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Fiji « Previous | |Next »
May 8, 2009

Small Pacific Island nation.

Capital: Suva.

Features: Skirt-wearing men, mixed Indian/Native Fijian population, resorts with palm trees.

Primary exports: Kava, rugby (League and Union) players, UN peacekeepers.

Primary national pastime: Military coups.

The big knobs of the world have recently decided to get tough on Fiji and coup leader Frank Bainimarama for failing to hold democratic elections when he was told to. Fiji has been expelled from the Pacific Island Forum, kicked out of our temporary work visa scheme and won't be allowed to contribute to UN peacekeeping forces until they shape up and show democracy the sort of respect it deserves.

Anthony Bergin argues that punishment is the wrong approach. Sanctions like these only serve to hurt an already frail economy and dud the civilian population. We know this to be true because we've seen it so often before. Driving the civilian population into poverty and desperation hasn't worked anywhere that I can think of. The only positive outcome that comes to mind is the benefits that accrued to select individuals involved in the AWB setup.

Speaking of Iraq, Fiji was apparently the first country to offer troops to protect UN officials there. Call that sort of thing stupid or heroic, but it seems the UN owes Fiji a debt of gratitude for an endless supply of troops to wherever UN peacekeeping missions care to venture. Like the Fijian military at home, it's one of very few career choices available for Fijian men with families to support. There's not a lot else to choose from. The military, football, or seeing to the needs of white people in resorts.

Still, military coups are undemocratic and shouldn't be allowed to happen. It's not the Pacific way.

Years ago I met a Fijian family who had moved to Australia to find a better life for their numerous kids, and because they felt the race divide between native and Indian Fijians was getting a bit too scary. Yes, the Indians owned everything and had all the money, but Fijians were too lazy to work like Indians did. Still, Fijians were resentful and there were politicians willing to exploit that resentment.

Peter Black has a guest post from Dilan, someone far better informed than me, arguing that the latest coup was about containing racist political opportunism. It's preferable to ditch democracy for a while if it entails the risk of ending up like Sri Lanka.

It sounds like a reasonable argument to me.

| Posted by Lyn at 1:38 PM | | Comments (2)


Seem to remember Hugh Morgan, therefore Western Mining and a big copper mine, that caused a lot of strife as locals were expected to fit in with the copper mining company and its perhaps idiosyncratic idea of a fair days pay/conditions for a fair days work, also.
Are there any fishing companies, plantations, cannaries etc in the back ground somewhere, also?

"Yes, the Indians owned everything and had all the money"

Gross distortion. It's true that large businesses that are not owned by Australian interests (such as the brewery, the gold mine, the banks and the newspapers) are mainly owned by Indo-Fijians (remembering that people whose ancestors arrived 100-150 years ago, brought in as indentured labourers by the British, are Fijians too). But there are not many such businesses. I first arrived in Suva in 1998, two days after the only department store in town had burned to the ground.

But almost all the land is owned by ethnic Fijians and under the tribal title system cannot be sold. A large proportion of the Indo-Fijians were subsistence sugar cane farmers leasing from indolent Fijian tribes. Many of the leases expired in the last decade and the owners have been often reluctant to renew them.

I spent a while working in Fiji a decade ago. It seemed to me that initially, Bainimarama's heart was in the right place, trying to dissolve the divisive ethno-Fijian push that led to the Rabuka and George Speight insurrections.

Bainimarama may not in the end have the gravitas to pull this off. He is no Barack Obama.

But I don't think international sanctions have been helpful.

Mohammed's birthday and the Hindu feast of Diwali are public holidays in Fiji just like Christian holy days, but that is no evidence yet that the two cultures are entering a creative dialogue - the objective that Bainimarama has claimed that he is pursuing.