“We are afraid for our lives,” one of the victims, who would not be named, told The Times. "My wife and I don’t sleep at night, we are always wondering when the next bomb will come or when they will come for us with their guns. I have been imprisoned and beaten all over my body and face; they told me that the next time they come for me my wife can pick up my body from the morgue.” This is not Zimbabwe or Burma. This is Fiji, the tourist jewel of the South Pacific and, until recently, the most sophisticated of the island nations in this region.A world away from the Fiji described a couple of days earlier by the Fiji-born Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist Graham Davis. Previously working with the Nine Network’s Sunday programme, Davis, 56, is now a principal of Grubstreet Media. His article, "Dealing with the dictator", in The Australian had far greater depth and insight. As you would expect with a journalist with much better grasp of the root causes of Fiji’s despair. Most journalists are reporting the crisis as if it is something that just brewed a couple of weeks ago, or at the most a couple of years or so ago – when Voreqe Bainimarama staged the first round of his coup and ousted the “democratic” prime minister Laisenia Qarase in December 2006. No sense of the history of the past two decades, or indeed the deep structural political problems and injustice bequeathed to Fiji by the British at independence in 1970. Davis challenged Australian (and other?) media to interrogate the “good guy, bad guy” narrative in a country that under Qarase turned two-fifths of its population into second class citizens.
The bad guys, of course, are held to be Bainimarama and his patron, Fiji's octogenarian President, Josefa Iloilo, who have defied the courts by ruling out any popular vote until they can change the electoral system. The good guys are those calling for an immediate election: a coalition of lawyers, human-rights activists and elements of the local media, plus the man Bainimarama deposed at gunpoint in 2006, former prime minister Laisenia Qarase. It's time to dispense with this simplistic premise because a compelling argument can be made that, in fact, the reverse is true; that Bainimarama and Iloilo, for all their flaws, are embarked on the more worthy crusade. Or certainly more worthy than they're being given credit for by their burgeoning number of foreign opponents. The Fiji saga, by its very nature, defies simplicity, yet stripped to its bare essentials presents the international community with a stark choice between upholding the principle of democracy now and sacrificing racial equality in the process. Wait five years - maybe less if some international agreement could be brokered - and we might get both.His article won applause from Fiji’s chief information manipulator, Major Neumi Leweni, so it’s probably the kiss of death for Davis. In fact, he immediately copped abusive flak from some of the more rabid Fiji blogs. But it is refreshing to have this perspective from Davis, given that most media have not been giving the full story as partially aired on Media 7 and Shine TV this week. Croz Walsh's blog is still the most useful for a running analysis without all the vitriol.
One of the most bizarre events of this week of paranoia and the crushing of free speech was the spectre of the man who started Fiji's coup culture, Sitiveni Rabuka, calling for a free media. Rabuka - who staged both of the original coups in 1987 and then was elected prime minister twice – also called for the regime to relax its crackdown and open the door for foreign journalists. However, to his credit, after the rough times he dealt the press in the barracks' year zero, he mellowed and his charismatic style and openness was genuinely liked by most media people. A contrast to Bainimarama.
Ironically, his military boss (and chief) whom he ousted as a commoner (unthinkable then) in the double coup in May 1987, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, is now Vice-President of the Easter regime.