Nic Maclellan on Fiji's continuing revolution.William Sutherland and Robbie Robertson, Government by the Gun--the unfinished business of Fiji's 2000 coup, Pluto Press, Leichhardt, 2001.
On 2 November 2000, I was returning home to Fiji after travelling overseas. Out of the blue, a phone call at the airport warned me that there was shooting at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks--headquarters for the Fiji Military Forces in the capital, Suva.
The quickest trip into town from Nausori airport runs past the barracks but, in true Fiji style, the taxi driver told me: `No worries!' As we neared the barracks, however, and saw men armed with M-16 rifles blocking the road, we decided discretion was the better part of valour. A quick U-turn and we took the back road into town. Just another little drama in the weeks after the seizure of Parliament by George Speight and soldiers of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit (CRWU CRWU Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (Missoula, MT) )--or so I thought.
That night, we gathered at home with our neighbours: a young Fijian woman and a three-generation Indo-Fijian family. In the early evening, the clear night air carried sounds of a fierce firefight fire·fight
An exchange of gunfire, as between infantry units. at the barracks: heavy machine guns, rifle fire and explosions. We muttered calming platitudes, but unspoken was our fear that the attempted takeover of QEB QEB Queen Elizabeth Building (London, UK)
QEB Quarterly Enterprise Buy (US Air Force)
QEB Quick Engine Bulletin by Speight supporters was spilling beyond the barracks.
This was the army divided--one of many Fijian institutions ripped apart by the events of May 2000. The death toll revealed next morning--three loyalist soldiers shot down in cold blood, and five CRWU rebels beaten to death by vengeful comrades--sent a chill through the community.
Many overseas journalists parachuted into Suva in the aftermath of the aborted putsch by George Speight and former SAS (1) (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, www.sas.com) A software company that specializes in data warehousing and decision support software based on the SAS System. Founded in 1976, SAS is one of the world's largest privately held software companies. See SAS System. soldier Ilisoni Ligairi. Too many, wowed by Speight's charisma, parroted the mantra of `Fijians versus Indians' to explain the overthrow of the People's Coalition government led by Mahendra Chaudhry and the Fiji Labour Party The Fiji Labour Party (FLP) is a political party in Fiji, which holds observer status with the Socialist International. Most of its support at present comes from the Indo-Fijian community, although it is officially multiracial and its first leader was an indigenous Fijian, Dr. .
Chaudhry--the first Indo-Fijian elected as Prime Minister since Independence in 1970--had certainly earned the enmity of extremists in the Fijian nationalist community. But the aftermath of the May 2000 coup and the Army's abrogation The destruction or annulling of a former law by an act of the legislative power, by constitutional authority, or by usage. It stands opposed to rogation; and is distinguished from derogation, which implies the taking away of only some part of a law; from Subrogation, of the Constitution on 29 May showed that a central core of the conflict was `Fijian versus Fijian'.
This disunity dis·u·ni·ty
n. pl. dis·u·ni·ties
Lack of unity.
Noun 1. disunity - lack of unity (usually resulting from dissension) was a fundamental difference between the coups of 1987 and 2000. Sitiveni Rabuka's 1987 takeover was backed by key Fijian institutions, including the army--made up largely of Fijian soldiers ever since World War II. But George Speight's attempted takeover sowed discord in the judiciary, the Fiji Military Forces, the Methodist Church and the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (Great Council of Chiefs). In my own workplace, there were Fijians with family who were hostages and hostage takers; those who pledged allegiance to deposed President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara or George Speight's favoured replacement Ratu Jopi Seniloli; those who welcomed the upset of the old chiefly established order and those who feared walking home in a climate that celebrated racism and power from the barrel of the gun.
These fundamental tensions within the indigenous community in Fiji are at the heart of the important new book Government by the Gun--the unfinished business of Fiji's 2000 coup by William Sutherland and Robbie Robertson. Sutherland, a former adviser and secretary to Dr Timoci Bavadra--the Fijian leader deposed in the 1987 coup--is the author of a key study of Fiji's political economy: Beyond the Politics of Race--an alternative history of Fiji The timeline below shows a thumbnail sketch of Fijian history, from ancient times to the present day. For a more detailed analysis, follow the links under each heading to the related articles. (ANU Anu (ā`n), ancient sky god of Sumerian origin, worshiped in Babylonian religion. , Canberra, 1992). Robbie Robertson, with his partner Akosita Tamanisau, has long chronicled developments in Fiji, in books such as Fiji: Shattered Coups (Pluto Press, Leichhardt, 1988) and Multiculturalism and Reconciliation in a Reluctant Republic--Fiji after the coups 1988-1998 (FIAPS/USP, Suva, 1998).
Government by the Gun starts with a brief overview of the events of May 2000: the seizure of Parliament and government hostages; the military takeover, abrogation of Fiji's 1997 Constitution and dismissal of President Ratu Mara; weeks of tension, as the hostages are kept in Parliament for fifty-six days, a night-time curfew is instituted and Viti Levu suffers rolling power cuts after landowners seize the Monosavu hydro-electricity plant; the appointment of Laisenia Qarase as interim Prime Minister--undemocratic but welcomed by many, as the authors explain: `if nothing else, Qarase was organised and professional'.
Beyond their summary of the May 2000 events, the importance of the book is its detailed analysis of Fijian nationalism and the quest for indigenous primacy. The authors highlight the contradictions between the demand for Fijian economic and political control in a country where half the population are descendants of Indian indentured labourers, Gujerati businessmen, European planters and a fruit salad of Chinese, islander and `part-European' communities.
The authors look at indigenous rights in the context of Fiji's communal politics, and attempts to create a democratic and multiracial society while dealing with the legacies of British Colonial rule. Dismissing the rhetoric of indigenous pre-eminence, Sutherland and Robertson challenge the notion that all indigenous Fijians have common interests:
Certainly there are common bonds and shared interests but there are conflicting interests as well. The fundamental split is a class division between the elites on the one hand and the poor and disadvantaged on the other and cutting across this are tribal, provincial and regional splits. It has always suited the Fijian elite to hide their class interests behind the rhetoric of Fijian interests and paramountcy and to blame the predicament of ordinary Fijians on others--namely the Indians.
The debate has been deepened by a younger generation of Fijian scholars, such as Alumita Duratalo and Sitiveni Ratuva, who are writing about the quixotic quest for Fijian unity. They have shown how the complex interplay between ethnicity and class benefits the Fijian chiefly and bureaucratic elite.
With the privatisation of government assets throughout the 1990s, a new generation of Fijian political and economic leaders has developed through the public service and statutory corporations. The transition from Ratu Mara to Laisenia Qarase symbolises this generational shift from chiefs to bankers: Mara, a chief from Lau in the Tovata confederacy, born and bred Born and Bred is a light-hearted British drama series that aired for four series on BBC One from 2002 to 2005. It was created by Chris Chibnall and Nigel McCrery. The cast was led by James Bolam and Michael French, who played a father and son who run a cottage hospital in for leadership, relying on chiefly status as Tui Lau; Qarase, a seasoned veteran of the public service and finance sectors, former Deputy Chair of the investment company Fiji Holdings. Limited and Managing Director of the Fiji Development Bank (FDB FDB Fluid Dynamic Bearing (hard disk technology)
FDB Font Definition Block (Macromedia Flash SWF file)
FDB Forwarding Database
FDB First Data Bank
FDB Flexor Digitorum Brevis ) and the Merchant Bank of Fiji.
The People's Coalition government, elected in 1999, had challenged the economic legacy of Rabuka's Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei The Fijian Political Party (better known by its initials SVT, which stand for its Fijian name, Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei) is a party which dominated politics in the 1990s and was the mainstay of coalition governments from 1992 to 1999, but which is (SVT SVT supraventricular tachycardia.
SVT Supraventricular tachycardia, see there ) government. In 1993, the Rabuka Government established a Commercialisation, Corporatisation and Privatisation Committee (CCPC CCPC Canadian Controlled Private Corporation
CCPC Civil Communications Planning Committee (NATO)
CCPC Cumberland County Planning Commission (Pennsylvania) ) to implement its structural adjustment program, with a sweeping agenda over electricity, ports, airport, public housing, timber and media. How, ever, a key feature of Fijian politics since the 1987 coups is the survival of the Fiji Trades Union Congress The Fiji Trades Union Congress (FTUC) is a trade union organization in Fiji. It was founded in 1952 under the leadership of Pandit Ami Chandra and was initially known as the Fiji Industrial Workers Congress. and the organised labour movement. Union, church and NGO NGO
Noun 1. NGO - an organization that is not part of the local or state or federal government
nongovernmental organization activists in the Campaign Against the Privatisation of Water campaigned against the Rabuka Government's 40 per cent rise in water rates in January 1998 and challenged the sell-off of public assets. Union activists at the Civil Aviation Authority Civil Aviation Authority civil (Brit) n → Behörde f für Zivilluftfahrt (CAA Caa
See CCC. ) resisted the sacking of 500 CAA employees at Nadi airport in 1999, as part of the privatisation of government services.
These campaigns and the introduction of a Value Added Tax value added tax n (BRIT) → impuesto sobre el valor añadido or agregado (LAM)
value added tax n (Brit contributed to the massive swing to the People's Coalition in the May 1999 elections. The Labour-led Coalition removed VAT from essential foodstuffs foodstuffs npl → comestibles mpl
foodstuffs npl → denrées fpl alimentaires
foodstuffs food npl → , halted privatisation of government services, and started replacing the boards of statutory authorities.
Sutherland and Robertson argue that while the People's Coalition goals were reformist, not revolutionary, `its attacks on privatisation upset Fijian corporate interests who regarded privatisation as an important avenue for Fijianisation'. George Speight, removed from the board of Fiji Hardwoods Corporation, was just one player unhappy with the Labour-led government, and willing to decry de·cry
tr.v. de·cried, de·cry·ing, de·cries
1. To condemn openly.
2. To depreciate (currency, for example) by official proclamation or by rumor. Chaudhry's policies as an attack on Fijian land, culture and `indigenous rights'.
The authors contend that indigenous Fijian rights were guaranteed in the 1997 Fiji Constitution introduced after the Reeves Commission inquiry. Most importantly, they develop an analysis of affirmative action policies introduced under Laisenia Qarase's Blueprint for Fijian Development, which `advantage the Fijian middle classes, not the disaffected masses that had fuelled the CRWU rebellion'.
With extensive documentation, they argue that `from the history of the struggle for Fijian paramountcy, we learn that the main beneficiaries were not the vast majority of ordinary Fijians but the Fijian elite'. Attempts to promote Fijian entrepreneurs focus on grants to indigenous investment companies like Fiji Holdings Limited--to the benefit of private shareholders. Many grassroots Fijians got little from the affirmative action programs of Rabuka's SVT through the 1990s, watching business and government scandals like the collapse of the National Bank of Fiji.
Government by the Gun argues that Laisenia Qarase will do little better to address the growing sense of grievance and uncertainty about the future amongst many rural and urban Fijian workers. The quest for Fijian unity has foundered, with a new spirit of provincialism pro·vin·cial·ism
1. A regional word, phrase, pronunciation, or usage.
2. The condition of being provincial; lack of sophistication or perspective. Also called provinciality.
3. manifested in tensions between the traditional Fijian confederacies of Kubuna, Tovata and Burebasaga, with calls for the creation of a new confederacy Confederacy, name commonly given to the Confederate States of America (1861–65), the government established by the Southern states of the United States after their secession from the Union. in the West--the Yasayasa Vaka Ra. In spite of the September 2001 electoral victory of Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua The Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (occasionally known as the United Fiji Party but usually known by the acronym SDL) is a political party in Fiji. It was founded in 2001 by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase as a power base; it absorbed most of the Christian (SDL (Specification and Description Language) A modeling language used to describe real time systems. It is widely used to model state machines in the telecommunications, aviation, automotive and medical industries. ), the Labour Party has since won a series of court cases--still under appeal--reaffirming their Constitutional right to participate in a multi-party Cabinet and to appoint members to the Senate. Like Pauline Hanson in Australia, Speight has now been pushed from the limelight. His conviction for treason, with a death sentence commuted to life imprisonment Imprisonment
See also Isolation.
former federal maximum security penitentiary, near San Francisco; “escapeproof.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 218]
German prison ship in World War II. [Br. Hist. , marks an important transition. But like Hanson, Speight's charisma and savvy, amplified by uncritical media coverage, swept his ideas into the mainstream of political life.
Sutherland and Robertson rightly focus on the class and regional divisions in the indigenous Fijian community, but I feel their analysis of the coup is weakened by a lack of analysis of the same crisis in the Indo-Fijian community.
For decades, the dominant party for Indo-Fijians was the National Federation Party (NFP NFP Not for Profit
NFP Natural Family Planning (contraception)
NFP National Focal Point
NFP National Financial Partners Corp.
NFP Nurse Family Partnership (Denver, CO) ), which struggled for political and economic rights for the descendants of the girmitya indentured labourers (a process well documented in A Vision for Change, Brij Lal's biography of NFP leader A.D. Patel). But since 1985, the Fiji Labour Party developed as a multiracial social democratic party. Under Mahendra Chaudhry, Labour has eclipsed the NFP's support in the Indo-Fijian community. In the 1999 and 2001 elections, the NFP was destroyed as an electoral force, with the Labour Party sweeping up virtually all the Indian communal seats. Efforts by a younger generation of NFP activists to rejuvenate their party--such as economist Waden Narsey or union leader Attar Singh--have faltered in the face of entrenched en·trench also in·trench
v. en·trenched, en·trench·ing, en·trench·es
1. To provide with a trench, especially for the purpose of fortifying or defending.
2. opposition from an elite core of the NFP's business supporters.
Sutherland and Robertson are sympathetic to the Labour Party but not uncritical of its leader. A comprehensive history of Fiji after 1999 will need to analyse the conflict between Mahendra Chaudhry and Indo-Fijian businessmen and importers like Hari Punja, Vinod Patel and Ramesh Solanki, and clashes with foreign investors in timber, gold and media. Chaudhry's long battle with the Murdoch-owned Fiji Times--which maintained a running attack on his short-lived government--is worth a study in itself! Government by the Gun is a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature on Fiji--an engaged analysis that looks at the core of indigenous issues at the heart of Fiji's ongoing drama.
Nic Maclellan has worked as a journalist, researcher and community development worker throughout the Pacific islands, and in Fiji between 1997-2000.