Monday, October 12, 2009

Frank is Fiji's Idi Amin Reincarnation

By Sai Lealea
11 October 2009

I am blogging this after watching a documentary on the life of Idi Amin on Aljazeera TV and can't help make comparisons with how Frank Bainimarama came to power in Fiji and the impact of his rule on the beloved and innocent people of Fiji, especially its indigenous Fijians.

Just as Amin came to power on the back of the military, so did Frank. But Frank's illegal rule would not have been possible without the support and blessing of hangers-on and those who wished to profit from his misrule at the expense of a properly functioning democracy. We continue to see this in Fiji with former politicians and those failed wannabee politicians who had perennially lost at Fiji elections, now propping his regime. What is most hurting about these people is that they, on most part, are people who occupy status in society previously held by revered figures in history who had done their utmost and through selfless sacrifice, and public service, to bring peace and harmony to Fiji and its peoples. As well, some of them come from well heeled and chiefly families in Fijian society whose descendants played key leadership roles in guiding Fiji to independence and though historical crises.

Amin and Frank share the same background in their careers. Both are not well educated and were pushed to leadership positions by default over the head of better suited candidates, at the behest of their sponsors, who shared similar lacklustre credentials. Both have psychotic tendencies and a history of rage and brutal put-down tactics to subdue those who go against them. One only has to recall how Frank reportedly kicked down the door to Jeremaia Waqanisau's office to demand renewal of his contract. Amin would instead just take his detractors and shoot them.

Frank or his men would later employ similar tactics at the height of the military mutiny in 2000 in picking up members of the CRW and subjecting them to torture and eventual death as in the case of Kalounivale. A policeman tasked with investigating Frank for his role in this, had confirmed to me that they had evidence that Frank had in fact given orders that eventually resulted in death to the CRW soldiers. This is what Frank is most fearful of and in fact the main reason for carrying out the coup, and not as he so gleefully proclaims,- the removal of a corrupt government.

I have in my house a framed poster of the November 2003 Fiji Remembrance Day. In the middle of the poster is my grandfather and Fiji's only Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu. I also understand, though never witnessed it, a large portrait of my grandfather is also posted on the walls of the officers' mess at the Fiji military camp. A military Attache at the NZ High Commission in Suva, had mentioned this to me, while playing golf with him at Vatuwaqa, how much he enjoyed the story of my grandfather's achievement in fighting the Japs in the Solomons when he visited the camp. I still hold the hope that someday, under a different military leadership, I will be able to pay a visit to the camp to view and pay homage to the protrait.

For me and my people of the island of Yacata in North East Fiji, it is a mark of total and enduring pride in the achievement, of our relative and Fiji's military, in serving Fiji in past wars, and today in peacekeeping duties. Sadly such attachment has since been extinguished by the actions of the current military regime, quite apart from the fact that relatives still serve in the current military as a matter of livelihood. I feel their pain and I know it is widely shared, that they yearn for a return to the days when the Fiji military was held in high regard and esteem, especially by Fijians, for upholding freedom and peace and gaining a worldwide reputation for it. I must admit, I too at one point in my young days of reading war comics and playing cowboys and Indians among the coconut groves on Yacata, had wanted to join the Fiji military and follow in the steps of my illustrious relatives. But this was until I reached high school and discovered that you only joined the military with the chance to be an officer, when you fail form 6 University Entrance examination to get to university or teachers college.

If Idi Amin had killed and terrorised Ugandans, Frank is also guilty of the same, - in terms of the enduring mental scar on the psyche and outlook of indigenous Fijians. Frank may not realise the gravity of his actions on the generations of Fijians to come. His actions to rape and obliterate Fijian institutions of State and his callous disregard for chiefly protocols, cultural practices and custom will only ignite a simmering powder keg among Fijians, who by nature harbour grudges long term without forgetting it. According to the Bible, Frank, his supporters and family, will one day reap what they have sown. What I pray will not happen is that Fiji and especially Fijians, do not go down in history with the monster created by Frank.

What I have argued elsewhere will happen is a further distrust between Fijians and the State and its organs resulting in a number of scenarios with differing impact. Fijians will increasingly disengage from the State as it regards it more as an enemy and not an ally as previously. This will result in difficulty for government in seeking partnership for social and economic development. Fijians will withhold releasing natural resources such as land required to satisfy creeping urbanisation and tourism. Agreements previously secured over a yaqona session with the chief and mataqali elders will have to be developed, overseen and ratified in the presence of lawyers and advisers with insistence on such agreements realising true economic and not subsistence return.

By far the most disturbing impact will come about in the break down in Fijian ethos, moral ethics and values passed down through generations. Respect for chiefs, let alone mutual care among fellow Fijians, is now a thing of the past thanks to the behaviour and actions of the military and police, in mistreating innocent citizens during and after the 2006 coup. My grandfather, Sukanaivalu VC would turn manifold in his grave in the Rabaul War cementery in PNG, to learn of such cowardly acts by his contemporaries, let alone in mistreating women, among whom a niece and my aunt, Laisa Vulakoro, as a victim. Such actions have no doubt given birth to hatred and deep distrust amongst fellow Fijians.

Imagine how Laisa Vulakoro feels every time she goes down to the Immigration office in Suva and seeing there the female Fijian soldier who was at the army camp the night she was taken there, tortured and told to run around the field while being shouted down by soldiers, including the female soldier now working at the Immigration office. The worst offence in all these sad story is that, that female soldier may carry on the rest of her life without ever admitting nor discerning the negative and destructive effect of her actions at the army camp that night. That is what you call being brainwashed to the point of being numb to the impact of your actions and even to the point of thinking it right and justifiable.

As in life, other developments have come about to take the place or to fill the vacuum created by the destructive forces unleashed by Frank's illegal and untutored misrule. Among Fijians, they have found great support in their own religion and focusing on their own development and local affairs. That is why Frank has also attacked the Methodist Church and bribed local and dissident chiefs to form an alternative body to the Great Council of Chiefs. These are natural and logical responses but it hides the deep resentment and distrust Fijians have of coup plotters and their apologists. So mark my word, every time a member of such group be it a Minister or even the President, participates at a State event, there are bound to be mumblings and cursing while making sure all forms of niceties and polite form are observed.

Frank and his supporters are also increasingly turning for advice, support and sustenance to the Indian elite, especially the wealthy families. The reliance and blind trust Frank places on his Attorney General, Indian finance advisors and consultants testified to this reality. Fijians are aware of this and retaliation is bound to come in the future - a fact borne out by the numerous and constant reminders of a number of prominent Indian observers and commentators. The alienation of Indian cane farmers and leaders such as Chaudhry will only serve to ignite hatred and distrust thereby creating another front aganist Frank's illegal rule.

As the Idi Amin documentary neared its conclusion outlining the end of Amin's destructive rule, I am left with a feeling of emptiness tinged with a burning eagerness for finality in Fiji. What is clear from Idi Amin's rule and Frank's current misrule is that both will come to a flaming end. The platforms that had propped Frank's rule will decay from within before it explodes outwards. Evidence of this is already appearing despite attempts to conceal it from the public with his hated Public Emergency Regulations (PER).

Fijians' yearning for stability and mandated authority will eventually win out. Unlike Amin, Frank will not be able to escape his day to account for his crimes unless he stitches a deal for exile in PNG, Solomons or India as possibilities. He has blood on his hands just like Amin and for that Frank will pay for it. If not in this life then the next. However his persecution of the Church, will not endear him such a glorious prospect.

As I conclude this piece, I will again ensure, as I do constantly, to remember Fiji and its beloved people in my prayer tonight. My faith in Fijians to come through the aftermath of Frank's illegal rule remain steadfast and strong. I keep reminding myself that this is what my descendants would have done and expect of me. With such thought and fortitude, I have every confidence that I can look at my grandfather, Sukanaivalu VC, as he gazed from the framed 2003 Remembrance poster hanging at the top of the stairs, and assure him that his spilled blood on June 23 1944 in the Solomons, and legacy since, was not in vain.

by Sai Lealea
New Zealand

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