- Articulation and Concordance: A Dialogue on Civil-Military Relations in Fiji
This dialogue took place at a historical moment of transition in Fiji, the country we both call home, but which only one of us currently lives and works in. At the time that we recorded this in 2014, Fiji was preparing to hold elections for the first time in eight years. In December 2006 the Commander of the Fiji Military Forces Commodore Frank Bainimarama executed a coup against the government of Laisenia Qarase, which had been elected earlier that year. For the first time since Fiji's history had begun to be troubled by military interference in political life in 1987, the military seemed to be taking an oppositional stance in relation to notions of indigenous paramountcy. Bainimarama has consistently described his motives as antiracist, and has presented a new constitution for the nation and his radical reforms of the electoral system as being in the interests of a more genuine democracy. In 2014 he officially retired as military commander and announced his candidacy for the country's first election under the constitution and electoral system his unelected regime had introduced.
The reasons we chose the format of a dialogue rather than a conventional academic article are both practical and pedagogical. Given that we live in two different countries (Raijeli in Fiji and Teresia in New Zealand), our opportunities to work on articulating a seamlessly shared position have been limited. Since Raijeli is director of a nongovernmental organization in Fiji and Teresia teaches a full load of undergraduate and postgraduate courses while also supervising PhD students at a university in New Zealand, the demands of our careers have meant that we needed to make the best use [End Page 105] of technologies available to us for long distance conferencing via telephone and Internet. As feminists, we believe there is pedagogical value in making our analytical processes transparent. So rather than a typical conversation between the two of us, which, given that we have been friends for two decades would involve a lot of insider shorthand, we have staged this particular discussion, mindful that most of our audience will be encountering our work and Fiji's issues for the first time. The format of a dialogue about civil military relations (CMR) in Fiji, most pointedly addresses the ways that the eight years of military rule in Fiji between 2006-2014 have also generated a paradoxical climate of censorship and self-censorship (especially evident in Fiji's print and broadcast media, but also palpable among NGOs and academics) on one hand, and vitriolic polemics and rumor-mongering on the other hand (best illustrated by the proliferation of Internet blogs focusing their commentary on Fiji since the 2006 coup). Our aim in this dialogue is to illuminate a path that can avoid such extremes while advancing understanding of the challenges of CMR that face Fiji.
Our discussion is structured along the following lines: first, we provide a bit more background on who each of us is, highlighting in particular, our academic engagement with studies of CMR or militarism more broadly; secondly, we describe what it is that makes the Fiji context so challenging and interesting for each of us in our work. In the third phase of the dialogue we discuss how feminist and other theories have informed and refined our understanding of CMR in Fiji, and we conclude by offering some thoughts about realistic and optimistic ways forward might be for CMR in Fiji.
I am an indigenous iTaukei Fijian and a feminist activist. I grew up and received my education in Fiji. In 2001, I moved to the Philippines and worked for Isis Manila, an international feminist organisation lobbying for women's communication rights in both the UN and social justice movement spaces. I led the organisation for three and half years until 2007 and then I moved back to the Pacific to settle in Christchurch, New Zealand. In July 2013, I returned to Fiji to take up a 3-year contract with Save the Children Fiji. So, apart from a one week visit in October 2012, I have lived...