How times have changed. When it comes to the relationship between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama, the transformation has been enormous.
Today it is absolutely impossible to ignore.
It’s probably fair to say that they have gone from the worst of regional political rivals to the best of friends. At least that’s what the images being captured and shared with the world from Fiji tell us. Take a look for yourself on the front page of the newspaper you are reading.
Two men who have obviously matured enough over the years to show respect and be civil to one another despite the very stormy start to their relationship.
Those who follow regional politics closely will know that Tuilaepa and Bainimarama have a history of verbal rivalry.
You see, it wasn’t that long ago they were calling each other all sorts of names. Some of the descriptive words just make you cringe.
Seen as one of the longest serving leaders in the Pacific, it wasn’t unusual for Tuilaepa to refer to Bainimarama as “young”, “stupid” and “immature”.
At one time, Tuilaepa said the former Military chief, who took over power in Fiji with a military coup before he was eventually elected, was a silly little boy who knew nothing about diplomacy. He added that all he did was play drums and train to be a military man.
“I consider Baini as fresh, young, because the words he mentioned of another leader are not the words of a mature leader,” Tuilaepa said. “They are the words of a young and rough, still to develop into maturity, so I give him that benefit.”
Bainimarama did not take lightly to the comments of course. He was only too happy to give back to Tuilaepa, comparing the Samoan Prime Minister to a yapping lapdog who couldn’t keep his mouth closed.
“You know he’s the only prime minister that attacks everyone, left, right and centre,” Bainimarama said at the time.
“He attacks his dog, he attacks his rugby team, he attacks everything he can get his hands on. But we’ve heard this yapping from the Samoan lapdog before, for a long time, day in day out and it really means nothing.”
“He’s talking about me playing drums. At least I can play an instrument. All he can do is bark and dance to tunes until they feed him again.”
They said a whole lot more but we’ll stop here. Keep in mind that this is only three years ago.
But then people change and whatever happened between then and now has been nothing but remarkable. It needed to happen. The fact is that the relationship between Fiji and Samoa is bigger than any personal opinions between Tuilaepa and Bainimarama. The two countries are all part of the Pacific family who has a shared history that goes far beyond Tuilaepa and Bainimarama. Which is why it is wonderful to witness the developments we are seeing today.
It goes without saying that Tuilaepa’s official visit to Fiji this week where he has been accorded all the privileges by Bainimarama and his government is a wonderful gesture. We can learn so much from one another. There is much to be gained from working together towards a common purpose.
When it comes to Samoa and Fiji’s place in the Pacific region, both countries and their leaders demand respect. That’s because they are elder statesmen who have played a critical role in the development of this part of the world.
Bainimarama touched on it when he welcomed Tuilaepa. Said the Fiji Prime Minister: “When Fiji and Samoa assume global leadership, when we welcome global gatherings or when we speak in global forums, we speak for Fijians, we speak for Samoans, we speak for Tongans, Tuvaluans, and Solomon Islanders, and we speak for every woman, man and child in the Pacific.”
“As Commonwealth members, as champions on climate change and oceans preservation, as committed partners in regional security and development, our successes are collective, and our future is shared. For those reasons, and so many others, I know our nations shall always remain totally and completely committed to each other’s success.”
Well we couldn’t agree more. Samoa and Fiji have much to help each other. Samoa can definitely learn from Fiji in terms of running a successful national airline and how to play some winning rugby.
Bainimarama on the other hand can do with some pointers from Tuilaepa on how he can keep power for as long as possible. There is a lot to talk about.
Today, we leave the last word to Tuilaepa’s host. As if rolling out the red carpet for his Samoa’s Prime Minister was not enough, Bainimarama yesterday took to Twitter to post: “In the Pacific, we leave our rivalries on the rugby field. The only prize that matters is the quality future we secure for our citizens. We will continue to speak loudly, clearly and together with our friends from Samoa to protect the best interests of every Pacific Island.”
Well said, Bainimarama!
We note Tuilaepa has already invited him to Samoa to reciprocate the gesture.
Have a great Wednesday Samoa, God bless!