Thursday, July 24, 2014

Government by Greed: PART 1: The Fiji Military - Origins

Government by Greed: PART 1: The Fiji Military - Origins

Guest Writer- Subhash Appana

In Fiji Military, it was always assumed that Chiefs would be at forefront of power in Fiji. And that would have assumed Royal Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) would support the Government.  

The misplaced assumption was  that: 1) Fijians would always remain united under the chiefly system, 2) political opposition would only come from the Indo-Fijian, 3) the RFMF would always be led by a chiefly or chief-supported commander, 4) the RFMF would always support the Fijian establishment and  5) that Fijian chiefly rule would continue unbroken.

Each of these was to fall with time and propel the country into coup-coup land. Continue reading, and hope for more from our Guest Writer, Subhash Appana

The Fiji Military - Origins

This series has contended throughout that the 2000 coup and subsequent developments involving PM Qarase and his Gang were fuelled by greed – hence the name Government by Greed. Qarase’s cabal (gang)  had its roots in the Fiji civil service which since 1987 had been called on to play a more prominent role in Fiji’s politics. It was members of this cadre of civil servants, a number of disgruntled ambitious chiefs and members of the Methodist hierarchy who formed the platform on which Qarase and his Gang plied their plunder under the all-encompassing umbrella of “Fijian assistance”.

LAISENIA QARASE,  a clean-banker who was appointed as the Interim Prime-Minister of Fiji by Bainimarama, and later removed by him in 2006. After tasting power, he also developed greed, and suddenly transformed into an ethno-nationalist Prime Minster of I-Taukei only, and ignored the other races. This greed was his downfall, and that of democracy in Fiji.

The obvious question that arises then is: so where did the Fiji Military fall within this scheme? This article develops a brief historical outline of the evolution of the Fiji military and the changing roles that it has played in Fiji’s political landscape. The bulk of the focus (in ensuing articles) must, of necessity, fall on the role of the military in the 1987 and 2000 coups before any meaningful discussion can follow on the 2006 coup and Fiji’s present military-supported government.

Fiji's self-made "King" RATU SERU CAKOBAU

In 1874 when Governor Arthur Gordon arrived, Fiji’s self-made “king”, Ratu Seru Cakobau already had a Royal Army organized with the assistance of white settlers who had preceded colonization by Britain. In fact, Fiji’s very first coup took place in Levuka just prior to cession as Cakobau tried to organize a government that could levy taxes and control the whole country from a central administrative office.

At that time Bau’s hold on Fiji was precarious even though its designs were clear. Of particular concern was the non-acceptance of Bau rule by westerners and the “savages” from Colo and Navosa highlands. This was the first target of Gordon’s army and the bloody skirmishes that followed in the highlands is a thing of legend. That’s where the derogatory term “kai colo” comes from. Loosely translated it means junglee or uncivilized.

Sir Arthur Gordon's Little War against Kai Colos, using Fijians against Fijians

Following these campaigns Gordon amalgamated the Royal Army with the Fiji Constabulary (police) to form the Armed Native Constabulary as there was continuing need to subjugate the warrior-like tendencies that prevailed in pockets among the Fijian people. Furthermore, at the turn of the 19th century a third element began to become a national irritant – increasing demands for fairness and political representation by the undefined, un-understood and un-inducted girmitiya or Indian labourers.

The First Governor of Fiji, SIR ARTHUR GORDON, who was instrumental in carving out early history of Fiji, including formation of Great Council of Chiefs and indenture of Indians from India, which changed the demographic landscape of Fiji forever.

It was not long before the Armed Native Constabulary was turned onto this disturbance. A January 1920 strike by Indo-Fijian workers of the Public Works Department that spread into a bigger confrontation was suppressed by force using 200 Fijians from Lau and a number of others co-opted from Rewa and Navua – one Indian died in that attack (Gillion, 1977). One year later, the 1921 cane strike was suppressed by 250 Fijian constables from Bau commissioned through their chiefs.

Ongoing problems with atrocious working conditions within the sugar industry meant that rebellion was a constant threat. The forced suppression of 1921, where desperate workers were beaten up and bundled into submission simply hardened resolve and a second cane strike in 1943 saw soldiers being prominently posted around the western cane belt as part of an intimidation tactic during the strike. Little is made of the resentment towards this overt threat that led to failed negotiations between Ratu Sukuna on behalf of government and cane leaders. 


Later the December 1959 Oil and Allied Workers strike led by Apisai Tora and James Anthony invoked further threats of violent suppression by government (Lal, 1992, pp. 165-169). Again little was made of the multi-racial composition of that worker revolt as the army gradually became an unarticulated instrument to ensure that the Indo-Fijian population stayed in its undefined “place” and “behaved”. 

This has to be coupled with the fact that government in Fiji was predicated on the back of a traditional system that was shaped, fossilized and maintained by the colonial administration. The chiefly system thus formed the back of the liberal-democratic system that presented the “face” of government in Fiji after independence in 1970. It was therefore very important that the hierarchy seen at the back (ie. the chiefly structure) reflected that seen at the front (ie. the government).

An elaborate link between government and the military was maintained through a system of recruitment and promotion that ensured that those with traditional status (ie. the chiefs) progressed through the ranks faster and held positions of power within the military. A run through the list of commanders shows Brigadier D.J. Aitken, Colonel Paul Manueli (1974-79), Colonel Ian Thorpe (1979-82), Brigadier-General Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (1982-87), Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka (1987- 92), Brigadier-General Ratu Epeli Ganilau (1992-99), Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama (1999 - 2014) and Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga (2014 -).

Former Commanders of Royal Fiji Military Forces ( RFMF), from left Brigadier - General RATU EPELI NAILATIKAU ( 1982-87), Colonel PAUL MANUELI ((1974-79), Brigadier General RATU EPELI GANILAU (1992-99)  and Rear Admiral FRANK BAINIMARAMA (1999-2014)
A closer scrutiny shows that Paul Manueli became commander during the era of multi-racialism and at a time when there were virtually no other local candidates. Rabuka on the other hand, simply wrested the position through his coup. Bainimarama appeared at a time when there were no chiefly successors and commoner senior officers had begun to agitate for the position. The other 2 long-serving commanders of the RFMF were chiefs of very high rank.

Former RFMF Commander and original Coup - maker, SITIVENI RABUKA

Thus in the initial post-1970 scheme of governance (and politics) in Fiji, the hierarchy of the Royal Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) was supposed to reflect that of national government. And both were predicated on the chiefly system - chiefs were expected to be at the forefront of power in Fiji. This was the intricate link that guaranteed RFMF support for government.

The assumptions within this framework were that: Fijians would always remain united under the chiefly system, political opposition would only come from the Indo-Fijian, the RFMF would always be led by a chiefly or chief-supported commander, the RFMF would always support the Fijian establishment and that Fijian chiefly rule would continue unbroken. Each of these was to fall with time and propel the country into coup-coup land. 

Stay Tuned: Part 2 : Government by Greed- Role of the Military. 


"Ironically, while these manly international campaigns were being waged for “freedom” and “democracy”, leaders in Fiji were totally unconcerned about the pleas of Fiji’s very own semi-slaves, the Girmitiya......"

"The British system of running the military with a class structure and inbuilt systems of discrimination became accepted practice. That’s partly why Indian demands for equal pay to join the military after 1939 was seen as treachery...."

[Read in Part 2...coming soon...]
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[About the Author: Subhash Appana is an Indo-Fijian academic with Fijian family links. He has researched and presented papers at international conferences throughout the world. This has inevitably resulted in publications in respected international journals.

Subhash was brought up in the chiefly village of Vuna in Taveuni and is particularly fond of the Fijian language and culture. His paper on the Fijian chiefly system (2005) was the first of its kind after the landmark book on the same by Rusiate Nayacalou in 1975.

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.]


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