Eight years ago, just weeks after Voreqe Bainimarama took over the reins of Fiji’s administration, I was among the earliest from the international media to interview him for the New Zealand Herald. In that more than two-hour rambling interview in the Prime Ministerial offices at Government Buildings, he was at pains to convince me that he had made the move with utmost reluctance. He had no choice, he had said. His hand was forced. I could see he was a straight shooter, telling it like it is – warts and all. There was no hint of any political nous or diplomatic savoir-faire in the manner that he spoke, only an air of sincerity. When I dispatched the piece to the editor, he called back to ask what I really thought of his “reluctance.” I told him what I thought. That weekend, the interview ran with the headline ‘The Reluctant Coup Leader.”
I never met Bainimarama in a journalistic capacity after that. But going by the pride of place he earned for Fiji last month hosting two men who lead almost half the world’s population within a couple of days of each other, I suspect he is not so reluctant to lead anymore. He has no reason to be. He was elected with a convincing margin in an electoral process that the world endorsed. In any case, back then he had only said he was a reluctant coup leader.
This year has been momentous for Fiji. After sitting around like the proverbial maiden who was all dressed up with nowhere to go, Fiji seems to have been delivered its long due ticket for the journey to realise its true potential. Fiji has always been the regional leader – geopolitically, logistically and economically, even when it has been in political turmoil, which is every so often. It is this political instability and uncertainty that has held Fiji back from achieving greater glory, which is well within its capacity. Fiji has grown to be a middle-income country and in many indices the envy of its Pacific Island compatriots. This is despite the political troubles it has faced.
Even under the military dispensation, the economy grew quite impressively, amidst less than salubrious global conditions. Many a commentator has said in the past that Fiji has the potential to grow into the Singapore of the South Pacific. That metaphor is back in circulation. At a meeting of movers and shakers in New Zealand last month, exactly that sentiment was aired.
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