Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome to Libya's Quagmire City

Post-Gaddafi Libya ... doomed by the oil and water hijack? Photo: Neon Tommy, USC: Annenberg School for Journalism. Below: Pepe Escobar.

BRAZILIAN journalist Pepe Escobar, author of Globalisation: How the Globalised World is Dissolving into Liquid War, has an uncanny knack of slicing through the hypocrosy and exposing Western duplicity. His articles since the start of the so-called Arab Spring in January have been revealing reading, if rather gloomy. Today on Radio New Zealand's Saturday interview slot with Kim Hill, he exposed the realities of post-Gaddafi Libya. He warned that an Al Qaeda extremist was rebel military commander (Abdel Hakim Belhaj) in Tripoli and the country could now slide into a protracted conflict with two guerrilla forces warring with a weak new central regime - Gaddafi loyalists and Jihadist fundamentalists. Libya is about to be carved up over the control of oil and water - coveted by France - reserves by the "right to plunder" (R2P) doctrine. This is also a theme Escobar has explored in his latest article for Asia Times Online. Welcome to Quagmire City:

The white man's burden doesn't allow asking Africans what they think about the current Western/monarchical Arab onslaught on the northern shores of their continent. At least some are not beating around the bush.

Over 200 African leaders and intellectuals released a letter in Johannesburg, South Africa, stressing the "misuse of the United Nations Security Council to engage in militarised diplomacy to effect regime change in Libya", as well as the "marginalisation of the African Union".

As for the Western "winners" in Libya, they are not even playing smoke and mirrors anymore. Richard Haass, president of that Gotha of the US establishment that is the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a Financial Times op-ed blatantly stating: "The 'humanitarian' intervention introduced to save lives believed to be threatened was in fact a political intervention introduced to bring about regime change."

As for those lowly bit part local actors - Libyans from Cyrenaica - Haass already dispatched them to the dustbin of history: "Libyans will not be able to manage the situation about to emerge on their own", and with "two million barrels of oil a day" at stake, the only solution is an "international force". Translation: occupation army - as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Welcome to neo-colonialism 2.0.

Payback time
So the US establishment is now as brazen as the wealthy right-wing nut jobs of the Donald "that thing on his head" Trump variety. Trump told Fox News: "We are NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation]. We back NATO in terms of money and weapons. What do we get out of it? Why won't we take the oil?"

In geopolitical Groundhog Day mode, it's indeed Afghanistan and Iraq all over again - an orgy of looting, statue-smashing, eye-catching TV reality show segments, even street banners cheerleading NATO (imagine Americans thanking the Chinese for "liberating" New York by bombing).

Not to mention prime corporate media idiocy. CNN has moved Tripoli east - to the eastern Mediterranean, somewhere near Lebanon. The BBC showed a Tripoli Green Square "rebel" celebration set in ... India, with Indian flags. Hail the total integration of NATO and Western/GCC media; GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, the six wealthy fundamentalist satrapies also known as the Gulf Counter-revolution Club.
And what next: a Green Zone remix near Green Square?

On the Rotary rounds ... Taveuni , the garden island of Fiji

Bouma school kids singing in the rain. Below: Alan fishing - "it all helps"; Claire with the fishing family. Photos: Alan Eyes

CAFÉ PACIFIC publisher’s sister Claire and her husband, Alan Eyes, currently governor of Rotary District 9920 with a responsibility for the Pacific islands, are currently on a field trip to Fiji looking over a number of school and water aid projects. The trip has been a welcome eye opener. And they are now enthusiasts of the “Pacific Way”.

Some brief snippets from her diary:

August 24:
Bula, bula

We’re surviving the busy schedule … just! What an experience. We have been treated like royalty at the special water for life opening ceremonies and can now sit crossed-legged for almost an hour on the ceremonial mats … Have now downed many bilos of kava and been clapped by the elders. Cutting the ribbons and turning on the water taps in the villages is amazingly moving.

We met Sitiveni Sitivatu's mum in her village yesterday, and saw all that he has done for her. All Black No 11? But we see in the newspaper headlines today that he’s been left out of the World Cup team. She will be so disappointed.

Ni sa bula vinaka

PS: David, I met one of your ex-journalism students from USP - Emily Moli. She is a journalist still over here and has just joined the Suva Peninsula Rotary club. She says hi to you.

August 15:
The day starts sitting on Geoff’s covered outdoor deck under a coconut palm and looking out to the sea. Raining here in paradise this morning - a commodity needed to fill all those water tanks on the Rotary projects that Geoff is constantly finding funds for.

Also a cooling for the humid temperatures, so good for the group of us being shown the sights of Taveuni. Geoff is an inspiration and even at breakfast, provided for us by Joey, he is promoting Rotary and its projects as he maps out our morning.

We have been instructed that we will leave at 0815 sharp as we have a lot to see. The programme is very “light” today, Geoff says. We all bundle into his Toyota Prado, Joey, Alex Oehlmann, (an ambassadorial scholar from Germany currently studying in Auckland, and hosted by Auckland East Rotary Club), Alan and me, with Geoff driving.

Then we stop at the TovuTovu Resort, to pick up Ken and Angela who are over from Melbourne - Rotary club of Templestowe - promoting the ABCD -Art programme for schools. This Rotary initiative may join with Fiji clubs to create sponsorship for disadvantaged children to assist with education costs through this programme.

Off we set south, past Taveuni Airport, which is very close to where Geoff and Joey live. Then past “Tromoto” Restaurant on a cliff overhanging the sea where we shared a beautiful meal together on our first night. We pass first the Marist Training Centre/Waica Water Project which is currently under construction. Gradually the villages of Taveuni are being supplied with piped running water, a commodity we all take for granted. All these projects on Taveuni are possible thanks to Rotary clubs' financial and physical support, and the Rotary Foundation.

Next we head up the winding bumpy dirt track to the Buculevu Secondary School perched up on a hill and also overlooking the sea and surrounded by palm trees and gorgeous brightly coloured foliage. Here we view a working project with local village men learning on the job building skills overseen by Geoff … The Buculevu 40 bed girls dormitory will enable students from the final two years of schooling to have some more space and privacy.

Currently 140 female boarding students are housed in two small accommodation houses. We are privileged to view the dormitory which is nearing completion. Alex had contributed some time and energy painting the wall of the laundry area yesterday. Many local volunteers are also giving their time.

And still there is so much work to do on Taveuni …

PS: Later in the day, Alex and Alan were being taught how to fish from the beach with a Taveuni woman and her three sons. She couldn’t understand much English but when we mentioned Rotary, her eyes lit up. She beamed at us and said: “Rotary has done so much for us here."

All Pacific power to you, Claire and Alan.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya is no Iraq – this revolution is the real deal

Libyan rebels celebrate the capture of Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli. Photo: Hamza Turkia/XinHua

By Mohamed Salem
via MediaMonitor

MUAMMAR GADDAFI and his sons are now on the run, fleeing from the Libyan people, yet already the doomsayers and prophets of disaster have lined up to tell the world it isn't worth it, that Libya is destined to go down the route of chaos and fragmentation. Libya will be another Iraq and Afghanistan, we are told.

They are wrong, because the post-conflict scenario in Libya differs from those two examples of failed Western intervention in several crucial aspects. Indeed if you study the indicators, Libya is poised to be the most complete and potentially most successful of any the Arab uprisings so far.

The roots of Iraq and Afghanistan's tragedy lie in the abrupt and imposed nature of change. It's easy to forget that Libya's organic and intense popular uprising preceded any international intervention. UN security council resolution 1973, which authorised the use of force to protect civilians, was only passed when it became clear that a massacre in the east was imminent. This is not Nato's revolution, not by a long way. The Libyan revolution remains very much the real deal.

The reason this matters is because it means no foreign power can now assert a moral right to meddle in Libya's future. Libya's destiny is now rightfully in the hands of its people, having been hijacked by Gaddafi and his cronies for almost 42 years. It also means the West must to a degree absolve itself of direct responsibility for what happens next in Libya and leave the planning to Libyans themselves.

The worst idea of all would be to send in foreign ground troops now, even under the peacekeeping banner. Not only would this be met with fierce opposition by the Libyan people, it would send the message that the West still feels that Arabs cannot be trusted to look after themselves.

Even without foreign bases on Libyan soil, some commentators have raised the spectre of a Ba'athist-style insurgency against the new Libyan government by regime loyalists. This prediction does not stand up to scrutiny either. The moment Gaddafi is captured or killed and his regime put to bed, there will be nothing left for his supporters to support.

There are no sectarian, ethnic or ideological cleavages to be exploited to foment unrest and violence. The onus is now on the Libyan people to show restraint and respect for the rule of law in dealing with regime officials and soldiers, and to refrain from vigilantism and retributive justice.

Mohamed Salem is the pen name of a British-Libyan journalist who writes for The Guardian.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Religion and reality laid bare in Fiji

Flashback to when then Methodist Church president Laisiasa Ratabacaca, with glasses, led a delegation to offer moral support to deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase. Photo: Fiji Times

By Dr Crosbie Walsh

THE DIFFICULTY for overseas readers in reading this story about the Fiji military clampdown is that they will equate the Methodist Church in Fiji with the Methodist Church (and other churches) in Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere. They do, of course, share similar spiritual roles and both are engaged in "politics".

But there the similarity ends.

"Politics" for overseas church leaders means working to promote social and moral issues for the perceived benefit of all the population. "Politics" for the Fiji Methodist leadership means advancing what they perceive to be the interests of indigenous Fijians (or, more precisely, perceived traditional relationships) with scant regard for other races, many of whom are neither Christian nor Methodist. Some 95 percent Fiji Methodists are ethnic Fijians. Some 43 percent of Fiji's population is not ethnic Fijian.

To better understand the situation one needs to trace its roots. The separation of spiritual and secular authority, and economic and political power, which emerged in the West as societies evolved from feudal to capitalist societies, was not evident in Fiji. And what was assumed to be traditional practice was left untouched by colonial authorities, who found it cheaper to administer ethnic Fijians indirectly, through their chiefs.

"Fijian 'collective consciousness' and 'identity' was — and is" — what a former, and more liberal, Church leader, the Rev. Ilaitia Tuwere, in 1997 called the "inseparable union of vanua (land), lotu (church) and matanitu (state). Their union is so complete that if one is affected, the whole is affected." [My emphasis.]

The Methodist Church assumed the mantle of lotu in this triumverate, and for this reason some of its leaders endorsed the 1997 Rabuka and 2000 Speight coups when ethnic Fijian hegemony — and control of the Fiji matanitu (state) — was seen to be threatened following elections which resulted in their "approved" political party losing power.

Church leaders promoted and took part in the Speight coup which overthrew the legally elected government led by Mahendra Chaudhry. And they supported Qarase's SDL-led party that was ousted by Bainimarama in 2006. This is why they oppose the Bainimarama government, the People's Charter and early attempts at dialogue, and why their leadership refuse to comply with government's insistence that "politics" be kept out of the annual conference meetings.

Overseas Methodists do not tell their members to support a particular political party. The Fiji Methodist Church endorses one or another ethnic Fijian political party. This is a very important difference. "Politics" has a different meaning.

In the current standoff, the Fiji Church had the right to decide who would chair its meetings, even if asked not to do so by government. It chose to ignore government requests because its leaders were upholding their lotu role, handed down from an idealised and largely fossilised tradition that is under threat from social change — no less than from the Bainimarama government. They are part of the ethnic Fijian "establishment" (a role they share with the Great Council of Chiefs, the Fijian Affairs Board, the Native Lands Trust Board or Fiji Holdings Ltd) that has perverted democracy in Fiji for many years.

If Fiji is to move towards a more genuine and inclusive democracy, its institutional structures need to be modernised: with the role of the Great Council of Chiefs limited to ethnic Fijian matters and the Methodist Church limited to spiritual, social and political affairs — without party political strings attached. Fiji now belongs to all its people, not just the iTaukei, and governments must ensure it remains so.

One wonders what the Rev. Tuwere would advise. Would he have urged the Church to take the political step of defying government, or would he have recommended the Church adopt a more conciliatory position, with the intention of allowing the conference to proceed? And what would he have advised the government, whose answers to too many issues seem to rely on force rather than persuasion, no matter how many times the persuasion has failed?

This is what he said two years ago as reported on ABC's Pacific Beat:
"A former president of the Fiji Methodist Church has called for the controversial church conference next month to be cancelled to save the country from further unrest. Several top church leaders are now facing charges over their decision to go ahead with the annual conference in open defiance of the interim government's decision to ban it.

"Reverend Ilaitia Tuwere says blame for the standoff should be equally shared between the church and the interim government. The former church president says that the Methodist leadership should have dropped all political issues from its conference agenda, but the has government overreacted with its series of arrests. "
Former University of the South Pacific professor Crosbie Walsh publishes a specialist blog on Fiji affairs.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spirited ABC debate - Davis v Fraenkel on Fiji's future

Dr Jon Fraenkel (from left), Professor Brij Lal and Simione Kaitani at a Canberra meeting addressed by fugitive colonel Ratu Tevita Mara in Australia. Photo: Drum Pasifika

By Graham Davis

REGULAR readers of my Grubsheet blog will be aware of the occasional blows we trade with Jon Fraenkel – an academic who specialises in Melanesian affairs at the Australian National University. Well, here’s a chance to hear us go head-to-head on the ABC Radio National programme, National Interest. It’s a spirited debate on whether it’s in Australia’s national interest to maintain its policy of shunning the Bainimarama regime in Fiji to try to force it to hold an early election.

Dr Fraenkel is among the chief advocates of Australia and New Zealand continuing to refuse to engage with Bainimarama until he buckles. Grubsheet – on the other hand – argues that re-engagement is essential to try to influence events in Fiji and help Bainimarama keep his promise to hold elections in 2014. In this, Grubsheet has common cause with the likes of the Lowy Institute, which fears the strategic consequences of allowing Fiji to move ever closer to China, which has dramatically increased its presence in the Pacific.

Jon Fraenkel is part of a strong anti-regime cabal at the ANU, which includes the Indo-Fijian historian, Professor Brij Lal, and Frank Bainimarama’s former land forces commander, Colonel Jone Baledrokadroka. All three are active political players, despite – in the case of Fraenkel and Lal – allowing themselves to be portrayed as independent commentators in the regional media.

Dr Fraenkel is still to come up with any explanation of the circumstances of the photograph that Grubsheet published several weeks ago, showing him and Brij Lal at a Canberra gathering with Simione Kaitani, one of the principal figures of the 2000 George Speight coup. As listeners to the ABC program will hear, Fraenkel has no compunction in trying to smear Grubsheet as a “Bainimarama supporter” or a “supporter of the 2006 coup” when we’ve made it clear all along that our support is not for the dictator himself but his programme for a multiracial Fiji as opposed to the racism of the government he removed.

Yet here is Fraenkel in the company of a man – in Kaitani – who was a senior minister in that government, was at George Speight’s side throughout the events of 2000, has admitted publicly to committing sedition and insists that Fiji must always be led by indigenous Fijians.

We’ll leave listeners to make up their own minds as to who has the stronger argument.

Grubsheet: Heat and light on Fiji

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