“Every great dream begins with a dreamer, always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world”
Hariet Tubman, American abolitionist
We must first of all pay our tribute to the then Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, for his vision in 1975 to involve Fiji for the greater good in the pursuance of global peace.
While Ratu Mara has passed on, his vision is no longer a dream and its impact continues to resonate to this very day.
Fiji’s efforts in our quest for global peace continues to be recognised and peacekeeping has continued to play a vital role in the development of our beloved Fiji and in elevating Fiji’s status as a key component of the international system.
As former US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell succinctly puts it, “a dream does not become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”.
The Commander of the then Royal Fiji Military Forces [RFMF] at the time, Colonel Paul Manueli, took on the responsibility of being the chief architect of this new initiative and together with his senior officers within the RFMF put in motion a plan that would later become a conveyor belt of dedicated and selfless peacekeepers for years to come. Fiji is forever grateful for Colonel Paul Manueli and the senior officer’s contribution in the realisation of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s dream.
We must acknowledge the perseverance and assuredness of our representatives in New York at the time for their contribution that would enable Fiji to realise the vision set by its leadership.
Our ambassador to New York at the time, Semesa Sikivou, and Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Berenado Vunibobo, played a significant role in facilitating the efforts by the then Commander of the RFMF, Colonel Paul Manueli, that would enable Fiji to realise a dream, a dream that became a reality in 1978 and remains a reality to this very day.
Once the policy frameworks were finalised, the operationalisation of this dream became a very challenging obstacle not only for the RFMF, but for Fiji as a whole.
It was evident from the beginning that financing this dream would be a very expansive exercise for a young democracy like Fiji.
Our relaxed, easygoing and friendly culture played an important role in bridging divides and assisted greatly in not only overwhelming political support locally but also in attracting overseas support to our cause.
We are therefore grateful to the governments of Australia, New Zealand and India for their kind assistance that would enable the RFMF to equip, arm and train its men in anticipation of its first ever foray into the peacekeeping realm.
The appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Epeli Nailatikau would prove a masterstroke, the selection of the 500 personnel was swift, training was as hard as it could get and on June 10, 1978, tears would flow on the streets of Suva at 3pm as the farewell church service for the very first contingent to leave our shores on peacekeeping took place.
On June 11, 1978, our very first contingent, which became known as the First Battalion Fiji Infantry Regiment [1FIR] UNIFIL left our shores and there would be no looking back.
Lives would be lost, friendships would be formed and families will be broken over the next 40 years, today we stand in awe of our achievement as a young nation, we have showed the world that no matter how small you are, you can change the world if you have the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars, thus the beginning of Fiji’s contribution to global peace with the United Nations.
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