Preparing for Democracy II

LINK TO Preparing for Democracy I.  Click here. 

Preparing for Democracy II: 
National Affairs and Citizenship
By Croz Walsh

Scratching the Surface: the Citizens' Constitutional Forum Survey November 2011. CCF Website.

The Citizens' Constitutional Forum led by its CEO Rev Akuila Yabaki has been Fiji's most prominent civil rights NGO since Rabuka's 1987 Coup. More recently, they spoke out against some of the proposed legislation of the former Qarase Government (notably their intention to 'forgive' the Speight coup perpetrators, and pass racist legislation).  They have opposed all coups, including the Bainimarama coup of 2006. But they are also realists whose seek positive outcomes. This is seen in their often critical but always helpful comments about Government which, unfortunately and to its shame, Government rarely heeds. It is also seen in their work to increase grassroots understanding of national affairs, good governance, human rights, and their rights and obligations as citizens.

Scratching the Surface reports their findings of grassroots knowledge and attitudes in a sample of 781 people, mainly iTaukei and mainly rural, living in three provinces —Naitasiri, Tailveu and Ra— from where Speight drew much of his support. On the whole the survey, that mainly used closed questionnaire statements in English, Fijian and Hindi,  was well conceived and executed, but it is extraordinarily difficult to pinpoint people's attitudes and determine to what extent attitudes may predict actual behaviour.  

The sample comprised 490 people who had participated in CCF workshops and 291 people in a control group that was used by CCF to assess the success of its workshops in changing opinions. For the most part I have been concerned with the combined results because I am mainly interested in how grassroots people receive information and what what they think.

Sources of information on national issues
Over the past twenty or so years an increasing number of rural people have gained access to electricity and TV. Radio reception now covers most of the country and cellphone reception is possible in much of the areas surveyed. In the sample 83% of households has a radio; 57% a TV, 24% a telephone, and a surprising 73% a mobile cellphone. iTaukei figures were somewhat lower (radio 79%, TV48%, telephone 11% and mobiles 68%. The report suggested the lower iTaukei figures could be due to traditional obligations and poorer financial management. It is just as likely to be due to living in a compact village where many people are related and sharing is common. 
What most matters is that most people had direct or indirect access to the main sources of national information — radio and television.

The main sources of information on national affairs were the radio (69%), television (mainly Fiji One, 36%), newspapers (read daily, 37%), neighbours and friends (35%), village meetings (16%) and all others under 4%. It is likely that while many people used more than one formal source of information, many others did not use any on a regular basis, relying instead on what on what friends and neighbours said, and what was raised at village meetings. (See also below 'Interest in national affairs'.) Few reported local or district officials or community leaders as sources of information, and the questionnaire did not ask about church or church meetings. Nor, unfortunately, do we know what radio and television programmes were followed or how these may have influenced their opinions.

My feeling is that if Government and civil society organizations wish to get their messages across to rural iTaukei, they should follow up on this information by finding out what villagers most watch, most like and are most influenced by.

The full exercise of citizenship involves citizens feeling free to take their ideas and complaints to appropriate authorities. This is rarely the case in Fiji where the common people are typically followers and not participants, even at village level. CCF comments on 'a culture of silence' evident in most rural communities which it thought accounted for the small proportion of people discussing their views or taking their problems to leaders (although they were gratified that their participants were more active in this regard). Over half of those interviewed had never approached a leader and a further one-third only occasionally.

Of the iTaukei population that had, most approaches were to a religious leader (23 %) and a village headman (33%). Less than ten percent had contacted a local, district or national government official even on issues that involved social welfare, employment, education and housing. Many of the respondents said they approached church or village leaders because of their “status and links to other professionals.” They were also more accessible. This not unexpected finding confirms the critical role played by these local leaders, and their likely influence, as suppliers and conduits of services, in the shaping of villagers' views on national affairs, In others words, many radio and television stories are likely to be filtered through local leaders, and the opinions of ones relations and neighbours. One survey question asked whether people agreed with the statement, “A good citizen should follow the requests of leaders without question.” Ninety percent of iTaukei said Yes, but only 42% of Indo-Fijians.

There is some evidence that the CCF workshops have helped people to better understand and form their own judgment on national issues, but the sheer weight of tradition and current local community influences far offset the work of the CCF and official news from the media.

If an election were held now —or in 2014— outcomes will depend much on the influence of the local leaders in rural areas. Chiefs, turaga-ni-koro, religious leaders and their spouses comprised about ten percent of the CCF sample. A good argument could be made to substantially increase this proportion in future workshops, and train them and other participants to hold workshops in adjacent villages. Some sort of multiplying effect is desperately needed if the CCF message is to have any national influence.

Interest in national affairs
Most rural communities tend to have parochial interests but the interest in national affairs in the CCF survey was surprisingly high. Some 36% of iTaukei said they were very interested and a further 60% somewhat interested, with past participants more interested than the control group. Proportionately more Indo-Fijians were very interested (71% of past participants and 59% of the control group) but the Indo-Fijian sample was rather small (150) and the composition of the control and past participants differed greatly. Some 16% of iTaukei discussed national issues frequently with their relatives and friends and a further 79% occasionally.

If one were to speculate on the relative importance of all these influences, my guess is that for iTaukei villagers, relative/neighbour opinions and church/village leader opinions would interact to produce a village “consensus” view of national events based largely on past influences, but the church/leader views would be predominant. Those holding neutral or contrary views would be unlikely to speak about them. If this view is correct, outside official and media influences will have a hard task changing the existing conforming opinions. The CCF hands-on and more intimate approach shows much more promise but it is faced with a mammoth task. Another approach would be for the churches to host workshops for their priests and pastors in rural areas, and for District Officers to convene workshops for their turaga-ni-koro.

Who is a citizen?
Government has decreed that all Fijian citizens be called Fijian and ethnic Fijians be called iTaukei. The aim, to give all an equal sense of belonging, is commendable but decrees do not win hearts and minds, and the negative reaction of some leading iTaukei may well come back to bite government when it so much needs their support.

The problem, of course, is confusing nationality or ethnicity with citizenship. Whether government or its opponents like it, there are Fijian Fijians, Indo-Fijian Fijians, and Rotuman, Part-European, Chinese and European Fijians.

The CCF report declaimed, “Despite CCF advocacy and State policy, there was a prevailing view among iTaukei that only the indigenous people could be Fijian.” And this seems to be so when over 80% of iTaukei said, “Only those registered with the VKB (Vola ni Bula, or iTaukei land registry) are legal citizens of Fiji.”

I think the questions confused iTaukei respondents resulting in the confused —and contradictory— responses to the questions that followed. While about 75% agreed that, “Only iTaukei are 'Fijians' (note the speech marks), over 90% agreed that “anyone born in Fiji is a citizen of Fiji, and some 74% of past participants (but only 44% of the control group” thought people not born in Fiji could become Fiji citizens. But just when I thought all was clear, 83% of the iTaukei said “Anyone who lives in Fii is a Fiji citizen.”

Clearly, more work needs to be done in this area but my reading of the responses is that most rural Fijians recognize others besides themselves as citizens of Fiji. The real question here is whether they think all citizens are equal, or only equal in some contexts, but that question has yet to be asked.

Part III of Preparing for Democracy will be published tomorrow.


Anonymous said…
Hi Croz,

Just thought I would mention it's great to see alternative views in the media again. Fijilive today is a good example. It seems both the media and people are prepared to speak out. Only a year ago there would have been serious implications for anyone diagreeing with government. Hopefully the PM and his team are feeling OK. Must be a shock after living in a 'rosey bubble' for so long.

Long may it last.
oh no said…

Agree. This from Fijilive today is incredible though

"Fiji’s Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama says Mahendra Chaudhry and Laisenia Qarase are two examples of politicians that are not wanted in the country." (Fijilive)

How on earth does he come to that conclusion - both former PMs where elected Prime Ministers as opposed to a self appointed Bainimarama

"Bainimarama’s comment comes in the wake of numerous comments against the government from the former Prime Ministers.

“Some politicians will start taking advantage of the situation and start working their way into elections and we should be worried about this kind of politicians,” he said.

Um actually you would be worried about politicians who don't want to work themselves into elections. If a politician doesn't contest and try and win a election then the chance of them ever doing anything is pretty slim. Newsflash PM - if you want to continue running the country YOU WILL HAVE CONTEST THE NEXT ELECTION. That means you will have to learn how to debate with your critics.
Shut 'em down said…
You get the sense the PM/military will shut this all sown very quickly. Life was much easier when no one was aloud to speak against governments decisions. The PM simply does not have the skills to debate even the simplest topic. He can't articulate well and on the very rare occaision we does something other than read a speech he looks rather follish. I'm no fan of the opposition like unions, Mahen etc but they will have a field day with Frank in a free press. Frank will be left with no choice but to shut it all down quickly.
Anonymous said…
Shutting things down...?

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

(Julius Caesar Act IV.iii.96)

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