Tonga: a rough ride but with hope

– By Kalafi Moala

NUKU’ALOFA: Tonga’s people and Parliament have chosen to base their hope for the country on a promise made over a period of two decades, backed by popular support, and by Western countries like Australia and New Zealand. This is a promise that democracy will bring solutions that would help Tonga align itself with the same values that drive the West, and hoping that the outcome of peace, happiness, wealth, health, and social cohesion will now be shared by Tonga.

Never mind that none of these values are actually effectively at work in the West, and are perhaps even more elusive in the so-called third world cultures that have embraced this offer of a solution by becoming a democracy.

When it became clear that ‘Akilisi Pohiva and his political party, Democratic Friendly Islands Party (DFIP), won most seats for the people’s representation, there was muted celebration in Tonga – but the Australian and New Zealand media together with their respective governments hailed the victory as Tonga’s final crossing from feudalism into a new era of where we now join the herd of democratic island states in the Pacific region.

Any thinking islander could detect that there could be a hint of neo-colonialism here. Apparently “democracy” is the new tool of Western powers to bring all the rest of the non-Western world into alignment with a Western agenda. In other words, it’s easier for the powerful to control the weak within a democratic framework.

This is not being anti-West. We are all under the spell of Westernisation, whether we like it or not. There is much in the West to be admired and maybe adopted. But, we need to look deeper at the core of Westernisation so we can at least come to grips with the nature of the social wave that is sweeping over us in most aspects of our lives.

Dealing with dictators, despots, or feudal-like systems of governance can be uncomfortable and rather politically inconvenient for the West, although there have been many cases when Western powers would back dictatorship and tyranny when it suited their interest. But there is a paradox here that is not so hard to comprehend. Those who push a democratic form of governance on others always seem to dictate life for smaller nations through their powerful economic might.

It’s interesting, and ironic, that this is a practice that is itself undemocratic – that the nation states with the larger economic strength should try to set the agenda for those with less. It’s like the “golden rule” – he who has the gold, rules! The feeling among leaders of the West is that democracy is fine and needs to be promoted elsewhere, as long as it does not interfere with business.

Other nations not only in our region but also throughout the world have proven that an inappropriate application of democracy has played havoc in their social, economic, and political life. Often, weaker nations who are trying to determine their own destinies can no longer use the “no interference” foul cry as an excuse to stop the infringement. The actions of the powerful seem to be saying: “We are here to change you so it would be easier for you to understand us, and makes it easier for us to deal with you. You see, we have our education system, our powerful media, our economic power based on consumerism, our innovative technology . . . all of these to aid you to become like us.”

It is the pinnacle of colonialism: “We can only get along if you become like us! Never mind us becoming like you. We are better, and so we need to change you to become like us!”

Independence and self-determination become curse words to the neo-colonialists of the 21st century. Those values are only possible for the powerful. The weak have no right to independence and self-determination. At least that’s the attitude that comes through the ungodly and undemocratic relationships set up between the strong and the weak states.

The weak, in order to survive and be relevant in a new world order dictated to by those who have, end up being dominated from the outside, with outside values and practices. The notion that this is “progress” has become the rationale applied as comfort to those confused and socially afflicted by it.

This is the backdrop behind the stage where the drama of colonialism is being enacted in our Pacific, including our island kingdom called Tonga.

AND so we are going to be in for a rough ride with this new government taking charge of Tonga. But, we can be comforted with the fact that the Prime Ministership has gone to Lord Tu’ivakano and not to Mr ‘Akilisi Pohiva. If it were Pohiva at the helm, with the majority of his henchmen in Cabinet, we wouldn’t be riding anything. Tonga would have entered a new era, not only of inexperienced and possibly incompetent leadership, but also of a dangerous political agenda that would facilitate the first outright dictatorship in 200 years, sponsored by “the people” themselves.

But why is this? It is because Pohiva and his pro-democrats want Tonga to be dominated by outside values, a system from the outside, and an outside force. Over the past years of trying to bring about a reform to our system of government, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom have always been thrown up on the screen of public debate as the ideal model for us as a poor island state to at least try and imitate.

It is a sell-out and most Tongans wouldn’t have it, despite the fact they have been deceived over the past three decades on the benefits of reform.

Let’s look at what Pohiva said in an interview after he missed out on being selected as Prime Minister. He told the Tonga Chronicle that Australia and New Zealand are not happy with Parliament’s election of a noble as Prime Minister. He said: “Since the previous regime has not been accountable and transparent to Australia and New Zealand with the aid they’ve given, they don’t see any real change.”

“The core issue is accountability and transparency… they (Australia and New Zealand) hate it.”

“Australia and New Zealand are sick of dealing like that with Tonga.”

There are two significant things in these statements by Pohiva: 1) that Australia and New Zealand are disappointed at the outcome of the selection of a Prime Minister, meaning they had an expectation that was not met, and 2) that the previous government is alleged to have been less than accountable and transparent concerning aid money.

The New Zealand High Commissioner in Tonga has denied making such a statement, and further states that there is no dissatisfaction on the part of New Zealand regarding the Prime Minister’s selection. Attempts to verify or substantiate Pohiva’s claims about Australia have been unsuccessful as yet due to the holiday season. But, what Pohiva said does prove the allegations that he values very highly Australia and New Zealand’s position on what goes on in Tonga.

Australia and New Zealand are friends of Tonga, and they do have a right to their own opinions about anything, and in the same way Tonga has a right to her own opinion about her two regional friends. But the question here is why we should care about what Australia and New Zealand think about a sovereign and internal matter pertaining to the government of the Kingdom of Tonga? What right do they have in approving or disapproving our choice of Prime Minister or government?

But then, it is also mostly likely, as mentioned earlier, that Pohiva is mouthing off his own view and claiming Australia and New Zealand as “sponsors” of his policies and agenda. That is a possibility, of course, based on a number of statements made by the pro-democracy leader over the past few years. He often brought out the assertion that Australia and New Zealand have his political interests in mind.

In any case, what Pohiva’s pro-democrats offered Tonga was inexperience and a fragmented outlay of a political agenda that would have taken Tonga to depths of difficulties unknown before.

But they had something powerful going for them. They had 31% of those who voted believed and embraced their brand of democracy.

When asked what were his plans for the new Government if he became Prime Minister, Mr Pohiva replied that there were two key things they will do immediately: 1) To review the current reform legislations and amend those that needed to be amended. In other words, “We will reform the reform we have put in place!” 2) We need to find out what money, if any, is left in the Government coffers. (They don’t need to “find out” . . . the records are there.)

There was no plan for the future from a government under his leadership. It would have been like giving a kid a hunting gun and telling him to enjoy it. He has no idea whatsoever what the gun is for. All he knows is that he has a gun and has the power to use it.

But God has acted graciously to give Tonga an opportunity to think soberly, to dig deep into the values that have guided her during the past 180 years or so. We must not allow “outside forces” to determine how we govern and live our lives for the next decades. We need to determine our own destiny. We need to rise as Tongans whose ancestors navigated and sustained life in these coral reef islands for centuries and do something that will sustain us for the next century without becoming slaves of neo-colonialism in the process.

The new government under Lord Tu’ivakano’s leadership is in for a rough ride. But, at least we are at the helm of our ride, determining where we want to go. The challenges are looming but they can be overcome, not with the solutions of the West or the East, but with our own solutions. Tonga is not without its own solutions to its own problems. We need the support and the encouragement to find a way to fixing our problems ourselves, and to keep our integrity in place in the process.

We need to begin 2011 with a pledge of allegiance to our own values that are pinned to a spirituality based on Biblical truths. We need to set aside short-sighted and self-centred agendas so we can unite together to move our “vaka” forward. And we need to use our training, our God-given gifts, and the opportunities before us, to build a nation not only for our generation but also for generations to come.

There are some serious concerns, however, in regards to the kind of ride we may be getting in the next four years. We can deduce this from the hidden policies embedded in so many speeches, declarations, and campaign promises.

Whatever it is we need to do, we must be pro-Tonga. For doing so is to be proud of whom we are – our history, our future as determined by our present positive participation in bringing about the necessary reform.

29 Responses to Tonga: a rough ride but with hope

  1. BTMaile says:

    Like any other journey, ours must start with taking one step at a time.

  2. Matt says:

    Thank you for posting and I think in line with you. Tonga for Tonga and please leave the west out of our business. Can you write more of these post in the NZ and Aust Herald for all Tongans and the west to read. Even better also in the Tongan papers for my mum and dad to read.

    Explaining this to my folks is hard, getting them to read it in Tongan will make them understand……. Please do write more……


  3. Nigel Randell says:

    There is absolutely no hint of ‘neocolonialism’ in congratulating a country that has made a peaceful transition to a more representative form of government. As for your contention that “it’s easier for the powerful to control the weak within a democratic framework”, perhaps you should ask the people of Southern Sudan or Tunisia whether they agree – or Libya, Belarus, North Korea Chad, Mauritania etc.
    As for your comment that “the weak have no right to independence and self-determination – How on earth would they achieve that except through the ballot box which, of course, is the cornerstone of a democracy. It really is a nonsense to knock the democratic process. What would you suggest? A feudal system? A one party state? A communist dictatorship? A military Junta?

  4. Nigel Randell says:


    As for your earlier statement that “peace, happiness, health, wealth and social cohesion do not work in the west”, ask Turkey and Lithuania who are desperate to join the European Union but can only do so if they fulfill certain basic standards – a free media, an independent judiciary, no persecution of minorities, universal suffrage, no political interference from the church or armed forces, equal rights for women in marriage and property, etc.
    Turning closer to home you point out the lack of ministerial experience of the Democracy Party and you say that a party with a political agenda would introduce an “outright dictatorship”. This is an inaccurate, intemperate and divisive statement to make at a time when this country desperately needs to search for a consensus and a period of quiet reflection.

  5. Nigel Randell says:

    I would hope that you will be man enough to print the above, but I doubt it -sadly

    • Sione Loma says:

      Agree with principles of democracy and maybe useful for Tonga. However, Akilisi & his so called ‘Temokalati party’ donot stand for it. They are an illiterate, insecure, inexperienced [ no big business,legal, managerial or executive knowhow ] mob hell-bent on changing govt., any government. They donot care about Tonga, its people and any consequences of their actions. They donot have any idea or a master-plan on how to take over & run the govt. of Tonga.
      After these past 3 and half decades we are deafened / deadened by their empty rhetorics – RTA forced to close [Royal Tonga Airlines - did they have any alternative plan when it was closed], burning & destruction of Nukualofa [ did they have ' an answer to step in when all else was in chaos?]. Seems like a childlike ideal – burn & destroy – new proletariat emerge!
      Really Akilisi & his mob should own up & call it quits. They donot have it or the knowhow. Stop confusing the people!?
      The new pre-election ‘ peoples’ candidates who blindly joined this’ democratic party ‘ [ Steven Halapua, Sika, Latu, etc ] should pull out [ like those more rounded experienced 'independents' ]and form a more coherent peoples’ representative gp. that can effectively ‘manage’ & jointly share in the government of the people of Tonga [ local & overseas needless to say ].
      Nigel, I’m afraid there are lots of ‘expatriate’ Tongans who read & sense what you are saying.
      But I see some of your arguments with very great reservations. May I point out that Akilisi & party is the first to be thrown out! They are pseudo-communist half baked democratic political wannabees that have fooled NZ & Australian govts. of recent past I’m afraid to say.

  6. Matt says:


    You sound like some one stright out from the west who has no understanding of other countrys rules……it is true……Neo-Colonialism, you cant see it they hide it by saying its Democracy….

  7. Nigel Randell says:

    I’m saddened by the language that is being used. To talk about a party that won so many seats as being a ‘psuedo communist’ “mob” who ‘”don’t care about Tonga” seems a little extreme. Are you saying that the thousands who voted for the party were being hoodwinked?

    As for the charge that democracy equals neo-colonialism …well that leaves me speechless!

  8. Sione Loma says:

    I’m saying that Pohiva & his so-called paati ‘Temokalati’ were only voted in by default this time.
    For 25 yrs. they’ve been dominating the peoples’ vote in elections. This time, in a reformed ‘democratic’ internationally observed election, they won only 30% when there was a 90% poll attendance!? More than 2/3rds of Tonga’s voters were & are certainly not hoodwinked! Their faults? -I’ve alluded to a few of them already.
    Neo-colonialism in the guise of democracy?

  9. Freddy says:

    Good article.. neocolonialism in the guise of Democracy??” totally argree “Democracy is a new tool for neocolonialism”… we the people of Tonga should be aware of that fact that you have brought up in this article. We must not be dictated by anybody ….thank God the leadership of our new reformed goverment did not fell to the wrong hands…I believe that Lord Tu’ivakano and his team will lead Tonga smoothly out this tough times for sure….May God bless Tonga as always.

  10. Tonga says:

    First and foremost, blogs are no place to hold council meetings. In addressing the article, main message I received was “Keep the West at bay, Tonga’s heart at Helm”. The author is justified in his opinion as is every other person in Tonga but that is what we must keep in mind is how well or accurate these “representatives” are representing the voice of the people. That is where people like Dr. Pohiva stem from, a long line of dissatisfaction with the government and lack of transparency. We cannot blame the people for speaking out for the case usually is that those who have been chosen to speak respectively on their behalf or beliefs have silenced or ignored them. From what I’ve been keeping up with, Dr. Pohiva has asked for more transparency and accountability. If that is not fair, if that is not justified then there is no essence of truth within the Tongan government then might, intimidation and hierarchical power. If systems of governance do not coincide with the will of its’ constituents for transparency and accountability then there will always be reforms on the horizon. Someone’s got to give a little here instead of yelling from rooftop to rooftop, sadly the common people are just easy targets to exploit especially when many do not have the privilege to speak up or access to information to understand the issues that affect their daily lives.

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