Chief KaloriThe problem with having 850 words a week is that I can only say one thing at a time.

Yesterday I wrote about the need for the development of a coherent and unifying political philosophy in Vanuatu. Today, I feel I should explain why the development of such a vision is a difficult – not to say intractable – problem.

This is Chief Kalori of Clem’s Hill. One of the young turks in Efate’s francophone population at the time of the Independence movement of the 1970s, he presided over a community responsive to the French argument for a go-slow approach. As members of a large, distinct minority, they felt they had every reason to fear being overwhelmed and shouted down by the largely Anglican/Presbyterian leadership of the Independence movement.

The French at the time were much more conservative in their approach to Independence. They are presently the last colonial power in the region that hasn’t utterly divested itself of the trappings of overt rule. In the 1970s, the French quietly and not-so-subtly provided assistance to anti-Independence political parties (eventually united under the familiar mantle of the Union des Parties Modérées, or UMP) and supported rebellions on Santo and Tanna.

Picture Kalori, a young man of rank and potential in the 1970s, watching his fathers become isolated and shifted out of power, while young, foreign-educated firebrands radioed political speeches from hiding places in the bush only a few kilometres from his nasara.

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Drowning in the Bathtub

I confess I’ve been more than a little surprised recently to see the ripples of shock and alarm spreading through liberal circles in the US recently. Having won an historic election, progressives somehow find it unimaginable that the Republican leopard hasn’t changed his spots.

How dare Karl Rove have the temerity to open his mouth? How dare the Rush Corps pray for failure? Can’t they see we’ve won?

The Left has won, that much is true. But all it’s won is an election, nothing more. This is not the end of the fight. Though they’ve suffered an electoral rout, many Republicans feel they are still on decent ground, and have every reason in the world to feel there’s no great need to change tactics.

For these people, a failed stimulus and subsequent economic disaster is the stuff of dreams. It’s what they’ve been working toward for decades.

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The Change We Seek

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change.

President-Elect Barack Obama spoke these words to nearly a quarter of a million people in Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois on a night that I will remember as one of the highlights of my life.

Reporting on the event, even the normally sober Economist Magazine could not avoid tingeing its account with giddiness. Shyly, almost ashamedly, the anonymous author recounts how American and international journalists lost all semblance of restraint when CNN called the race. They came tumbling out of the media tent en masse to join the multitude of revelers.

How could they not be affected? Each and every one of us was changed personally, individually, by this event.

But it would be disingenuous for any journalist to declare from the pulpit of their own column, that – just this once – they’ve forsaken their dais to speak as woman or man. I will not do that. I will instead sit down on the steps to this poor podium. Indulge me while I speak from my own experience….

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A Flower in the Dust

[This feature appeared in a somewhat shorter form in the Weekender edition of the Vanuatu Daily Post.]

After decades of violence and suffering, Timor-Leste begins to bloom


There is no view quite so striking in Timor-Leste as a bougainvillea in full flower on a dusty plain. Almost every village house has one, as if to put an exclamation point on the landscape, not simply to announce but to cry out, “I’m here, I’m alive!”

After more than 35 years of violence and catastrophic suffering, at their own hands and those of a cruelly indifferent world, it’s nothing short of a marvel that the Timorese can smile at all. But on September 21st, the world’s youngest nation did just that, and more. For the first time in the country’s history, they gathered to celebrate Peace.

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Voting for the Man

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

The 1990s were a time that many in Vanuatu might prefer to forget. Internecine political disputes resulted in a government more changeable than the weather. Senior ministers fought a running legal and ideological battle with Ombudsman Marie-Noelle Patterson. They were so distracted that they utterly ignored the business of governing. Failure to table a budget in 1996 led the VMF to abduct President Lenelcau in order to force payment of nearly 100 million vatu in outstanding allowances. The gutting of the National Provident Fund by politicians and senior government officials brought angry rioters into the streets and resulted in widespread damage.

This culminated in a tragicomedy of errors involving huckster Amarendra Nath Ghosh, a bogus ‘world’s largest ruby’, and the issuance of illegal bonds that would have beggared the nation. The gemstone is the only thing of enduring value. It serves as a paperweight in the Ministry of Finance.

To the casual outsider, it beggars imagination that most of the people responsible for this ungodly mess still enjoy broad voter support. To many ni-Vanuatu, though, the question doesn’t even bear asking.

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