On 20th September, the sixth form was treated to a fascinating talk by Sandy Fong, an International Peace scholar on creating a culture of dialogue in Fiji during its transition to democracy.
Figi’s recent history consists of volatile politics , ethnic conflict and corruption; there were four coups since 1987 – 2006, 3 by the military and one by civilians. Despite this, Figi is quickly becoming a peaceful nation thanks to the work of organisations such as Sandy’s.
Between 2004-2014, Figi was ruled by a military government who imposed tight restrictions on movement, speech and introduced limits on Internet access, all aimed at preventing an overthrow of the government. Limits on the number of people allowed to meet without needing to apply for a permit mean that political discussion was virtually non-existent. Fijians had different perspectives on the coup, for many, military coups were all they have known. Disillusionment with this form of government however began to grow, youth groups and women in particular began to protest.
‘Dialogue Figi’ was set up in 2009 to try and bring together groups with different perspectives and experiences of the coup into dialogue. It created a space where leaders could try and work on collective action for the future of Figi and try to work out strategies to tackle corruption and ethnic conflict. The military governemnt changed the constitution in 2013, introducing a new constitution which included a new voting sytem.This posed a problem because there was a generation of people who didn’t understand the principles of democracy or their rights of free speech, movement and assembly etc.
In the lead up to election time in 2014, Sandy’s organisation worked to educate Figians on their democratic rights. They also worked to ensure that these elections were free of corruption, so organised strategies to observe and record the results at polling stations. They had to be creative due to the strict rules of the military government and so used alternative strategies such as handing out questionnaires to people asking them what they saw and heard at polling stations.
The elections were found to be fair, not corrupt and since 2014, Figi has greater freedom of speech, much more analysis of politics and is becoming more economically prosperous due to projects with China and Russia.
We’d like to thank Sandy Fong for her compelling talk about her work and to thank Cambridge Rotary Club for organising it.