Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.

Lord Byron.

Takeovers can be quite comical if you ignore the limitations of your personal freedoms, threat to life or the indignity of the devaluation of your years of hard work. Fiji has had four, and as a millennial who has lived through all, here are my seven rules on how to survive a military takeover.

  1. Have a flexible timetable.
  •  Military takeovers can occur at any time so allocate time for the unscheduled stop at hurriedly set up military checkpoints. Yes, that’s hawser laid across the road and No, you haven’t stumbled upon the filming of the Dads Army Special South Seas episode. This is takeover on a shoestring budget.
  • If you are carrying out the takeover, be flexible with the date. Announce your intentions but leave everyone else in suspense. Another activity may pique your interest and you may want to attend to that first. Its your show after all. What is a day or two among foes?
  • If you support the coup, be ready to be invited to Parliament for swearing in to a government role. This is your time to shine so take the wife, the child and smile. However, if you are a lowly placed coup supporter, be flexible enough to have the two-hour Nationalist march turn into five. You may have to ask Bill, the carrier driver, to help transport your newly acquired 55-inch television screen home.

2. Have a handy excuse.

  •  There is a lot of explaining to be done in a military takeover so always have a lie or post-truth ready. Things like walking the streets, being in a crowd, sending anti coup emails, speaking out in the media or organising a civil protest all must explained. The constitution or International human rights are now open to interpretation. Your guess is as good as mine as what that will be.
  • For coup makers, you will have to explain why you ordered armed soldiers to take over the government. Fiji’s popular excuse is the oppressed race card and Rabuka who capitalised on this uses it still. However, the simplest excuse is to use corruption which Fiji used in 2006. Both excuses lead to power which is the ultimate aim.
  • Most importantly, excuses need not be supported with evidence so don’t waste time on that. Just say it as often as possible, to many as possible and your version becomes the truth. You can sit on that power for years on end by generating an excuse after another. It worked wonders for Mugabe.

3. Obtain New Skills.

  • To survive, you need new skills as these will open doors for you. For example, soldiers have been known to double up as judge, jury and torturer. Others have had posts created specifically created in the absence of any apparent skills. No explanation for this apart from George Orwell’s words that all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
  • Unfortunately, this means that those already possessing those skills in these posts need to leave. It doesn’t matter if they are experts in this field, your promise to Jonasa is more important. These highly skilled people can always leave. After all, coup supporters trump brain drain.

4. Learn to read between the lines.

  • Avid newspaper readers must be prepared to develop new reading skills or change newspapers. This is because there will be additional editors at your favourite newspaper (see rule 3- soldiers develop editorial skills as well).
  • For coup instigators, this rule gives you an excuse (see rule 2) to take reporters to trial. You don’t have to be an expert at reading between the lines, just ask one or six people for their version and run with it.

5. Get new glasses

  • Your rose-coloured glasses are likely to be damaged during a military upheaval so buy practical ones. A change of glasses will help you better read situations, interpret intentions and see people for who they are. Keep your political discussions private, your emails neutral and your activities low key. Those things have a funny way of ending up in military hands.

 6. Adapt your palate.

  • Stalin once demonstrated the power he held over his people by plucking a live chicken in front of his audience. The chicken fought and clucked for its life and hurried away once released from his grasp. However, when he held out some chicken feed in his hands, the bruised, plucked chicken forgot about the indignity it suffered before and came back to eat from his hands. That is what military rule does. It makes us into crazy chickens with a palate for chicken feed. We forget we are humans who have the means to work for our own ends instead we look for scraps from hands that have limited us in the first place.
  • We get used to crazy solutions. High unemployment? no worries we will lower the retirement age. Low wages? No worries we will give away freebies…on election year. Malnourished kids? We will provide Weetabix and milk. It’s easier than giving their parents jobs. From free rubbish bins to money for a start-up even if you can’t even manage your weekly bus fare to work, the solutions are endless.

7. Everyone suffers so deflect with a shiny shovel.

  •  However, in a military takeover everyone suffers. Reputations are ruined, memories are scarred, and lives destroyed and lost. But don’t worry, you must give an illusion that things are well by deflecting, deferring and performing miracles. Deflect questions on performance in parliament, defer releasing reports and miraculously conjure profits for companies that once showed losses.
  • Take as many overseas holidays as possible to de-stress. It doesn’t matter that the allowance is more than what 51% of the population may earn in a year. You can always return home and give them a fine speech about something, give out kitchen cutlery and dig holes in the ground for another construction with a shiny new shovel. Deflection is the shiniest tool in the shed.

Until military regimes stop masquerading as true democracies and give real freedoms to the press, to the opposition and to its citizens then I’m afraid these rules will be as relevant now as it was since Fiji’s first military coup.


*Photo credit- Devyn Richter

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