Doing development differently

| 17th August 2021 |
Climate breakdown is the consequence of a flawed development system that we have considered normal for too long.

There is an urgent need for us as Fijians to relearn our local and indigenous values and principles and for these to be embedded in the core of our development and education systems.

The coronavirus crisis has provided us with a unique opportunity to reflect on how we engage with climate change questions and development in general - alongside, of course, its devastating health, economic and social impacts. 

Climate breakdown, as re-affirmed by Covid-19, is not merely an environmental problem, it is the consequence of a flawed development system that we have considered normal for too long.

The conversations on climate change and Covid-19 are therefore not distinct, but are at their core a conversation about development itself.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.

Extractive

Development - as eloquently put by Dr Tacisius Tabukaulaka - is a set of ideas that creates an image of what we want to become. The prevalent ideas that currently drive our development thinking are grounded in neoliberal economic ideologies.

For Fiji and the majority of the Pacific countries, our development system is part of our colonial heritage, and this is evident in the extractive economic policies that have historically driven our development.

Our existing development system promotes capitalistic thinking that sidelines the wellbeing of communities and the environment, and prioritises the need of big corporations and large-scale extraction of natural resources as the ideal pathway for achieving a better future for all.

It is an established ideology that also promotes cut throat competition, rewards and incentivises individualism rather than the cordial and mutual cooperation of all.

At the core of this development thinking is an extractive ideology that promotes and sustains the interest of the privileged few rather than those who have little.

Curfew

There is a growing yearning from communities for real change on how the development system in our country operates.

This means shifting our governance structures and decision making processes, and pushing for bold, fearless political leadership that is committed to a radical overhaul of institutions that are meant to be for the public good.

Fiji made unpopular but necessary decisions that defied neoliberal logic to protect the safety and wellbeing of our people during the Coronavirus crisis.

Despite the economic impacts, Fiji implemented a lockdown immediately upon its first recorded Covid-19 case, forbid- ding travel within cities as well as inter-island travel.

This had severe economic implications especially for local businesses, and even though we have no community cases, curfew is still imposed from 11pm till 4am is still enforced nationwide.

There is an urgent need for us as Fijians to relearn our local and indigenous values and principles and for these to be embedded in the core of our development and education systems.

Investment

Now the same level of courage must be shown in the long and difficult decisions required to tackle climate change.

We need leaders to move away from viewing everything from an economic perspective, and make development decisions because it is the right thing to do for holistic human and planetary well-being.

They must have the courage to say no to lucrative development opportunities such as those in the extractive industries, and ask - for who are they lucrative? They must champion only the projects that place the well-being of all Fijans and the environment at its core.

This requires radical inclusion. Fiji needs to re-evaluate how it has been framing its development questions when it comes to whose voices we listen to, who should be sitting at the decision table and crucially, who is missing from critical decisions that influence the quality of life for all our citizens.

This is essential in holding our states to account to re-prioritise widespread well-being over short-term investment which is anyway soon to be extracted and exported abroad.

Acted

Right now, in critical forums that determine general well-being, it is the rural remote women, the persons with disabilities, indigenous people, young people, LGBTQI communities and faith-based organisations that are always missing - whose voices are either muted or distorted.

It is high time we stop talking about people who experience vulnerability and the marginalisation in societies, and instead listen to them.

When we bring those voices that have been devalued and sidelined for so long into the core of our development solution formulation, new and profound solutions for our development problems, including that of climate change, will begin to surface. 

Fiji, I believe, doesn’t need big ideas to solve most of our obvious development problems - what we need is the insight and priorities from the practical experiences of our local people being valued, heard and acted upon.

Education

Covid-19 has shown us that ultimately, our safety net is our community. Our ability to be resilient in the face of great uncertainties lies in our relationships with each other and our values.

There is an urgent need for us as Fijians to relearn our local and indigenous values and principles and for these to be embedded in the core of our development and education systems.

A famous itaukei idiom resonates for me here: ni dau loveci ga na kau ni se gone - you can only change people’s behaviour and thinking when they are young.

Building an education system for young people that does not follow the neoliberal model of promoting competition, individualism, consumerism and materialistic wealth is key to shifting the system towards a fair future for all - in a way that is sustainable and long term.

This Author

Dr Jale Simuwai is climate finance advisor at Oxfam in the Pacific, based in Suva, Fiji Islands.

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