Government by Greed: PART 4: The Military Card Had to Be Played
By Guest Writer, Subhash Appana.
Earlier articles in this series contended that in the initial post-1970 scheme of governance (and politics) in Fiji, there was always an unarticulated expectation that the Royal Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) would play a pivotal role in ensuring that government remained in the hands of Chiefs, and by extension the Fijian people. The 1987 elections forced this hand in the pack of cards that was always stacked in favour of ensuring just that within the façade that was widely taken as democracy in Fiji.
|SITIVENI RABUKA, 3rd in RFMF in 1987, was identified as the person who could execute the "dirty" job for the Easter Chiefs|
After the 1987 elections, as the orchestrated rebellion against the verdict of the ballot box became more strident and violent, a dark silent group began making overtures to the RFMF. And Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka was identified as the right choice to execute a coup-de-tat even though he was number 3 in the military hierarchy. The Commander, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, was a Bau chief of very high rank – he could do without the inevitable stain. His number 2, Colonel Jim Sanday was of mixed-blood and therefore, not to be trusted fully. Focus thus fell on Rabuka.
At that point in time, Rabuka’s future in the military was extremely bleak. He was only able to maintain his hold within the top brass through patronage from his high chief, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, who was also the Governor General. In fact Rabuka had already begun to look for jobs outside the military; he had applied for the post of Police Commissioner and had actually been interviewed for it. The post had instead gone to PU Raman, an Indian.
It was no secret that Rabuka was hugely popular and commanded widespread loyalty within the rank and file of the Fiji military. He was also a hardcore traditionalist who believed in the divine right of chiefly control and ethnic Fijian rule in Fiji within the framework of Christian (preferably Methodist) doctrine. More importantly, Rabuka was a strict disciplinarian who was known to deliver. And most importantly, a coup presented him with a crucial opportunity to redeem himself within the military.
This is what the planners saw. What they did not see was that Rabuka was smarting from his “fall from grace” in the military. He had allowed Major Kadavulevu Cakobau to come back to Fiji from Sinai against orders from Queen Elizabeth Barracks. And he was lined up for a court martial that was only avoided through external pressure from the GG’s office. The fact that he took this decision in Sinai showed that he was prone to independent thinking – this was also missed in assessing him.
On the other hand, Ratu Mara was devastated with his fall at elections 1987 even though he did not show this. As a chief and main architect of independent Fiji, he had a noble vision that he thought would serve the myriad interests in the country. His biggest disappointment came from the fact that he was apparently not supported by the Indian electorate after all that he’d tried to do for that community. Ratu Mara therefore, felt betrayed especially by the Indo-Fijian community.
On the other hand, he had foreseen problems with the 1970 model of governance. That’s why he mooted the idea of a government of national unity around the 1982 elections. He appeared to be quietly searching for a new model to suit the changing circumstances. This need again stared him in the face in 1987 as the Taukei Movement went on the rampage. Many have criticized Ratu Mara for his inaction and reluctance to enter the fray at that critical juncture.
There would have been sound reasons for this disinclination by that thinking gentleman of noble birth and prolonged British grooming. Firstly, the Fijians were genuinely angered because they felt that their generosity had been abused by an ungrateful immigrant community. This negativity had gained too much momentum. Secondly, Ratu Mara’s hold on Fijian leadership had become precarious because people were openly blaming him for selling out the Fijian heritage. In fact, after 1987 he was no longer considered the sole undisputed leader of the Fijian people.
|SUBHASH APPANA, the Guest Writer , who grew up with I-Taukeis, wrote this article as an insider who, despite being an Indo-Fijian, wrote from a good understanding of I-Taukei point of view.|
And three, it can be hazarded that Ratu Mara saw in the turbulence of 1987 an opportunity to once again draw up a new model of governance for Fiji. He therefore, saw coup-de-tat as an unsavoury necessity that would open up opportunities for more suitable and enduring political solutions. A consensus approach appeared to be impractical given the entrenched positions between the 2 main ethnic groups – a forced solution was therefore, the best approach.
To appease the hordes, quell crime and bring about some semblance of order, the men at QEB had to be released not to uphold the rule of law, but to upend it. A Schumpeterian creative destruction framework therefore, guided decisions among Ratu Mara and like-minded. There was full confidence that Rabuka would be reined in shortly after he executed the coup because there would be need for a civilian administration. And more importantly, there would be need to appease the shocked international community and explain the unpardonable situation.
So the orchestrated disturbances were allowed to escalate as Rabuka executed his operational plans for the fateful day. He handpicked a team leader in Captain Savenaca Draunidalo, an Eastern soldier who had served as ADC to the GG, and assembled an elite squad of committed soldiers who shared his own traditionalist, fundamentalist concerns. The international dimension that had been hovering on the fringes again entered the picture. Bavadra had followed the NZ lead of 1985 and declared Fiji anti-nuclear, this irked the Americans and they acted by sending over a high-level decorated operative.
|CAPTAIN SAVENACA DRAUNIDALO, who was reportedly the Team-Leader Rabuka appointed to assemble and prepare an elite squad of committed soldiers who shared his own traditionalist, fundamentalist concerns, for executing the coup.|
Vernon Walters had been in Teheran in 1953 when the CIA supported Shah Pahlavi’s coup against Dr. Mohamad Mosaddeq. He was again involved in a coup by some generals in Brazil in 1963. In 1975 he was in Chile when General Pinochet toppled the Allende government. And in 1987 the very same Vernon Walters was in Fiji. Two weeks before 14th of May, he met Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Not the army commander, not his deputy, but the 3rd man, Sitiveni Rabuka.
Everything was finally in place: the taukei marchers, power preachers, escalating and apparently uncontrollable crime and violence, chiefly withdrawal, US complicity, key business support, and a primed military goon squad under the command of a committed senior officer. Next stop, treason at 10. Keep tuned.
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Stay tuned, COMING SHORTLY - Part 5:1987 - The Impossible Coup
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was thus not a paramount chief in his own right, but he was the husband of one. On top of that, he had been groomed for and headed the modern structure of government that was essentially juxtaposed on the traditional structure. Moreover, Ratu Mara had been earmarked to lead Fiji by Fiji’s most prominent colonial-era chief, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna. In fact it was Ratu Sukuna who played cupid in helping hitch Mara with the young lass from Burebasaga who would later become the Roko Tui Dreketi, the paramount chief of Burebasaga.
[About the Author: Subhash Appana is an Indo-Fijian academic with Fijian family links. He was brought up in the chiefly village of Vuna in Taveuni and is particularly fond of the Fijian language and culture. Subhash has written extensively on the link between the politics of the vanua, Indo-Fijian aspirations and the continued search for a functioning democracy in Fiji. This series attempts to be both informative and provocative keeping in mind the delicate, distractive and often destructive sensitivities involved in cross-cultural discourses of this type.]