particiaption. Open your eyes and look at the facts. Your ignorance of them, including your incorrect claim that Sagar was the first casualty, seriously undermines your posting as nothing but biased bulldust. You have been listening too much to the SDL propaganda machine.
Sad Daze said…
A complete ethnic balance could eventually be achieved by by having 12 or 18 months compulsory service for youths of 19, during which they could be taught not only discipline, but basic construction and engineering skills.
Corruption Fighter said…
Croz you claim that your survey showed that ethnicity of interviewer influenced the answers given, but your own data make plain that this was true for one ethnic group only - Fijian. For Indians the difference was not only slight it was "not statistically significant". In other words, any difference could be the result of chance.

You seem to have succeeded only in uncovering the bleeding obvious: Fijians tend to give their interviewers the answers they think they want to hear. It's the polite thing to do. It's called culture.

What you and your survey have succeeded in proving is that you neither understand, nor have any feeling for Fijian culture - again the bleeding obvious.

But this is all a smokescreen. The question remains: why has the RFMF not got a broader ethnic composition?

If you speak to Indo-Fijians who've served in the RFMF you'll find that the culture of the RFMF is overwhelmingly Fijian and stifling for non-Fijians - the language, the attitudes are heavily mono-ethnic. If you speak to Fijians they say Indo-Fijians drop out if they're not selected for officer training.

If Bainimarama was serious about building a race free Fiji he'd start with broadening the culture of the army. Instead, he seems to be intent on imposing the narrow culture of the army on the rest of society.

Why you can't see the bleeding obvious is totally beyond me. Do you need a survey to help you see it?
Croz Walsh said…
@ Corruption fighter ... I did not publish all the results because my main interest was in the Army responses, but the results inolving "cross" ethnic or gender situations were also statistically significant for Indian responses on the Sunday Ban question, in the differences between "undecided" (Fijian) and "disagree" (Indian) responses, and to male and female responses on the rape question.

The 1994 exercise did not aim to predict a situation in 2011 for a reason that must be "bleeding obvious."
Full participation of women in Fiji Defence Force & Coast Guard said…
@ Corruption Fighter & Croz....

Today the Australian Cabinet approved frontline infantry role for women in the Australian Defence Force. This makes Australia fall into line with Israel, Canada, NZ and Denmark. Five year lead time to full implementation. Fiji should now follow suit. Drop the ethnic fussing and bring in gender compliance with CEDAW. Allow women to assume their rightful role in equality with men and equip them for it. You may be amazed by the results and society will benefit from this also. Mind you we want to see a Nursing Corps, a Medical Corps, Coast Guard Corps all open to women's full participation in leadership roles.
Anonymous said…
@ Corruption Fighter

Hey mate, you are so engrossed in the Fiji-Indian ethnic imbalance with regard to the RFMF, you have failed to acknowledge (1) that the No 2 in the RFMF at the moment is a Fiji Indian - Mohammed Aziz (2) the presence of other ethnic components viz. part-Europeans (kai loma's)especially, who have enlisted in numbers far greater than any other race (bar ethnic Fijians) per head of population.

Dont forget too, that prior to WW2, the RFMF officer corps were dominated by British Army officers and the general soldiery were ethnic Fijians and 'kai loma's'. They were organised into different platoons eg Fijian platoon and the 'kai Loma' platoon...both groups got along very well because of their common maternal links.

Sure the overwhlemingly culture in the military is Fijian...because the Fijian warrior ethos make them great soldiers. If the kai valagi officers and the kai loma's etc have no problem with this culture in serving alongside their Fijian brothers-in-arms in varrious Wars and campaigns, then it says much about the inability of the Fiji-Indian to adapt to the prevailing values and norms that underpin military service.

Are you suggesting that the military culture should be Indian? Should they all be praying o a Vedic God before going into battle?

The problem is not with the Fijians and other races, but with the Indians. Check out their history of military setrvice in Fiji will ya, and come back to me.

This idea of the Fiji Indians being the 'victim' in everything, reeks of the old NFP mentality that wants to portray the idea that Fiji-Indians are 'victims'.

We have already, as a nation, acknowledged the injustice of the 'Girmit' era.

So please stop bringing up issues that are time prescribed - meaning, out of date ideas that are no longer relevant in advancing the debate towards a more inclusive future for all us as 'Fijians'.

Look to the future...stop agonising about the past
yea yea said…
The problem is not about race in the RFMF. The problem is their belief that they are above the law and have the right to stage or support coups. Until the RFMF understand their role in Fiji we will have coups.
Corruption Fighter said…

OK so I take it you're saying Indo-Fijians tended to give different answers to Fijian interviewers on the issue of Sunday bans. What this says is that they are sensitive to Fijian feelings about their Sunday observance values. That, too, is the bleeding obvious.

The real issue remains: why ,if Bainimarama is genuine about wanting to achieve a race free Fiji, does he not do something to make the RFMF more receptive to Indo-Fijian recruits?

Have you ever spoken to Indo-Fijians who've tried being in the army? It's not so bad for officers, so there may be some truth in the old Fijian complaint that Indo-Fijians tend to drop out if they're not selected for officer training, but life as a private is tough if you don't speak Fijian and accept Fijian attitudes to authority.

I repeat my question: have you ever spoken to a single Indo-Fijian man who's ever served as an enlisted man in the RFMF?
Croz Walsh said…
@ Corruption fighter ... I was reporting on a student exercise in 1994, and in doing so suggested that the personal characteristics (race, gender, etc) of interviewers should be taken into account by researchers. The research had nothing to do with Bainimarama.

The point was also made that people may respond to sensitive issues differently in face-to-face situations. I wonder about your qualifications and research experience, and whether you
would be as smug, conceited and personally insulting if you were to met me in a face-to-face situation. I see little point in pursuing discussion with an anonymous know-all.
Anonymous said…
Who cares what race or gender someone is to join an army. That discussion is a waste of time. Like it or not the military forces are here to stay. Fiji may also want to consider having a larger navy.
Corruption Fighter said…
You're quite right Croz, face-to-face I would have a completely different tone.

My question was genuine. I have spoken to one former RFMF private who was Indo-Fijian. So, no survey data, he was my only source, but he was very convincing in describing what life was like for him. No-one tried to make it hard, that's just the way it was. Discipline was harsh and often brutal - if we are fair to the RFMF, they are not treating civilians any differently to the way they treat one another. The end result was that he didn't feel he fitted in. For officers mixing with other officers who all speak English well it's a different situation. It's something else for the ORs. This is a problem that you'd think that the Commander would try to do something about. If he wants to build a genuinely race free Fiji, there's a lot he could do in his own institution. It's one of the reasons I just can't accept that he's sincere.

I would be genuinely interested in learning your views on this issue.
Anonymous said…
@ Corruption Fighter

So you admit that your only source for your assault on the RFMF was an 'Indo-Fijian' private. Did you ever try to exapnd your sources to include a 'kai loma' or even a 'kai valagi' who, in total numbers, have served Fiji, and given their lives in greater numbers in War than any other ethnic group in Fiji, including i'taukei?

Next time you in Fiji go attend the Remembrance Day Service on 11 November and see for yourself the number of crosses showing 'kai loma' and 'kai valagi' names who have given their lives for Fiji. They outnumber even the 'i'taukei'.

The only Fiji Indian who gave his life in military service for Fiji was Vidya Sagar, of Labasa. PERIOD. He was killed in action in Lebanon in 1979. God rest the soul of this brave soldier. He set the example for other Fiji Indians to rise above their narrow ethnic perpsective and make the ultimate sacrifice for his country. He did not die for ethnic parity. He died for all the military virtiues that he, as a soldier, ascribed to. Do you know what these are? If not, educate yourself on this.

Military service is not about ethnic parity. That's politics, not about disciplined service for the greater good. Take time to raed and educate yourself about these concepts that underpin military service, then you will understand.

Your source, the Indian soldier, should be congratulated for having the courage to stand up and expose himself to the cultural differences he encountered. If he could not overcome these cultural tensions, then how can we expect him to put up with and overcome the life-thretatening tensions of combat?

As they say in the military: the enemy bullet does not discrimminate between the Fiji Indian, the i'taukei or the 'kai loma'. We are all in it together, so cut the crap of ethnic parity coz really, in the final analysis of combat, it does not matter.

Sleep well
Monitored UN Reporting since 2006 : CEDAW AND CERD said…
Since 2006 the UN has determined to monitor the reporting on Conventions like CEDAW by following up directly with signatory governments. The army is here to stay in Fiji. Its peace-keeping role is important. So, the gender composition of the army is more important than ever. The inclusion of women in the RFMF is of vital importance and the monitoring of CEDAW reporting should follow up closely on this. A Coast Guard, a Disaster Corps, Nursing and Medical Corps all with the requisite inclusion of women should be on the immediate horizon. Then the UN Conventions that have been signed up to will make more honest sense.

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