Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Negative Impact of Military Culture on Native Fijians - Time to Reassess State Loyalty

by Sai Lealea

Fiji has now had four coups over a period covering a quarter of a century. Its military has now taken centre stage in the governance of the country with a debilitating impact on the culture of a once credible and proud civil service. There is an onslaught of "military creep" invading Fiji society and is bound to become pervasive. For native Fijians, now illegally labelled as iTaukei, by the illegal Bainimarama regime, the impact is more profound and corrosive.

Military creep invading Fiji society
The persistence of a coup culture among the largely Fijian military will mean the acceptance of a military role as political arbiter. This extra constitutional role will in turn serve as incentive for ongoing intervention, especially under the command of poorly educated and trigger happy leaders and those wishing to prove a point or escape prosecution. Bad behaviour, lack of intellectual ability and disdain for civil authority and democratic mandate gets to be rewarded. The ongoing promotion of military personnel implicated in criminal cases of torture and murder serves to emphasise this trend. Without effective intellectual leadership of the military, this confused mindset will, over time, become embedded and promoted as the norm with dangerous long term consequences if left unchecked.

As a result of their extra constitutional role, Fijians in the military have also taken on a new identity as State instruments. They see themselves as prophets of the military gospel to be propagated and spread both within and without. It is a gospel based on employing force and the subjugation of the truth in place of civil interaction based on respecting human rights and democratic mandate. If traditional Fijian structures bend to this new found religion, it can create dysfunction and discord at every level. But I doubt this will happen in the short term given the unsophisticated nature of the Bainimarama-inspired military creed, borne more out of distrust than a cogent philosophy. It would be fair to say that most rank and file military personnel regard their Fijian identity as more important and with meaning than the temporary loyalty to their commander as their employer.
Fijian institutions & practices re-examined

The promotion of brawn-over-brain mentality in the Fiji military will also have mixed consequences on the mentality of wider Fijian society. On one level, Fijians will negatively regard the actions of the military regime in dismantling a range of their institutions and practices that were part of the State since the 1874 Cession and Independence in 1970. In doing so, the military as an organ of the State, is party to decoupling Fijians from the State thus weakening the regard they have for the State and its role and place in the polity of the nation.

Fijians will increasingly re-examine their relationship with the State in a manner similar to Maori in New Zealand and tribes in PNG, who now engage the State in an "arms length/contractual" manner, especially in regards to political matters and development issues over the exploitation of their natural resources. In some respects, this can be a welcome development but it can also be challenging for the State in securing ongoing partnership.

Maori as resurgent peoples dealing with the State
Maori in New Zealand, equipped with their settlement monies paid by the State for historical wrongs, now actively confront the State in litigation battles over their birth rights in relation to land, forest, water, language and air space. Tribes in PNG regularly and recently forced closure of an airport protesting their land rights. Landowners in Fiji are increasingly adopting similar actions. These developments are the result of a reassessment by indigenous peoples of the "value-add" they had made to the initial creation of their nation State. Up to now, Fijians have never really engaged in such a "cost benefit" exercise but who is to say they cannot or do not have the stomach for it. After all, they are not alone in competing for the State's attention, a point increasingly made by critics of measures aimed at improving the social and economic position of Fijians.

For a start it would be interesting just to attempt to quantify how much of the State's assets have been gifted by Fijians, let alone without proper compensation. Yes gifted, as Fijians were readily loyal and willing supporters of their State back in history. However, that strong state ideology is crumbling and is an inevitable point of departure as a direct result of the assault by the organs of the State on the place of Fijians. The military, without realising it, may have unleashed the latent Fijian tiger now more motivated than ever to take on the State in a one-on-one dog fight.
Fijian landowners taking on the State

For Fijians to take on the State in a fair tussle they would require resourcing, effective and efficient organisational structures and good leadership. Maori in New Zealand have used their settlement monies to strengthen their tribal structures and form effective economic and business organisations as vehicles for investment and partnerships. No doubt the SDL Party's Affirmative Action Policies had similar intentions, especially given the lack of capital to fund Fijian developments at provincial and village levels.

In a similar way, Fijians could also learn from Maori and form partnerships with them, based on similar resource base, on ways to develop their resources and build capability and strategies to engage effectively with the State. Partnerships among indigenous peoples are bound to be more potent and durable given shared histories of colonisation and traditional cultures.

If left unchecked, the impact of military creep will have deep and real consequences for Fijians. In turn, this will force a reassessment of their relationship with the State which hitherto has been strong and durable. This will involve Fijians recasting that relationship based on what value-add they had gifted to the State resulting in more contractual engagement in the future. There will be more calls by Fijians for a fair and honest partnership once they are decoupled from the State and litigation will likely be the way to resolve differences with the State. For a fair tussle, Fijian structures will need to be strengthened and its resources  mobilised in partnerships with others. Ironically, the State may well find it is better to have Fijians within its embrace than without.


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