Wednesday, February 03, 2010

NZ-Fiji Rapproachement Doomed

by Michael Field

02 February 2010


What is surprising about Fiji's "test" of New Zealand, is that Foreign Minister Murray McCully fell for it.

Not for a second did he believe, I am sure, that Fiji would be so stupid as to put up a completely unacceptable character as its diplomatic representative in Wellington.

Voreqe Bainimarama out-smarted himself by suggesting military band drummer Neumi Leweni could represent Fiji as its senior diplomat in New Zealand.

Kava sodden Leweni has risen through Fiji military ranks faster than anybody since Sitiveni Rabuka staged his coups back in 1987.

For Fiji-watchers, the mystery is just what it is that Leweni has on Bainimarama. It must be really good, because he is hopeless at whatever he does. He was sent to China as a diplomat and promptly came home after screwing up.

What did Bainimarama do; he promoted him. Leweni better be careful though that he does not overplay his hand.

What is puzzling is that Bainimarama was given a strategic opportunity by McCully with the secret meeting in Nadi. This was his big chance; he could have seized the high ground and changed the complexion of New Zealand perceptions of Fiji. Rather than "test" New Zealand, by sending one of the dullest knives in his draw, he could have created a sensation in Wellington.

All he had to do was find one of Fiji's brighter and enthusiastic minds, somebody who would look good on television in New Zealand, who could give a 21st century media look to his military regime. Is this the image of a new Fiji that Bainimarama wants New Zealand to see - a man who slurs his words and looks like a janitor on television?

In current circumstances, to be Fiji's main diplomat in New Zealand is a route to fame and media attention. Put up somebody dynamic, interesting and fluent; then let New Zealand hear the case. No one, and certainly anybody who has ever dealt with Leweni, will ever take him seriously.

Brute military force does not cut the ice in Wellington, talent is needed. I can think of at least five people in Suva who would, in a single television appearance on a news show, win tens of thousand to Bainimarama's case. Leweni's mumbles will send them screaming to the hills.

For New Zealand, the issue revolves around the skill and wit of Murray McCully. He went to Nadi and made peace with Inoke Kubuabola. Even Bainimarama knows not to trust Kubuabola, one of the most devious characters in Fiji.

He claimed to have invented the concept of "taukei" and was quickly alongside Rabuka in the 1987 coups. Very quickly, be stabbed Rabuka in the back and tried, unsuccessfully, to take over.

When George Speight overthrew the Chaudhry Government in 2000, Kubuabola was quickly into that. He signed up with Speight and was advising him, right from day one. So complex was Kubuabola's role that a treason file was opened on him.

On the face of it, Kubuabola and Bainimarama have nothing in common; Kubuabola is the very essence of the "ethno-nationalism" that the commodore says he so hates. He is an untrustworthy man.

Kubuabola is a man of no credibility; as we have now seen in the Leweni saga, he is outside the loop.

Whatever Kubuabola told McCully has no value. Perhaps he knew, as newly promoted zealot Brigadier Pita Driti (and my, isn't it getting crowded with scrambled egg now at the top end of the RFMF - Frank for admiral soon, surely, just so that everybody can have a big title) put it, Leweni is a test.

Did Kubuabola deliberately trap McCully this way?

Did McCully fall for it?

Or perhaps, as is more likely, Kubuabola did not have a clue about what was going on.

He's not in Bainimarama's inner circle at all. He had a job simply on the basis of that old saying - keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

Its surprising McCully and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went along for the ride. But then MFAT these days is staffed by children who dream of Paris and London, not Suva and reality.

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