Fiji will take on its role as the chair of G77 – a significant group of developing nations from across the world – this year. It was elected to the post on September 28 last year at the United Nations in New York.

The country’s election as chair of the grouping is yet another testament to the widely held – and growing – perception about it as a nation of possibilities, one with great potential. For long it has been a regional powerhouse brimming with promise next only to Papua New Guinea and because of its location as the gateway to both Melanesia and Polynesia and its rich and eventful colonial history, it has always retained its importance in geopolitics and regional logistics. This is despite the serious political controversies that have repeatedly dogged it since its independence as a sovereign nation.

This latest recognition is a tremendous boost for the country’s global standing. For it is at the helm of an organisation that has the membership of no fewer than 132 developing nations across the world – up from 77 when it started out, hence the name.

Some of these nations are proudly powering their way to prosperity today, lifting millions of their citizens out of poverty as they grow their economies at a rate that developed nations can only dream of in the post global financial crisis world. A few among the member countries are even considered to be transitional economies – fast growing economies that are seen to be making the transition from poverty to wealth, going up the development ladder. India and China belong to this grouping, as does Brazil.

The grouping came into existence almost five decades ago in 1964 with 77 founding member nations. That coming together symbolised a shared resolve among those founder member nations to unite and make their voice heard among the countries of the world in matters of trade, economics and human development. It now comprises 132 member nations from every corner of the world. Over the decades, it has become a force to be reckoned with – an organisation that can hold a candle to other groupings of wealthier nations like the Organisation of Economic Cooperation & Development, better known by its acronym OECD.

That is an enviable space for Fiji to be in: the first-ever Pacific islands nation to take on the role. Fiji’s appointment is endorsement of the country’s rising importance as perceived in international circles despite its ongoing political problems that have resulted in many international organisations like the Commonwealth and regional ones like the Pacific Islands Forum suspending its membership. This indeed sets the cat among the pigeons and regional and global hawks are unlikely to find this new endorsement palatable.

Being the first country from the region, it can now help train the world’s attention on it and raise its profile in the international discourse – something that is a rarity for the region given its political and economic light weight, not to mention its remoteness from the centres of big action in the world. Fiji’s political problems notwithstanding, it is a significant development for the region’s nations – especially the small island states that depend so heavily on Fiji for international freight and passenger links. Anything that favours Fiji helps them. This is despite Fiji not officially being a part of the Pacific Islands forum as of now.

Critics of Fiji, especially a country like Samoa, are unlikely to take kindly to this development and will understandably wonder what is the X-factor that Fiji possesses, which repeatedly brings such international recognition its way, despite its continuing political problems and being treated as a pariah by regional organisations for years. To the critics of Fiji’s politics it would be hard to accept such an accolade as the country being appointed chair of the G77. They have no choice but to grudgingly admit that the reasons for Fiji’s importance can hardly be overstated: it has always been and will always be a geopolitically important country being situated in the place that it is.

Its ongoing political uncertainties, however, have pushed it in and out of the diplomatic doghouse of western nations. It’s most recent episode which has been unfolding since December 2006 has seen itself diplomatically cut off from its two closest western nations although ongoing, even deepening, business interests of Australia and new Zealand in Fiji have kept the commercial relationships relatively intact. Calls from idealistic activists to put Fiji off the holiday list have gone completely unheeded – in fact, tourism has continuously grown year on year. That indeed is the lure of Fiji.

All this just goes on to show the tremendous potential that Fiji has. It always had potential but has been prevented from any smooth run on the road to economic development and prosperity by a series of political speed bumps every so often.
For far too long has the country been all dressed up with nowhere to go.
With so much going for Fiji, it is hardly difficult to imagine what it can be like if it sorts out its political mess. It has the potential to regain its status as the jewel of the South Pacific that it always was. It could well grow to be one of the world’s most desired locations – not just for holidays but also for doing business and even living, not unlike some of the small wealthy island nations in the northern hemisphere.

Next year could well be a watershed year for Fiji. It could be the turning point it has been looking for in decades. It is the year that it has the chance to make a choice between spluttering along the dirt track that it has trodden all these past years or change gears to cruise toward the prosperity that so clearly lies ahead, if it can only drive itself in the right manner led by a legitimately elected leader and government.

The regime’s leaders cannot afford to belie the growing confidence that the world has been reposing in the country’s ability to return to democracy. A couple of false moves is all that is required to push the country back into the quagmire it has so often found itself in, in its brief history since independence.