(OTAGO, N.Z.) The following is a public lecture given by Samoa Prime Minister Lupesoliai Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi at Otago University.
Good evening to you all! I am happy to be here to promote the Blue Pacific approach adopted by the leaders of the Pacific to address the challenges we face as well as reflect on how inspired leadership can set our journey on course to catch the right wave towards our horizons. And as is the custom when you are engaged in oratory in the faaSamoa, you can cover your tracks by admitting beforehand that in the course of your oratory you will err even before you know where your tracks will go. So here goes my apology before I say what I am apologizing for. I will not pretend to speak the language of the academics, and I will not create a theory as I do not have many assumptions. But I will speak from the heart and reflect on our situation as small island countries and how we are coping with the world today as well as highlight the case of Samoa and how it has maintained political stability over many years.
While many countries are reshaping the global rules and institutions into ways that might not always support our interests or reflect our values, as Pacific countries, we remain resolute to assert such. What immediately comes to mind is the NZ Labour Government’s antinuclear policy in the eighties that became a part of national and cultural identity and was an assertion of sovereignty and self-determination – and one that was taken up across the Pacific islands region and became a defining cause and concern for the South Pacific Forum – as the Pacific Islands Forum was then known.
The Pacific region is again seeking to assert our common values and concerns. Under the flagship of the Blue Pacific identity, we are building our collective voice amidst the geopolitical din on the existential threat of climate change that looms for all of our Pacific family.
There is polarization of the geopolitical environment. The concept of power and domination has engulfed the world; its tendrils extending to the most isolated communities. The Pacific is swimming in a sea of so-called ‘fit for purpose’ strategies stretched from the tip of Africa, encompassing the Indian Ocean and morphing into the vast Blue Pacific ocean continent – that is our home and place. .
And what is being asked of the inhabitants and longstanding stewards of the largest ocean continent on the Blue Planet? - to ensure freedom of navigation and open skies for strategic access. The precious resources and assets that we have, offer immense value and potential to the major powers of the world. At the same time these resources are the cause for panic especially for countries that have been given to believe “they are little and for too long classified ‘have nots’.’ However, we are susceptible to being characterized as countries that have little, and that we should be grateful for whatever is offered to us.
And I see us increasingly empowered to reject this characterization. We are highly protective of our means of livelihoods, for example, embracing regional action to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries resources. And we are actively asserting our ambitions to ensure that there is inheritance for the generations to come.
But, we are also beset with dilemmas; as we seek to develop: do we give up our sovereignty, our uniqueness? An upgraded port, for example, may bring greater connectivity and opportunities for growth in some ways, but could it represent a ceding of sovereignty in other ways? There is a clear need to reinforce and support existing and promising approaches particularly those that are non-partisan and interventionist.
The reality is stark- we are again seeing invasion and interest in the form of strategic manipulation. The big powers are doggedly pursuing strategies to widen and extend their reach and inculcating a far reaching sense of insecurity.
Our Blue Pacific continent is becoming an increasingly contested space. The question for us is how prepared are we to tackle the emerging associated challenges? Regional and national stability has never been more critical in order to maintain peace and security, prosperity and wellbeing of all Pacific peoples and of peace. Samoa has often been asked the question of how it has managed to attain political stability over the years. There is no straightforward answer. What we are sure of is that, the foundation of our culture namely the matai (chiefly) system has significant bearing on stability evident in Samoa through its collective decision making and responsibilities that extend from family to village, district and national (parliament) levels. In essence we have been able to integrate well the best of our customs and traditions and the values we have adopted from our world without borders. Perhaps we ought to remind ourselves of the potential available to us under the Blue Pacific identity. As the Blue Pacific, we have a powerful voice that we can take beyond our immediate region – to voice the concerns and interests of the Pacific around the world. That is why we have learnt to engage proactively in every opportunity that comes our way. Just as the world was able to see climate change through the lens of vulnerable small islands resulting in the adoption of the Paris Agreement so will we learn to project a voice that will resonate in all corners of the world.
While the world be-labours the issues of security around military might and the wonders of technological advancement in reaching such ends, our priority in the pacific is to maintain stability of our governments and countries. We can do this through a review of our governance pathways and ensure that our elected leaders respond to people’s needs. As well, promote an ocean of peace based on the founding principles of self-determination and a nuclear free Pacific. It demands of us leaders to create time and space for ourselves and our people to reconnect with the values most important to us, then engineer/design strategies and operating models that provide compelling solutions to how governments’ mission/vision connect with our peoples’ purposes, and cultivate greater empathy.
The friendly relations we have with some partners are construed by others as something more compromising and obtrusive, prompting our neighbours that they must speak up for us to ward off the influences we are supposedly too naïve to recognize. By the same token we are given alternatives that reflect interests beyond altruism and conversion of the poor. As Pacific leaders we need to ask ourselves what we ought to do in order to make a difference for us and for the world – and to promote our values premised on peace stability and security.
Our geographical isolation and insularity no longer shields or protects us from the increasingly complex and dynamic security challenges – transnational crime, nuclear proliferation, challenges to sovereignty, and humanitarian crises. The rules based international system is being bent out of shape. Gone were the days when we took only what we needed from our environment; when we were a lot more conscious of the importance of the continuity of our cultures and values unadulterated by the infringing, impinging world around us. Then, we did not worry much about borders because the original migrations of our peoples defined for us our ocean space and place. Poverty was not a part of our consciousness because we cared for each other and the oceans provided their bounty.
We should not be influenced by economic dependence as that is a compromise in itself. We should seek to strengthen domestic cohesion, develop resilience and rethink our governance pathways.
The Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum and I have committed to a vision for the Pacific – that it be a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity, so that all Pacific people can lead free, healthy, and productive lives and integrity for us now and into the future And moreover, we have committed to working together to achieve this vision.
The Pacific leaders are increasingly conscious of and concerned about the security of our region. And we look at security not just from the orthodox perspective of state security, but what security means for us Pacific communities. As we have explained to the United Nations, climate change is one of the most pressing security challenges for island countries – affecting food security, access to safe water, fundamentally affecting our ability to draw sustenance from the pristine ocean and seas that surround us. Climate change is the highest priority challenge facing countries of the world.
And as we work hard to ensure the security of our region, we are also very committed to actively contributing to peace and security across the world. Our countries are proud to offer peace keepers, from our military forces and police forces to volatile areas of the world. The collective commitment of the whole Pacific in sending peace keepers to the Solomon Islands with the tremendous support of NZ and Australia resulted in the success that was RAMSI. The blueprint for RAMSI, the Biketawa Declaration was a product of the first Foreign Ministers meeting of the Pacific convened at the initiative of Samoa following Speight’s coup in Fiji and the emerging state of anarchy in the Solomon Islands. Honourable Phil Goff represented New Zealand at the Foreign Ministers meeting in Samoa.
The Blue Pacific identity reinforces the potential of shared ownership of the Pacific Ocean and reaffirms the connection of Pacific peoples with their natural resources, environment and livelihoods. It aims to harness our shared ocean identity, geography and resources to drive positive socio-cultural, political and economic development. Therefore securing the wellbeing and potential of the Blue Pacific is at the centre of the Forum agenda.
The Blue Pacific recognises the geostrategic, economic, cultural and ecological importance of the world’s largest ocean continent as well as the importance of securing the wellbeing and potential of the Pacific Ocean. This calls for inspired leadership, and a long term commitment to maintaining a strong and collective voice and action on issues vital to our Blue Pacific continent such as we have done for current ocean governance arrangements, establishing a ban on driftnet fishing, lobbying for a stand alone SDG Goal 14 on Oceans and Seas, and reaching global consensus for the Paris Agreement.
These examples highlight the value the Pacific Islands Forum has placed on the international rules based order for protecting and promoting the development and security of the Pacific Ocean.
And then there is climate change and the unprecedented disaster risk events, an existential threat for our small islands that are scattered across our vast oceanic continent. Climate change is a reality that we in the Pacific Island Countries are facing every day. For vulnerable countries the issue is not about setting new targets, commissioning more studies and reports or even more polite talk shops and structured ‘Talanoa’ sessions, it is about adaptation now and long term survival. What can we do now to lessen the adverse impacts of climate change? It is certainly a global reality even for developed countries with increasing incidents of extreme weather events in the immediate past, and the ravages of Tropical Cyclones, jolting earthquakes, relentless flooding, landslides never experienced before and savage volcanoes in only the first six months of 2018. It is the ultimate obstacle to our security, prosperity and resilient, sustainable development.
Low-lying atolls are only a couple of meters above sea level. Predictions from the scientific community put these under water by the end of 2100, if ambitious efforts at emission reductions are not made and innovative solutions to adapt to sea level rise are not realised. The displacement of people will be a norm aggravated by more severe disasters from natural hazards and from climate change. The reality of climate change and increased severity of disasters mean many communities are at risk of losing traditional homelands as rising sea levels, king tides and storm surges wash away the shoreline; and inland communities experience landslides leaving communities devoid of safer and more disaster resilient land. Added to that, are the challenges of relocation and ensuring migration with dignity should the need arise.
We wonder more often now, perhaps there is truth in the view of the skeptics that it is already too late as the world reaches fever pitch to keep the temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees.
Building on the strengths of collective collaboration of the Blue Pacific identity that we have embraced, will ensure that our smallness (as islanders) will have an expanded outreach (as oceanians), and our collective voice will soar above the roar of guzzling fossil fuels and agonizing demise of marine life amidst the mire of microplastics and pollution. The recognition of our “earth without borders” resonates with the need for a global outlook, international cooperation and solidarity, and a shared strategy, to address the challenges we face.
We believe in the power of one, a one voice, collective action. We may not be economic powerhouses in the global order, but this should not, and does not compromise our steadfastness and our commitment to inspirational leadership as stewards of the the Blue Pacific continent.
In the spirit of our Family of nations that make up the Blue Pacific continent – I would like to remember the words of a scholar and poet from Tonga – the late Epeli Hau’ofa.
I quote “Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again, physically and psychologically, in the tiny spaces that we have resisted accepting as our sole appointed places and from which we have liberated ourselves. We must not let anyone to belittle us again and take away our freedom.”
His words are more relevant today than ever before for us as stewards of the Blue Pacific Continent.