Cool Heads are Needed, not Over-Headed Ones

By Crosbie Walsh

Only the most hardened opponents of Fiji's Bainimarama government would claim it has been given a  Kiwi "fair go" by the media over the past few years. 

Fiji has seldom made news headlines but when it did, the news has been invariably negative and one-sided with little to no attempt to understand the causes of the events described. Feature articles and radio interviews which would have permitted greater depth, a variety of opinions, and some analysis have been few and far between. To some extent, this is understandable. Investigative journalism is almost a thing of the past, but on many topics the media can rely on support from academics and other "experts" in various fields. Not so, unfortunately, for Fiji. 

Our Fiji and Pacific academic experts have almost all retired, and most of those remaining seem more concerned about promotion and tenure than helping New Zealanders, and its leaders, unravel the vitally important but extremely complex issues that confront this group of islands that are the geographic, communications and economic hub of the South Pacific. 

To say that our policy on Fiji has been misinformed is a compliment. It is far worse. We have simply taken phases like "democratically elected" and "military dictatorship" as markers. One is good; the other bad. We have assumed that democracy is the best means of governance for all cultures, in all situations, and in all countries, and overlooked the possibility that in some situations democracy —and military dictatorships, for that matter — may not be as they seem.

It is in this context that the opinions of a Victoria University professor of comparative politics could be especially important. Jonathan Fraenkel  has lived and worked in Fiji; he is married to an ethnic Fijian; he came to us from the the State, Society & Governance in Melanesia Programme at the Australian National University where he was the Fiji expert. Most importantly, working in Wellington, he may be expected to have some influence on our Ministry and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Two weeks ago Australian opposition politician Julia Bishop spoke of the need for a new approach to Fiji. Earlier this week in a Dominion Post article former senior diplomat Gerald McGhie said the same. 

On Wednesday, the Dominion Post published Jonathan Fraenkel's reply. The heading read: "Let's continue to put the heat on Fiji's strongman." I was disappointed but not altogether surprised. Fraenkel was a colleague of mine at USP in the early 1990s and I have read many of his publications. 

The main trust of Fraenkel's argument for no change in policy was that every time Australia or New Zealand had made "concessions" to Fiji, they were "repeatedly rebuffed by the recalcitrant military leader." 

If the validity of this argument is tested against events one must, of course, decide on an initial event, or otherwise roles are reversed and the action becomes the reaction. Thus, for example, Fraenkel argues "for several years now, Commodore Bainimarama has sought to strengthen his domestic position by taking a belligerent attitude to the region's bigger powers." 

Another observer, however, who may also have little sympathy for the Fiji government, might recall that it was often  Bainimarama who was reacting to rebuffs by the region's bigger powers, not the other way round.  It was, for example, the bigger powers that imposed travel bans on Fiji's cabinet, military, senior civil servants, and anyone related to them —even its soccer goalkeeper. The travel ban made it difficult to recruit able civilians to government posts. 

Well over 150,000 Indo-Fijians now live overseas, and their numbers increased as a result of the racial discrimination practised by the so-called "democratic" government of Laisenia Qarase (to which we turned a blind eye) that was deposed in the 2006 military coup. 

Indo-Fijians and other races remaining in Fiji could not risk being refused visas to visit overseas relations, enter their children in our schools or universities, or seek treatment in our hospitals. Unable to recruit suitably qualified  civilians, the government appointed more military personnel to government positions, and a less tolerant approach to those who opposed the government ensued. 

The observer may also recall that the bigger powers  succeeded in having Fiji suspended from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum. Their efforts resulted in the withholding of EU and Commonwealth assistance to what was then Fiji's largest direct and indirect employer, the sugar industry.

Yet another result was that, rebuffed by its former friends, Fiji developed new alliances. Fraenkel notes a few them: the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, China and India. Fiji now chairs the UN Group of 77 and the International Sugar Organization; it has revitalised the Melanesian Spearhead Group, and, as Fraenkel also noted, last week it hosted the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Island Development Forum. 

The latter two bodies will inevitably weaken the Pacific Islands Forum, and with it, Australia and New Zealand influence in the Pacific. The boot is now on the other foot: a rebuffed Fiji has created a new playing field.

Fraenkel sees the doubling of Australian aid to Fiji in 2011 as a sign of a "major policy shift" by Australia, and in a limited way it was. But aid money increased to all Pacific Island nations in 2011, not just to Fiji. And the aid was targeted, not according to government priorities, but to Australia's priorities and those of the non-government organizations which received the aid. There was no real policy shift, and, it must be  noted, the aid money would have strengthened the position of some organizations that were vocal in their opposition to the Bainimarama government. Aid can be used as a weapon and it always has a price.

Fraenkel speaks with authority about Fiji's domestic situation, although he has not been there for nearly ten years. He writes of the destruction of the "old legal order" despite the fact that the judiciary has maintained its independence, and on several occasions has ruled against government-initiated prosecutions.

He writes about the "protracted constitutional crisis." In fact, a new constitution will be promulgated soon. It will not be the constitution that Fraenkel and many government opponents would prefer, but there are sound reasons for the amnesty and transitional clauses to which they object. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect the Bainimarama government  to hand over power  to an interim government before elections in September next year when the interim government is  likely to include the "opposition parties, unions and civil society activists" who have opposed each and every government action over the past six years. To do so, would risk losing all that the government thinks it has achieved, and the coup would have been to no purpose.

Fraenkel does not mention the race-based constitution under which ethnic Fijian nationalists previously ruled the country, or the Bainimarama government's inclusive use of "Fijian" so that all of Fiji's citizens, irrespective of race,  can now proudly say they belong to Fiji.  Nor does he mention the new civics curricula in schools aimed at breaking down racial prejudices.

He does not mention that the main opposition parties want to retain race-based elections and restore power to ethnic Fijian chiefs that would see them appoint the President, and dominate Senate and most provincial appointments. 

He does not say how the "old political order" favoured the urban elite, and brought few improvements for the urban or rural poor. He is silent on government reforms and policies that have seen action on a much neglected infrastructure, rural and regional development, fair land leases, housing, education, health, work to reduce endemic corruption, and the now improving economy.  He accentuates the negatives and recognizes not one positive.

Not all is well in Fiji. It was not well in 2006; in some human rights areas it is not well now, and all of the country's problems will not resolved by a partially, or even fully, democratic government in 2014. 

But from my end of the binoculars, things are improving, and could have been much better much earlier had the Australian and New Zealand governments adopted a more informed and flexible policy towards Fiji.  Fortunately, it is still not too late.

The DominionPost heading read, "Let's continue to put the heat on Fiji's strongman" but Fraenkel did not say how much more heat is needed or for how long before he expected  a positive effect on the Bainimarama government, and he completely overlooked the possibility that it could have a negative effect.

It is now nearly seven years since the 2006 coup.  I see no evidence that the "heat" has produced any positive changes in or for Fiji, and I doubt it will in the future. Quite frankly, the policy has failed us and it has failed Fiji, and this is a good reason why our politicians —and Professor Fraenkel— need a rethink.  The situation calls for cool heads and new approaches, not more of the same.


Patriot said…
Graham, I really dont think the comments from these fossil loud mouth record is going to change what we see on the ground. For starters, the economy is upbeat,Growth projected at 3%, unemployment at 9%, FEA profit: $75m, Fiji Ports: $3m, Fiji airways: $14m; improving roads, better security, improved medical facilities, better prisons, better discipline and service from the civil service,... and we still can do better! Yes there are problems with the Sugar industry but guess what we are dealing with it!! As for the Forum and commonwealth - they can get stuffed!! i am not too worried about the election because ... the current government has done far more than all the previous money grabbing elites have ever done for this poor nation! you have my vote and effort to build this nation! No more Rambo's is going to change Fiji's attitude towards ANZ! We are going to plot our own future and move towards our own interest!...God Bless Fiji!
The 'expert' Fiji analyst said…
By dint of his marriage, and sympathy for Qarase Government, Jonathan Fraenkel is not an independent observer of Fiji and should not try to pass himself off as one. This so-called scholar of Fiji was curiously silent during the Qarase Government's excesses, of which there were many, committed under the guise of democracy.

Where was Fraenkel's concern about the destruction of the judiciary when the Qarase Government put the 2000 Speight coup prosecutor Peter Ridgeway on the plane and bundled home to Australia for winning too many coup convictions?

Qarase visited coup convict Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu in prison to fulfil his "traditional" obligation to his chief. Can you blame the army for moving against Qarase after this provocative and arrogant display of support for the coup convict and mutineer? where was your analysis than Jonathan? Why were as quite as a church mouse in 2000.

Soon after Qarase's visit, Ratu Naiqama was were released on a C.S.O. Was this not destruction of the judiciary? As Croz suggests, it seems Jonathan supports elitism. Chiefs can get a get out of jail ticket for committing treason, but not lesser Fijians in jail for lesser crime. This is the kind of judiciary we had in Fiji under Qarase, but you won't hear it from Fiji expert Jonathan.

Qarase's decision not to renew the contract of coup prosecutor Ridgeway was a blatant attempt by the government to derail coup prosecutions. Soon after, another convicted government member Simione Kaitani was discharged by the courts.

All this time not even a mild rebuke from Jonathan because he was firmly in the Speight/Qarase camp back them, albeit a closet supporter whose true feelings surfaced every now and then. His full colours surfaced after 20006 coup.
Anonymous said…
Check your facts. You claim Indo Fijian were migrating because of Qarase. That is crap. DO you know that Indians were migrating between 1987 - 2001 when Qarase was not PM? Or you think we are fools to accept to bull shit? Have you checked for a fact that more Indians have migrated in the last 7 years under Bainimarama then under Qarase? do you research before you open you stinking mouth.
Our Selective Memories: a Terminal Malaise? said…
The above comment notwithstanding, (it is sound evidence of what might ensue in any mooted election), the estimation by Prof. Crosbie Walsh above is not only sensible but also correct in fact. We are tired and routed by the puerility and offensive repartie which ought to be serious,incisive reflection upon 'what comes next'. What comes next may be seen in Egypt. The BBC commentator James Reynolds (on the ground), is one of the considered and courageous ones. He is backed by veteran reporter on the Middle East, Jeremy Bowen. Is this what we shall choose for ourselves in a smaller arena? Is that what Australia and New Zealand wish to see as the Next Act? Far-fetched? Pay attention to what went before: 26 years back. We have seen it for ourselves and spoken to the terrorised in May 2000. We shall never endure this again willingly, by choice. Those who mouth threats and curses are cursed in their turn. The country is cursed by years of stagnation and economic decline. It is mired in lies and the repeated corruption of its agents by organised, criminal gangs. Our overseas neighbours have assisted us with this through hypocrisy, Double-Speak and failed policies. Who gives a toss when the economic survival of an entire nation lies on the very brink? Hoist on the petard of foolish egoism, subterfuge and entrenched, congenital lying. The widows, the wives, the children and the grand-children of this country deserve so much better. The honest policemen and women who strive superhumanly to do their daily professional best in the midst of corruption and in-house subversion deserve more than medals: they merit our recognition and our support. Are they sufficient? Because the necessary for decent governance is often found wanting. Gaps have let in organised crime from outside Fiji. These criminals have and will outwit, outsmart all of us. Cussing, threatening simply helps them on their eager-beaver way. Do you not 'Get This'? How foolish can you be? Professor Fraenkel's comparative analysis appears to have glossed this over? Some transparent analysis as to why,would be welcomed. The political parties waiting-in-the-wings cannot afford to pass on it either. Not one has addressed the issue of Organised Crime and Trafficking in Persons and Drugs. It was alive in Fiji well before 2006. Our selective memories do us no credit whatsoever. Indeed, they are telling and a significant symptom of what might prove a Terminal Malaise.
A rider said…
A Rider to Selective Memories:

Take a good look at the Sinai Desert where a considerable number of Fijian Troops are serving as Peacekeepers over a considerable period of time. The Bedouin Tribes have become embroiled in trafficking of every description. An analysis two days ago suggested that the Sinai might well 'morph' into the next Syria or Iraq: if it has not already done so. So how does complacency of any kind serve our own best interests? Our thinking needs to be readjusted. Mindsets need a good polishing because time is running out. The time to cuss and threaten your own kin is 'Long Gone'! By extension, our nearest neighbours need to carefully scrutinize and contemplate 'The Big Picture'. A Qatar Airways brand new Boeing was parked at NadiAirport yesterday: gleaming in the sunlight!
Fraenkal meets more than his match in Tom Brady said…
Tom Brady August 15, 2013 at 11:00 am #

I find the opinions of Jon Frankel to be rehashing a lagging perspective that is laced with half-truths and turgid talking points, as if they were generated from Canberra and Wellington: “While starved of legitimacy at home, Bainimarama enjoys being able to strut on the international stage as the plucky Pacific Islands strong man willing to stand up to the region’s bigger powers. Neighbouring countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have shown sympathy for Bainimarama’s use of the Melanesian Spearhead Group as a platform to criticize Australian heavy-handedness.”

There is no evidence to support the Frankel’s claim of Bainimarama being starved of legitimacy at home — if there were any there would be Arab-spring like protests erupting in Suva. If Bainimarama’s attendance to numerous UN events like chairing the G77 et al. is considered ‘strutting the international stage’, in Frankel’s eyes; then Bainimarama would be guilty as charged.

Yes, Bainimarama is standing up to Australia and New Zealand but he is only voicing what Fiji has experienced and what many island nations have been too timid to do.

Courage is contagious, as the saying goes, and Fiji’s assertiveness is rubbing off with more island countries and their leaders are slowly voicing their dissatisfaction with the neo-colonial type of relationships experienced heretofore, with Australia and New Zealand. Tonga’s response to New Zealand withdrawing its Tourism Aid over a new plane donated by China, as reported by Islands Business, is a case in point.

Other events, like the revelations by Edward Snowden, on Australia and New Zealand’s hand in the NSA/Prism wiretapping and internet surveillance have raised some concerning eye brows in the Pacific. Other corroborating sources, have pointed out that, this same NSA surveillance, is being used to spy on the South Pacific island leaders and the activities within the Pacific island Forum nations.

There is a looming crisis of confidence in the South Pacific and it was not brought about by actions of Frank Bainimarama, but is the culminated blow-back, a karmic reaction from the very actions of some of our so called, anitpodean ‘friends’.
Anonymous said…
forgot to mention that Tom Brady's comment was posted on this site by this third party, not by Brady himself, who had originally responded to Fraenkal on the devpolicy blog.
Waiting for the memoirs..... said…
"Doris Lessing was writing her memoirs and called to discuss them. Rousseau's way, she said, was the only way; you just had to tell the truth, to tell as much truth as possible. But scruples and hesitations were inevitable".

Oh yes? Is that the problem with the Culture of Silence? Is that the problem with the Comparative Analysis of the Pacific? We get caught up on "the scruples and hesitations"? Or, worse, we engineer our own biases to suit our own infinitum?

The Memoirs are coming! Hells Bells! will they 'muddy the waters'. Like J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" (compulsory reading in 2000 and described as "A powerful allegory of oppression" 1980) will we wait for them with elevated 'angst' less they reveal all? Doris Lessing was talking to the author Salman Rushdie back in the early 1990s while he was virtually held captive in U.K. under the Ayatollahs' 'fatwa' for writing the "Satanic Verses". He relentlessly and resolutely fought back for ten years to champion free speech and the power of the pen in the battle for Liberty.
Aam Aadmi said…
Fraenkel = Kasani
Abrogator said…
63,402 words later some fools just dont get it. If you overthrow an elected government, rule with a gun, abuse your own citizens, and office, condone beatings of prisoners, make your convicted bro in law a PS after cutting his jail term, hide your countries financials from its citizens and force a constitution put together by an 'office', you will not be accepted and praised for shit! Accept it guys, Frank is not a nice guy nor is he a hero. But hey, who am i judge.

Crosbie Walsh said…
Dear Anonymous. Please use your real name or a pseudonym? All you have to do is understand the direction on how to do this. Please also check out what I said about Indo-Fijian emigration. I did not say Qarase was the cause. You have not understood what I said.
Mark said…
> ... you will not be accepted and praised for shit! Accept it guys, Frank is not a nice guy

Yes, that is pretty much accepted by most. But what has that got to do with the subject of this post, which is Australia's policy on Fiji.

There are a lot of bad guys in the world that Australia has to deal with. China jails opposition agitators and regularly violates human rights in its eastern provinces. USA tortures people and keeps them locked up for decades without trial; it also regularly bombs women and children in Pakistan and Yemen with drones.

These are just two examples of bad guys who are orders of magnitude "badder" than the Fiji govt. Yet Australia will bend over for those countries.

So how bad you think our government is, is quite frankly, irrelevant. The thing is, its in Australia's interest for there to be a prosperous, stable Fiji. Now the question becomes, how best to achieve that? Well, they tried one thing for 7yrs and it failed.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” - Albert Einstein
Abrogator said…
Im just a iTaukei, tax paying born and bred Fiji Citizen, concerned about how my country is being runand my childrens future in this country getting plotted and dictated by an unelected,unaccountable regime...i know right. Who am i and why should it matter.

My point excactly. Who is Australia to dictate to US how to run their country policies etc. Insignificant right. But policies against Fiji where it becomes significant is what theyre doing. Open up the media and freedom of speech and find out what fijians really think about this regime. ..But no..too risky..Put more watchdogs to control how fiji is perceived. Fijis current government is what is is. UNELECTED With NO MANDATE ... dont need an Albert Einstein to figure that out.

Mark said…
> my childrens future in this country getting plotted and dictated by an unelected,unaccountable regime
> Fijis current government is what is is. UNELECTED With NO MANDATE

Yes, that's true. Nobody is arguing about that.

Forget about Fiji in this discussion, we are talking about Australia and their policy. Their goal is a stable Fiji. They tried something for 7 years. Seven. 7 long years. If it was going to work it would have worked by now. It doesn't work, so they should try something new.

You want the govt gone but they're not going anywhere... so what now? Stay at home and cry while your childrens future is ruined, or try something new? You seem to have forgotten about your children, or you would be willing to try something new. You and the Australian govt have both forgotten about the children of fiji, you want to keep things as they have been for 7yrs.

People like you are very principled, but your children will suffer for it... and mine are suffering too because of your "principled" stand.

Being principled has failed us all for 7yrs. Let's try being practical for once.
Anonymous said…
is this really the best that qorvis immature interns can do?
Abrogator said…
Thanks Mark for your points.

When this regime placed the Public Order Act, it meant that what ever action 'I' decide to take e.g organise a protest, rally opposition to police beatings (in 2007 I witnessed torture of 6 young boys in broad daylight at Blackrock Army Camp in Nadi for 2hours) etc I would be detained and convicted of being "threat to the Economy of Fiji". I would lose my Job - and my children would go hungry. My principles become 2nd to my children's wellbeing..

What else can Australia do apart from what they're doing now. Frank and co will not bulge to whatever Australia comes up with. We've "found new friends" remember. Please try preach principles and practicals to this current government and see what happens.

If Australia had a Frank Bainimarama who overthrew its government, abrogated it's constitution after being ruled illegal, and hid it's financial from its citizens, what do you think Australia would do - Croz - love to hear your thoughts

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