ANALYSIS: Sheik’s Visit Significant Moment For Fiji
The arrival in Nadi today of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Foreign Affairs Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is significant.
He will hold bilateral talks with his Fijian counterpart, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, and also meet with the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and the Attorney-General and the Minister for Finance, Public Enterprises, Public Service and Communications Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Sheikh Abdullah is a very busy man. The last time he was here was in 2010 when UAE was lobbying to host the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
He flew in his private jet and spent a few hours before he flew out again. So, this visit has important implications for Fiji and the region.
This time he is spending a longer time. His overnight stay underscores the fact that he recognises Fiji as a significant country in the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS)
His Highness Sheikh Abdullah is the one of the sons of the much revered Father of the Nation, Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Generally, UAE ministers are elusive and it is hard to get near them. The majority of them are sheikhs and come from the Al Nahyan family.
There is a perceived air of arrogance around them too as they are treated more like deity by the Emiratis. Emirati leaders have been visionary in the development of their country for the present and the future.
Their government’s pre-occupation is with the foreign policy of its immediate region and the problems and woes of the Middle East politics.
The UAE is also courted by the Europeans and the USA’s interlocutors because of UAE’s leaning towards the West on political issues and also of course, because of its economic potential and success. So from them to look towards the little PSIDS region is a positive development.
For Fiji, the opening of relations with this part of the world and particularly with the UAE was a Greenfield’s area, as it did not have any representation there, even in a non-resident capacity.
This, despite our troops peacekeeping troops being in the region since 1978, starting with the Fijian participation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) followed by the American-sponsored Multinational Observer Force in Sinai. Fiji’s diplomatic presence was a novelty for many.
They did not take it seriously because of the nature of politics in the region. There are still a lot of ignorance and misinformation in Fiji about this part of the world and why Fiji is there.
Fiji had to start from a zero base and worked very hard to get ourselves on the radar there and also obtain non-resident accreditations to other MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries as well as Turkey and Kazakhstan. All this happened at a time when Australia and New Zealand had not been helpful, even lobbying in the region against Fiji.
In the context of the nature of politics, culture and religion in the region, Fiji has made remarkable progress.
Today’s arrival of Sheikh Abdullah is a culmination of several years of diplomatic efforts by Fiji to build relations. Robin Nair, Fiji’s Ambassador to the Gulf states, and his minister Ratu Inoke have worked extremely hard to pull off this visit by Sheikh Abdullah.
Mr Nair, who is based in UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, is also accredited as a non-resident ambassador to Iraq, Iran, Egypt and the Arab League..
This visit will be recognised by the rest of the Arab World because of Fiji’s high profile in international affairs. The great success of the following engagements have also been pivotal in increasing UAE interests: Fiji’s chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China; Mr Bainimarama’s chairmanship tenure on the ISO (International Sugar Organisation); the leadership role he has shown in the MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group) and the PSIDS with the PIDF (Pacific Islands Development initiative.
The Arabs have also seen the PM’s resolve to take his country forward to a more sustainable democracy in spite of distractions, opposition and neo-colonialism stance from the powerful Western countries and from some of their acolytes in PSIDS.
PSIDS is now being recognised as an important region even in this part of the world and no doubt Fiji has done that for the region. It is well recognised that any influence that any of these countries want to have in the region, it will need to be through the door of Fiji.
Our success in riding out the onslaught of Australia and New Zealand on us in the last seven years has not gone unnoticed in this part of the world.
In November last year a senior delegation from the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces met with the Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) Brigadier- General Mosese Tikoitoga.
The Arabs also met Minister for Immigration, National Security and Defence Timoci Natuva.
The meeting marked the beginning of joint collaborations between the two Armed Forces, following the signing of the Defence Co-operation Memorandum of Understanding in Suva on June 10, last year.
UAE has a very sophisticated and highly regarded armed force.
That visit was not only military focused, it also served as a diplomatic visit. It recognised the high regard that the UAE has for Fiji’s foreign policy and its contribution towards peace in the Middle East region through its peacekeeping missions.
As a result, the UAE Armed Forces has invited a high-powered RFMF team led by Brigadier-General Tikoitoga and his deputy Brigadier-General Mohammed Aziz and Minister for defence Timoci Natuva to Abu Dhabi for an all-expense-paid trip.
The Fijian officers will attend the International Defence Exhibition on February 22-26.
On the eve of the exhibition, they will attend bilateral defence co-operation talks with the UAE Armed Forces.
They will also be there when the Gulf Defence Ministers Conference is held. The UAE Armed Forces works closely with the United States.
Australia and New Zealand have increased their contacts with UAE Armed Forces for strategic reasons recognising Abu Dhabi’s growing influence in the Gulf region.
Their foreign ministers travelled there twice last year. So far this year the Australians have made one visit.
The UAE Armed Forces is very influential in the Abu Dhabi government with many of the rulers trained in Sandhurst and occupying key positions. The President is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and the Crown Prince, the Deputy Supreme Commander (in effect the defacto Commander of the Armed Forces).
Many from the Armed forces occupy government positions.
In terms of dollars and cents, Fiji is making headway in trade and investments areas and there is growing optimism that results will be seen this year.
Fiji had a role to play in a freight arrangement signed between Fiji Airways and the Emirates Airline which will significantly reduce airfreight costs between the two countries, helping Fijian exporters.
Fiji had a significant role to play in getting the Solar Projects under a US$5 million grant from the UAE to provide 24-hour electricity to Kadavu, Rotuma and Lakeba.
Fiji successfully received support from three countries of the region for PM’s PIDF initiative and a delegation from Kuwait, Qatar and UAE participated as observers to the Inaugural Meeting, perhaps a first; two of the countries, Kuwait and UAE provided Fiji significant funding to host the PIDF.
The Fijian Embassy in Abu Dhabi has contributed towards employment of more Fiji nationals in the UAE and this Project continues with Emirates Airline coming to Fiji this month to recruit personnel in a variety of roles in the Airlines and in DNATA, their ground handling subsidiary, in employing on-board crews and also ground support members.
An advertisement in the Fijian newspapers on this will soon be posted.
They will work with the embassy and our Foreign Employment Unit in the Employment Ministry in Suva.
Fiji received a US$50,000 contribution from Turkey for our elections. This was a modest amount but more a political statement of showing confidence in our new Constitution and the election process, from as far away as Turkey.
The King of Jordan has personally provided a scholarship worth US$20,00 a year to send a bright student but from a needy family in Fiji, to study in the King’s Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Jordan, as a King’s Fellow yearly.
This is a scholarship from his private purse. During Mr Nair’s visit to Jordan, the King personally provided a car from his court to him to see the boarding school.
It has tremendous facilities and most graduate for scholarship to good US and UK Universities. This scholarship is available for Year Eight student to take his/her studies to Year 12.
Imagine a simple quiet Fijian student arriving in Jordan and walking through the doors of this beautiful school and coming out of there in four year’s time a very sophisticated individual. The emphasis is in leadership training.
The medium of teaching is English with teachers.
Ratu Inoke said last night, on the eve of Sheikh Abdullah’s visit:
“We welcome the visit of His Highness to Fiji. This is his second visit to Fiji since we established our Diplomatic Relations with the UAE on 17 March 2010. This reflects our strong bilateral relations and our close co-operation in multilateral fora, particularly at the United Nations.”
Sheikh Abdullah will open a solar photovoltaic micro grid project that brings clean energy to some of Fiji’s outer islands, namely Kadavu, Lakeba and Rotuma.
Constructed by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, the clean energy project is the third financed from the United Arab Emirates’ $50 million Pacific Partnership Fund, through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD).
The UAE constructed solar plants together will have a capacity of 555 kilowatts (kW) and will provide more than 40 per cent of the daily electricity demand of each of three islands.
The UAE is one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East and the North African Region.
Contrary to popular perception, oil only accounts a third of its GDP as the Government continues to diversify away from oil and rely on more on non-oil income with the non-oil sector accounting now for 69 per cent of UAE’s GDP of $419 billion.
Fiji’s team to the International Defence Exhibition:
– Minister for Defence Timoci Natuva
– Staff Officer to Minister, Major Tiale Vuiyasawa
– Commander RFMF, Brig-Gen Mosese Tikoitoga
– Deputy Commander, Brig-Gen Mohammed Aziz
– Commander Humphery Biu Tawake Lt-Col Pacolo Luveni
– Lt-Col Pacolo Luveni
– PSO to Commander RFMF, Sub-Lt Warren Thomas
– Captain Mesake Dunitoko