Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Pray for Fiji
If you think the racial conflicts in Germany between Turks and whites are bad, imagine a Germany where the government was ruled by an anti-Turk populist, but the military consisted purely of Turks. That's an exaggerated description of the current situation in Fiji, which just erupted into a (previously announced and long-expected) military coup.
The situation in a nutshell is this: When the British pulled out of Fiji in 1970, they left behind a large population of West Indian guest workers. Over time, the Indians became more and more influential in the government until, in 1987, the Melanesian and Polynesian population staged a series of coups to get the Indians out of power. At that point, the bulk of the Indians left (current population breaks down to about 54% Polynesian/Melanesian and 38% Indians or Indo-Fijians).
Smartly enough, the remaining Indo-Fijians slowly dominated the military (for a small Polynesian island chain, Fiji has a large military and regularly participates in UN peace keeping missions). Now things have once again come to a head and the Indian commander of the military has disarmed the police and taken over the Polynesian/Melanesian government.
So far, it has been a bloodless coup, and it may stay that way. Polynesians can get hot-blooded, but they aren't necessarily the types to get involved in bloody armed conflicts, like, say, in Haiti or Congo. Neither New Zealand nor Australia are sending troops, though both are threatening embargoes.
In the end, there is no way of knowing whether commander Bainamarama will be good or bad for the country. A military dictatorship, as long as it is benign, can be endured; a failed economy cannot. As long as a lot of Polynesian countries live in poverty, we in the west will continue to look down on them as cute tourist destinations.
Fiji is a well-run country and one of the economically most successful island states in the South Pacific. The CIA World Fact Book puts Fijis' population at just under a million, and claims that the economy (with only 7.6% unemployment) is doing well. But that depends on stability and also on the tourist trade. Stability counts for a lot. But that presumes that Bainamarama can hold the coup.
The Fijians and Indo-Fijians have been at each other's throats since the eighties, and this looks less like the beginning of a dictatorship than it does like just another battle in a pseudo-civil war that won't end in a long time and may eventually lead Fiji to economic ruin.
So as you go through your day-to-day worries about Iraq, Putin, Israel and all the rest of those big, flashy hotspots, save a prayer for the people of Fiji. It would be a tragedy if racial conflict rode Fiji down the path to poverty that so many small Polynesian countries suffer under.