“The hibernation of Fijian intellectuals”. 22 January 2014 (post-script 28 Jan)
The hibernation of Fijian intellectuals
Since independence in 1970, this last seven years have probably been the most earth-shaking for indigenous Fijians as a community, yet Fijian intellectuals seem to be in public hibernation.
A military dictatorship, with unknown advisers, is bringing about major changes to Fijian institutions: the Great Council of Chiefs has been supposedly abolished; provincial governance structures reorganized; the laws of management of communally owned Fijian land and marine resources (some with serious environmental impacts); flagship Fijian companies such as Fijian Holdings Limited have been reorganized; controls have been placed on Fijian churches and villages; Fijian cultural symbols are being changed by decree, without their consent.
Massive changes in economic policy are affecting not just Fijians but all Fiji citizens in: taxation and expenditure of tax-payer funds, privatization and sale of public assets, restructuring of pension funds, controversial approval for new industries such as casinos and mines, a huge increase in public debt that must be paid for by future generations which will be increasingly indigenous Fijian, and much more.
The views of the Bainimarama Regime leaders are prominent every day on radio, television and in the newspapers, with extremely limited coverage given to opposing political leaders.
It is dismaying therefore that there is a deafening silence from Fijian intellectuals from the universities and the private sector- with the exception of a few rare individuals such as Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi or young youth leaders like Peter Waqavonovono.
One may well ask, where are the Rusiate Nayacakalaus, Jo Kamikamicas, Savenaca Siwatibaus, Amelia Rokotuivunas and Sir Kamisese Maras, of today?
It is natural that ordinary indigenous Fijians look to indigenous Fijian intellectuals at the universities, corporate entities and non-government organizations for guidance and debate on their major societal issues.
Yet indigenous Fijian academics, corporate types and the plethora of legal professionals appear to be lying low.
In a pattern repeated from the seventies, senior Fijian academics at USP (and now FNU) happily allow themselves to be promoted into sterile administrative work, or export themselves to universities abroad.
Also largely absent are the voices of Fijian senior corporate types from the private and public sectors, currently working in Fiji or abroad, or retired.
Even prominent Fijian intellectual political leaders (of whom the electorates expected better), disappeared out of sight (leaving Qarase to cop the flack alone) or joined the bandwagon.
Are these intellectual leaders (Missing in Action) secretly discussing these issues amongst their communities?
Or are they waiting to see who are going to be the winners, before they jump on the winning band-wagon?
The curse of entertainment and blogging
Is it a coincidence that most of our media organizations (television, radio and newspapers), are diverting the largest part of public discourse into entertainment- sports (rugby sevens), Bollywood and Hollywood, singing competitions, and religious frenzy.
Policy debates are raised quite rarely, and even then in totally innocuous fashion, without the attention they deserve.
One phenomenon of our times, with mixed blessings, is the massive rise of anonymous blogging (by all ethnic groups), where the calm rational voices are totally outnumbered by nasty posts, often racist and violent in nature.
Is the ability to blog anonymously dissipating the energies of Fijian intellectuals, thereby ensuring that they make little attempt to engage in honest public debates using their own names?
The real misfortune is that the anonymous blogs are usually read largely by the “converted” and not those whose minds have not been made up, but are daily being influenced by the media which is currently dominated by Regime propaganda.
I suspect also that even the rational educative blogger is ineffective, since anonymity robs the views of their full effectiveness.
Who will dispute that a public statement by Savenaca Siwatibau or any other respected Fijian leader, would have a far greater impact than an anonymous Letter to the Editor or a similar but anonymous blog posting?
Of course, having views unpopular with those in power, must come at some personal cost, as it does everywhere in the world.
But are indigenous Fijian intellectuals as a group choosing a totally wrong balance between active transparent social responsibility and self-seeking self-preserving “culture” of silence?
Silence is not golden
Elections will be held within the next eight months and political candidates of all persuasions will be expressing their views in trying to influence the outcome of the elections.
It would be of great help to indigenous Fijian voters (and others) if politically neutral Fijian intellectuals from the universities, private and NGO sectors, were to actively express their views on national policy matters which will become election issues, whichever political side their views happen to fall.
Silence from our Fijian intellectuals at this critical juncture in Fiji’s history, is not going to be golden. It certainly has not helped the Fijian community so far.
Postscript (28 January 2014)
A long standing friend of mine was dismayed that I did not name a number of prominent Fijians who are currently speaking out on issues, as they indeed are. Some of those named are friends of mine with whom I have had ongoing discussions. Most of these persons, however, are currently perceived by the public as belonging to political parties, and nearly all their statements are seen as anti-Bainimarama, without any neutral discussion about the merits and demerits of the policies (which is what I think would be useful for ordinary Fijians).
One person who my friend named is indeed very visible, but heads an organisation which stands accused of being funded by foreigners and being biased, yet it does sterling education work in the community, to which I have also contributed over the years.
The disappointment I express in my article above is with senior academics, professionals and corporate types from whom the Fijian community expects greater guidance. Perhaps I should have also named their professional organizations like The Fiji Institute of Accountants, The Law Society, and yes, The Economics Association of Fiji, which have all been relatively mute bodies, compared to their pre-2006 activities which dealt with issues which are of even greater concern today, yet little discussed because of the continuing media self-censorship.
One instigator of my article is that I do have very senior Fijian friends (including former senior civil servants) who have themselves lamented to me that there is not enough of public discussion and debate among senior Fijians. They attribute this to their sense of insecurity, and not being able to trust people any more. Nevertheless, do discuss the issues in their small private groups, which has at times included me.
I acknowledge also that there are many senior Fijians who have continued the important development work that they have been doing in their communities for decades. There are also senior Fijian academics at USP (like Dr Ropate Qalo) who have focused on academic work and eschewed what I unfortunately referred to as “sterile administrative work”. I have been correctly reminded by one friend that honest, efficient and accountable administrative work is also a necessary part of a society’s development and not “sterile”. I stand corrected.