By Dr Mere Samisoni
Village By-Laws will see the communal ownership of each village, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Indigenous Affairs, Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, revealed this week.
The new by-laws allegedly tie in with the building of a non-racial Fiji wherein now all Fijians can live in a village and be part of its ownership through communal decision-making. This initiative is the stepchild of the John Samy/Military Junta Charter Mission.
“The opinions of 10000 people are of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.” — Marcus Aurelius.
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. (But) the lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." — Joseph Goebbels
The above quotes speak to two of the most salient and repeatedly demonstrated faults of the present Bainimarama Regime, namely
1. Lack of Understanding/Intelligence and
2. Stubborn, self-serving and dishonest manipulativeness. Any initiative they broach or sponsor then, must therefore be viewed in that context.
Having not yet sighted the text of the relevant “Village By-Law Decree”, I cannot comment authoritatively on the details of the initiative at this point. What I can do though is make some general comments in light of the aforementioned well-known and oft-demonstrated regime traits.
1. Manipulative Regime
The regime’s rationale for its 2006 coup has already morphed through a fairly well documented transformation based on the demands of propaganda. It started off in 2003/4 as “national security” for the purpose of securing support in the military. Then it morphed in 2006 into “Clean Up” in an effort to gain popular support. Then it changed again in 2007 to “Non Racial Society” to shore up Indo-Fijian support after failing to find significant Government corruption and/or win significant Fijian support. Then it changed once again to “Electoral Reform” in a bid to win international support after the regime failed to emerge from the isolation that automatically followed its 2006 coup.
We can see from this that power and manipulation is more inherently important to the regime than the bald truth. And I believe that with the forthcoming Village By-Law (VBL) Decree, what we are seeing is merely the latest iteration of this incorrigible Regime addiction to reinventing itself via propaganda manipulation. This time though, the main difference is that we will be seeing two-faced propaganda, as opposed to the erstwhile fluid version.
That is because, I believe, the VBL Decree appears to be part of the Regime’s preparation for the 2014 elections. With that in mind, they have simply had to face political reality, with the inevitable result being yet more regime hypocrisy. Having roundly lambasted the SDL in bygone years for what it referred to as “racist” policies and campaigning, the regime appears now to be succumbing to the political reality of having to play to an audience. It is not surprising to find the regime has acknowledged that audience is the same one from which it draw 95% of its own troop complement.
We are already seeing this phenomenon with the regime increasingly catering to indigenous-centric issues like the protection of qoliqoli, or the promise of good lease rents, or the taking-up of mining concerns. The FLP – much to its unease and apprehension I expect – is beginning to see yet another metamorphosis of its erstwhile champion. Croz Walsh must be having similar misgivings on occasion. But to those of us who know the military leadership, its ways, and its real goals, none of this is a surprise.
The VBL Decree appears – superficially, at least – to be a thinly disguised, ballot-minded, play to indigenous sensibilities via a special, native-centric, policy.
To be fair to the regime though, this initiative also appears to be the very first example of their much-ballyhooed post-coup catch-cry the Fiji needs to think “outside the box” to progress. Finally - after almost four years of telling others to do this, we see one example of it from the regime itself.
The communal decision-making thrust of the law appears to leave this open to all-comers, with the obvious benefit of allowing “other races” to take part. Kudos to them for that!
But of course, I will naturally point out that it does not require a coup to think of this idea, or to implement it, or to maintain it. In fact, it is the very dangers of coup making and authoritarianism, which demonstrate the potential weaknesses of this kind of system. Allow me to elaborate.
The VBL communal system appears to allow open participation under the assumption that the best ideas can come from anyone, and the best ideas will deliver the best results, and so work in everybody’s best interests. But the very rule of the interim regime today demonstrates why this assumption cannot be relied upon. The regime itself is proof positive that power, and not good ideas or wide participation, is the bottom line in any authority structure. So if those in village authority are not interested in submitting themselves to good ideas, then that is the end of the story if they ever decide to dig their heels in, like the regime is currently doing. The same goes for genuine participation. The regime cannot expect village councils to do what they themselves are unwilling to do. They should therefore realize from their own example how tenuous their plans are. Moreover, the possibility of wildly different laws, implementations and interpretations is simply huge. Not to mention the possibility of self-serving abuse by the constant stream of religious nuts and con-men with big budgets and even bigger promises that Fiji never seems to have much trouble attracting. The typical banes of democracy could also easily upset the VBL applecart too, namely: factionalism, seat warming, votes buying, special interests, proxy national politics and weak democratic institutions etc. It could even end up being Fiji’s jump-off point into the scourge of Melanesian democracy – the infamous “big man” politics (although that could happen easily enough without VBL, as well).
2. Unintelligent Regime
The point is that this exercise in social engineering is too complicated to predict. Especially for the amateurs running Government today!
In 2008, the military began enrolling a significant number of its senior officers in university courses in preparation for what they then knew was the forthcoming “militarization” of the civil service. By the end of that year though, many had dropped out. Some because of fulltime workload considerations, but others simply because they couldn’t make the grade! In so doing, these dropouts raised the specter that the patent unintelligence seen so often at the very top of the military hierarchy, may run deeper down into its ranks than is good for anybody.
Kurusiga himself was one such drop-out, and while in class one evening, let slip as to the quality of research (or rather, lack thereof) that might be behind pending regime initiatives. While classmates questioned the lecturer as to why nobody could find any over-riding justification for the 2006 coup two years after it, Kurusiga spoke up. He warned the class against that line of questioning, and claimed the military had “done their research” showing an “imminent” danger to Fiji from ethno-nationalist politics.
Well the first thing that Kurusiga and his fellow closet researchers need to do if they want to be taken seriously by academics and policy-makers, is to publish their research for peer-review. Then we will at least be able to see what is the basis for such a drastic move which by some calculations has now cost Fiji over $2 billion since 2006. But if university dropouts under the oversight of high-school dropouts based the 2006 coup decision on hidden “research”, then this does not inspire an awful lot of confidence or credibility.
And that’s just the academic arena. But listen to what John F Kennedy said in terms of the public arena - “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth in an open market is a Nation afraid of its people”.
This picture only gets worse when you hear the cases cited by Kurusiga as the basis for the military’s ethno-nationalist “research”, namely: Bosnia and Rwanda.
Although these provide a warning as to the depths to which some ethnic conflicts could deteriorate, a quick browse through Wikipedia is all you need to uproot them as valid or useful candidates for comparative study with Fiji’s situation. Bosnia and the Balkans have a long, long history of bloody inter-ethnic grievance, injustice and violence. They have been playing ethnic payback for hundreds of years at the cost of thousands of lives. Many there have long and bitter memories of their own communal grievances, and sense of injustice, from that. There is simply no sensible comparison between that situation and Fiji’s.
Meanwhile the main message of the Rwanda situation is not a warning against SDL-style politics in the fostering of ethno-nationalist entitlement and resentment. Because in fact, the experience of Rwanda/Burundi actually provides a classic example of why “non racial” artificiality like the regime’s Charter and reform program, won’t actually accomplish anything in assuaging ethno-nationalist sentiment.
If you read about Burundi on the Net, you will come across a gentleman named Pierre Buyoya. Interestingly for Fiji, Buyoya came to power in a bloodless 1987 coup, but on a platform of solving the inter-ethnic Hutu-Tutsi conflict that had taken more than 100,000 lives during the preceding decades. He sounded progressive, but ruled with an iron-fist against any dissent. His eventual “solution” to his country’s ethnic woes was a new Constitution in 1992 that essayed to establish a “non racial” society that de-emphasized, or even glossed over, ethnic tags and distinctions. This promulgation was followed in quick order by elections, the installation of the new PM, his assassination, and then the worst inter-ethnic violence and slaughter in Burundi’s history.
In 2005, as part of a UN-brokered peace deal, Buyoya and Burundi faced facts and abandoned their failed “non ethnic” model for a return to quota-based ethnic policies as a model that could at least be seen (and checked) to be fair.*
A quote by William S. Esposo is as good a way as any to end this section. “Worse than being ill equipped in war materiel, it is most detrimental if the policy makers and officers of a country’s national armed forces are ill equipped, up there, in the head. Not having enough bullets or bombs is not as deadly as not having enough natural brain ability, to know the real enemy and conceive a winning strategy. The Biblical David was less equipped in physical build and arms than Goliath. But David was smarter and we all know what happened in that famous one-on-one. In many major battles that the ancient Romans fought and won, they were grossly outnumbered. Discipline, morale and superior tactics won Roman victories.”
In his rant, Esposo also raised the example of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. That disaster was the result of mindless obedience to a mistaken interpretation of poorly worded battle orders from a bumbling British High Command. Fiji is likewise charging headlong into the valley of economic desolation, driven by the mindless obedience of soldiers under illegal orders from a bumbling Fiji High Command.
3. Final Analysis
In the end, it will also take more than just legal tinkering to affect any social engineering program. Leadership and motivation, for example, are just as important, if not more so. These clearly represent the regime’s Achilles heel. Wracked as it has been by hypocrisy, petulance, manipulativeness, treachery, thuggishness, violence, self-interest, sense of entitlement, scorn, arrogance and lack of intelligence/understanding, the regime lacks the moral capital and authority to inspire anyone to change, let alone do better. The main motivations left for it to appeal to, for its VBL initiative then, are fear, bribery and opportunism. Not a recipe for building anything that might last on its own strength or merit, I would have thought.
Even though all culture is a living, evolving phenomenon, it is still not something that should be lightly or cheaply trifled with. Fijians are a collectivist community with the “checks and balances” of over 3500 years of tradition that are unique in the world. I for one certainly don’t feel safe with that storehouse of cultural treasure being put at risk by the make-it-up-as-you-go guesswork of this regime and its lumbering battalion of bullyboys-in-china-shops.
As I said before though, it is still too early to pass final judgment on VBL just yet! And the regime does at least appear to have delivered its very first instance of out-of-box-thinking with this initiative.
However I suspect that in the final analysis, VBL will be just another invisible suit in an ever-burgeoning wardrobe of non-existent clothes foisted onto a long-dead Emperor in front of a now catatonic public, in an unbroken line of Regime-initiated “con jobs” just like it, that stretch all the way back to 2006.
Dr. Mere Tuisalalo Samisoni elected member for Lami Open Constituency (deposed 2006).
* Note: Since Wikipedia is open to editing by anyone (including regime media cell ghost-writers), Wiki entries for Burundi and Buyoya may or may not reflect what has been written here in future. But as at April/May 2010, this is effectively what they said.