Minister Tupeni L. Baba is a former deputy prime minister and senator in three democratically elected governments in Fiji. He is also an academic and consultant and former professor of education. Baba has been involved with all the three democratically elected governments that have been overthrown by the coups d’etat over the last 20 years including the latest coup of Commodore Josaia Voreqe “Frank”” Bainimarama in 2006. Baba spoke on June 8 at the University of Guam for the 12th presidential lecture series. His presentation titled “”Paradise in Turmoil: 20 years of Military Coups and Implications for Democracy and Development in Fiji”” discussed the political challenges faced by the country which despite its turmoil is a famous tourist destination. He is currently living in Guam.
Why did you come to Guam?
My wife Dr. Unaisi Nabobo Baba is an associate professor of education and just got an appointment at the University of Guam for three years. I’ve been at home holding down the fort so I just came here. I will be here for a little while.
Please give us a summary of your presentation at the University of Guam on June 8.
The heading of my speech was about the 20 years of military coups in Fiji and the implications for democracy and development. The general topic was “”paradise in turmoil.”” That is why at the beginning of my lecture I was talking about the concept of paradise. You have a lot of people that come to Fiji unaware of the fact that it is a land of coups. And I talked about the coup makers because they took over government. This is an experience you people have have not gone through in your lifetime but we’ve experienced three major coups.
What are the main industries on Fiji?
One of the main industries is tourism. We export a lot of vegetables taro and a lot of fruits overseas. There is mining of gold and exploration of copper. There is a lot of timber that we export and we export largely to Australia and the European Union.
Have the coups affected Fiji’s economic activity?
It is affecting all the economic activities. It is very bad on the economy. That is one of the things I’m trying to say. But since 2006 when the coup started the whole economy is piling down to the lowest level that we’ve ever seen. One of the lessons that I’m saying is that if you want a vibrant economy you have to be part of the world; you have to be trading with the world. And the coup scares away the investors and the big farms leave the shores thereby creating unemployment and taking away a lot of investments. So coups are responsible for the continuing depressed economy that Fiji has had since 2006 after the last coup.
It was distinctly clear that when we had a democracy system there was a boost in the economy and people came. Because we rely on tourism and overseas trade our trading partners are scared off because they can’t get a fair judgment if they have any problems with their contracts or investments. They need to go to court to get a good judgment. So if they bring in a few million [dollars] for example and something goes wrong they can’t reclaim that through the court system. Unless you have a good court system a good system of justice no reputable companies will come. There are fly-by-night companies that want to bring in their money and launder it in our country. That kind of activity will increase because of instability and slack in the court system.
Has there been much oppression in Fiji censoring the media?
There is an emergency law. And you can’t keep this as a government law. It is the same for the countries like Egypt. The rest of the world is unaware of the way the people are suppressed and subjugated in Fiji. There are a lot of [abuses] that are committed but the police and the court system that we are unable to address them. And when there is censorship situations like these are not reported in the press and not talked about on the radio. So the only alternative for young people is the social networking and electronic media. People have just connected and exchanged information and they found out there are a lot of things happening in Fiji that should not be happening. Those things are not reported in the newspaper. The official channels are playing the paradise picture-perfect image of the country. So there is an information disconnect.
Are there young people in Fiji using social media now to get information?
They are. Suva is about the same size as Guam – about a hundred thousand people and they have a university and so they exchange this type of information. My speech [at UOG] will be all over Fiji. The [military regime] will worry about it and they will look at it with an eagle’s eye. In a democratic country I am able to say things that I wouldn’t be able to say in my own country.
How did you feel about the reaction to your presentation at the University of Guam?
I am surprised at the way in which people here are so relaxed about it. And lectures like that are so valuable for people in Fiji because it is a source of information. Because they are denied information. People here take for granted the democracy they have. People here would not accept the types of things that are happening in Fiji.