Background Notes: Fiji, May 1996
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Official Name: Republic of Fiji PROFILE People Nationality: Noun and adjective-- Fiji citizen(s) Population (July 1995 est.): 772,891. Annual growth rate (1995 est.): 1.16%. Ethnic groups: Fijian 49%, Indian 46%, others (including mixed-race, Europeans, Chinese, and other Pacific Islanders) 5%. Religions (1990): Christian (52%), Hindu (38%), Muslim (8%) Languages: English (official), Fijian, Hindustani. Education: Attendance: Primary and Secondary schooling 86%. Literacy 87% (1986). Health: Infant mortality rate (1994 est.): 18.1/1000. Life Expectancy (1995 est.): 63 years male, 68 years female. Labor force (1992): 264,000--Agriculture 59%, Industry 36%. Geography Area: 18,376 sq. km. (7,056 sq. mi.); about the size of Massachusetts. Cities (all on the main island of Viti Levu): Capital--Suva (1986 pop. 69,665), Lautoka (28,728), Nadi, Ba, Nausori. Population Distribution (End-1986 census): Rural: 61.3%, Urban: 38.7%. Terrain: Varied. Climate: Tropical maritime. Government Type: Parliamentary democracy. Independence: October 10, 1970. Constitution: July 25, 1990. Branches: Executive--President (chief of state); Prime Minister (head of government), Cabinet. Legislative: Parliament: Lower House--70 elected seats (indigenous Fijians-37, Indians-27, Rotumans-1, others-5). Senate--34 appointed seats (indigenous Fijians-24, Rotumans-1, others-9). Judicial: Magistrates' Courts, High Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court. Political parties: Fijian Political Party, Fiji Labour Party, National Federation Party, Fijian Association Party, Fijian Nationalist Party, General Electors Association, General Voters Party. Suffrage: Universal adult. Administrative subdivisions: 4 divisions, 14 provinces, 1 dependency. Economy Industry: Sugar refining, tourism, garment manufacturing, gold, fishing, lumber, small manufacturing/assembly industries. Trade (1995): Exports--$869.9 million: sugar, gold, copra and fish. Imports--$1218.9 million: fuels, machinery, manufactured goods, chemical and food. Major partners: Australia, New Zealand, U.S., Japan, Taiwan, Singapore. Official exchange rate (13 Mar 1996): US$1.00=F$1.41. Bilateral economic aid received (includes technical assistance): Principal bilateral aid donors--Australia (FY92/93 $9.7 million), Japan (CY92 $16.2 million), France (CY93 $.4 million--does not include attribution from $1.4 million regional assistance), New Zealand (FY92/93 $2.8 million), United Kingdom (FY92/93 $2.8 million), United States (FY93 $1.5 million). Multilateral aid donors: UNDP ($3.5 million), other UN ($10.3 million), IBRD ($5.1 million). U.S. aid (1996): In September 1994, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its regional mission based in Suva. The last bilateral aid projects will end in September 1996, although limited regional programs including fisheries, environmental protection and disaster management will continue to receive USAID support. Fiji has benefited from US $25.9 million in USAID assistance since 1977, with programs aimed at increasing economic growth through fisheries and agriculture, environmental protection, as well as health assistance and disaster response. The U.S. bilateral assistance program to Fiji began in 1986 but was temporarily suspended in May 1987 following a military coup. Bilateral funding resumed from December 1988 to 1994. Membership in International Organizations UN and several of its specialized and related agencies, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, South Pacific Forum, South Pacific Commission, Pacific Islands Development Program, Asian Development Bank, U.S.-Pacific Island Joint Commercial Commission, associate member of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, associate member of the European Community. A regional institution, the University of the South Pacific, is headquartered in Suva, as is the South Pacific Forum Secretariat. Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth when it declared itself a republic in October 1987. Fiji's military is a regular participant in a variety of UN peacekeeping forces such as UNIFIL, MFO and, most recently, UNIKOM. Its police force is to contribute personnel to UN operations in the former Yugoslavia. GEOGRAPHY Fiji comprises a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific lying about 4,450 kilometers (2,775 mi.) southwest of Honolulu, 2,730 kilometers (1,700 mi.) northeast of Sydney, Australia, and 1,770 kilometers (1,100 mi.) north of Auckland, New Zealand. Its 322 islands range in size from the 10,388 square kilometers (4,011 sq. mi.) of Viti Levu, on which Suva is located, to mere rocks a few square meters in area. Just over 100 of the islands are inhabited. The larger islands are mountainous, some rising abruptly from the shore to heights of 1,200 meters (4,000 ft.) or more. On the windward (southeastern) side, where rainfall is heavy (up to 304 cm or 120 in. annually), the islands are covered with dense, tropical forests. Lowlands on the western portions of each of the main islands are sheltered by the mountains and have a well-marked dry season favorable to crops such as sugar cane. PEOPLE More than half of Fiji's population live on the island coasts, either in Suva, the capital, or in smaller urban centers. The interior is sparsely populated because of its rough terrain. Indigenous Fijians are a mixture of Polynesian and Melanesian, resulting from the original migrations to the South Pacific many centuries ago. The Indian population has grown rapidly from the 60,000 indentured laborers brought from India between 1879 and 1916 to work in the sugar cane fields. Several thousand Gujaratis from near Bombay migrated voluntarily during the 1920's and 1930's; these migrants formed the core of Fiji's urban shop-keeping and business class. Unlike the native Fijians, who live throughout the country, the Indo-Fijians reside primarily near the urban centers and in the cane- producing areas of the two main islands. A substantial population of mixed European/Fijian ancestry is concentrated in the urban centers and near Savusavu on Vanua Levu. Virtually all indigenous Fijians are Christian, 78% of them Methodist. Roman Catholics account for about 8.5% of the population; nearly half are part European or Chinese. Other Christian denominations in Fiji are Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventist, Presbyterian, Mormon and Christian Brethren. About 80% of the Indo-Fijians are Hindu, 15% Muslim, and the rest mostly Sikh, with a few Christians. HISTORY Despite evidence that Fiji has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years, little is known of its history before the coming of the Europeans. In earlier times, the Fiji Islands were known as the "Cannibal Islands"; today's Fijians, with their open, friendly ways, bear little resemblance to their warlike forebears. The first known European to sight the Fiji islands was the Dutchman Abel Tasman in 1643. European missionaries, whalers, traders, and deserters settled during the first half of the 19th century. Their corrupting influence caused increasingly serious wars to flare up among the native Fijian confederacies. In 1871, the Europeans in Fiji (about 2,000) established an administration under Ratu Seru Cakobau, who had become paramount chief of eastern Viti Levu some years before. Chaos followed until a convention of chiefs ceded Fiji unconditionally to the United Kingdom on October 10, 1874. The pattern of colonialism in Fiji during the following century was similar to that in other British possessions: the pacification of the countryside, the spread of plantation agriculture, and the introduction of Indian indentured labor. Many traditional institutions, including the system of communal land ownership, were maintained. Fiji's revered chief, Ratu Sukuna, fought in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War and was highly decorated. Fiji units aided British forces in non-combatant roles. Fiji soldiers fought alongside the Allies in the Second World War, gaining a fine reputation in the tough Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during that war, but the Japanese did not attack Fiji. In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth on October 10, 1970. In April 1987, the Alliance Party of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, which had governed Fiji since independence, lost a general election and was replaced by an NFP-Labour Coalition government. The new government was headed by Dr. Timoci Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian, with most support coming from the ethnic Indian community. On May 14, 1987, Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka, Chief of Operations of the Royal Fiji Military Forces, staged a military coup. Rabuka's stated reasons for the coup were to prevent inter-communal violence and to restore the political dominance of the ethnic Fijians in their home islands. After a period of confusion, Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau took charge. In September, the Governor-General and the two main political groupings reached agreement on a government of national unity (the Deuba Accords). However, Rabuka objected to participation by the deposed Coalition in the proposed government and the exclusion of the military from the negotiations, and consequently staged a second coup on September 25, 1987. The military government declared Fiji a republic on October 10. This action, coupled with protests by the Government of India, led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth. The military regime was unsuccessful in governing and Rabuka voluntarily handed over the reins of government to civilians on December 6, 1987. Former Governor-General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau became President. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was brought back as Prime Minister and formed a mostly civilian Cabinet containing four military officers, including Rabuka. In January 1990 the term of the first interim government came to an end, and the President announced a second interim government with a reduced seventeen-member Cabinet, devoid of active-duty military officers. This government promulgated a new Constitution on July 25, 1990. Rabuka, now a Major-General, returned to the barracks as commander of the Fiji Military Forces. In July 1991, Rabuka quit the military to become Co-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs. A general election in June 1992 returned Fiji to elected government. Rabuka was named Prime Minister by President Ganilau. His government was dissolved in January 1994 over the inability to pass a substantive bill--the FY94 budget. A snap general election was held February 18-26, 1994, and Rabuka was again named Prime Minister after his party won a near majority of the seats. GOVERNMENT The President (chief of state) is appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs, a traditional ethnic Fijian leadership body. The President in turn appoints the Prime Minister (head of government), who is the ethnic Fijian member of parliament who demonstrates he has the support of the majority of that body. The parliament's house of representatives has 70 seats (ethnic Fijians-37, Indo-Fijians-27, Rotumans-1, others-5). The Senate has 34 appointed seats (ethnic Fijians-24, Rotumans-1, others-9). Fiji maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a High Court, and magistrates' courts. Special magistrates are being trained and appointed to hear cases involving points of ethnic Fijian customary law. The judiciary remained independent throughout the coups and the consequent absence of an elected government. There are four administrative divisions (Central, Eastern, Northern, and Western) and one dependency (Rotuma). Each of the four districts is under the charge of a commissioner. Ethnic Fijians have their own administration which is based on the koro (village). The turaga-ni-koro (head of the village), usually nominated by the people, directs the village's activities. Several koros are grouped to form a district. Several districts form a province. Each of the fourteen provinces and the dependency is governed by a council and a roko tui (an administrative officer appointed by the central government). The councils deal with all matters affecting ethnic Fijians. Principal Government Officials President--Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara Prime Minister--Sitiveni Rabuka Minister of Foreign Affairs--Filipe Bole Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry--Isimeli Bose Leader of the Opposition--Jai Ram Reddy Fiji Head of Mission in the U.S.--Ambassador Pita Kewa Nacuva POLITICAL CONDITIONS For 17 years after independence, Fiji was a parliamentary democracy. During that time, political life was dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the Alliance Party, which combined the traditional Fijian chiefly system with leading elements of the European, part-European, and Indian communities. The main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented mainly rural Indians. Intercommunal relations were managed without serious confrontation. However, when Dr. Bavadra's Coalition democratically installed a cabinet with a substantial ethnic Indian representation after the April 1987 election, extremist elements played on ethnic Fijian fears of domination by the Indo-Fijian community. The results were two military coups and a racial situation that has remained troubled. Since the coup, approximately 35,000 Indo-Fijians have emigrated out of Fiji. One of the main issues of contention is land tenure. About 84% of the land in Fiji, much of it not arable, is owned by indigenous Fijians and cannot be alienated. It is administered on behalf of village groups (mataqalis) by the Native Land Trust Board, an agency of the government. Indo-Fijians, who are the major cultivators of sugar, are unable to purchase the land they till but must lease it instead. The leases have been generally for 10 years, although they are usually renewed for two 10-year extensions. Many Indo-Fijians argue that these terms do not provide them with adequate security and have pressed for renewable 30-year leases. Land tenure provisions are currently under review with the majority of leases due to expire between now and the year 2000. Many ethnic Fijians feared that the Bavadra government would have eroded their control over the land. This was and is a highly emotional issue, as Fijians identify themselves with the land to a degree that most Westerners find difficult to understand. Fijians consider themselves members of the "vanua," a concept that encompasses the people of a given area, their chiefs, and the land on which they live. The word "vanua" is variously translated as "land," "community," or "confederacy of chiefdoms" according to context, but the concept is indivisible. The unelected interim government, without the approval of a national referendum, promulgated a new constitution on July 25, 1990. It provides indigenous Fijians 37 of the 70 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament with the ethnic Indians accorded 27 seats, Rotumans (culturally distinct Polynesians) one, and other races allotted five. In the Senate, an appointed body with essentially review powers and the right to veto legislation, indigenous Fijians hold 24 of 34 seats, Rotumans one and other groups nine. The new constitution also includes a detailed bill of rights, but gives the Parliament wide powers to overrule guarantees of basic freedoms in the event of a perceived threat to national security. The President is selected by the Great Council of Chiefs, a traditional Fijian leadership body, as are most of the ethnic Fijian members of the Senate. The Prime Minister, who along with the Cabinet, holds most executive authority, is chosen by the President from among the ethnic Fijian members of the lower house. Elections are held by secret ballot, with voting only by racial constituencies. This latter aspect is a significant change from the 1970 constitution, which provided for a complex system of cross-voting, allowing Indo-Fijians a say in the selection of some ethnic Fijians and vice versa. The Constitution calls for elections every five years, but the Government may call an election at any time. A snap general election was held in February 1994, after the Rabuka government fell over its inability to pass the 1994 budget. Rabuka and his Fijian Political Party were returned to parliament as the dominant party in that election. Two of the opposition parties, the National Federation Party and the Fiji Labour Party, are strongly opposed to the lack of proportional parliamentary representation for all races. The constitution contains provisions for its review by 1997 (seven years after promulgation). A deliberation process, begun in an expanded sub-Cabinet committee in 1993, led to the creation of an independent three person constitutional review commission in June 1995. Headed by New Zealand's Sir Paul Reeves, the commission is to deliver its recommendations to Parliament on the constitution in mid-1996. Parliament will then consider the Commission report as part of its own deliberations for reviewing the constitution, which should conclude by mid-1997. Prior to the 1987 coups, Fiji was often cited as a model of human rights and multiracial democracy. Even through the coup period, a certain degree of restraint prevailed as no one was killed in either coup. The Indo-Fijian parties' major voting bloc is made up of sugar cane farmers. The farmers' main tool of influence has been their ability to galvanize widespread boycotts of the sugar industry, thereby crippling the economy. In 1991, a Coalition of the National Federation Party and Fijian Labour Party, along with the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the National Farmers Union led a seven-week long boycott of the sugar cane harvest. It was not until then Major General Rabuka stepped in as a mediating force between the Government and the farmers that the crisis was resolved. Following this, the Major General resigned as commander of the Fiji Military Forces and stepped into a government position as Co-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs. ECONOMY In general, government economic policy promotes private enterprise with strong emphasis on export-oriented industries. The government is in the process of privatizing certain government functions such as the telephone company. The government owns and/or controls some major servicing and trading entities, including the Civil Aviation Authority of Fiji, National Bank of Fiji, Ika Corporation (fishing) and the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC). The FSC handles the milling of all sugar cane produced in Fiji. Agriculture is the mainstay of Fiji's economy. Sixty-seven percent of the active labor force is employed in subsistence agriculture. Such activities cushion the effect of fluctuating export earnings, especially during periods of falling prices for major export commodities, such as sugar. Sugar accounted for approximately 33% of total exports in 1993, providing 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and engaging about one-fifth (22,000) of total households in Fiji. In addition, an estimated 18,000 cane cutters are employed during harvest time and the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) employs 3,000 persons in sugar processing and marketing activities. Tourism has gained in importance since the mid-1960's and, despite a brief drop after the 1987 coups, now contributes significantly to the economy. Total visitor arrivals in 1993 were 287,462. Australians accounted for 27% of total visitor arrivals in 1993, followed by the U.S., New Zealand and Europe. During 1993, 42,557 U.S. visitors arrived in Fiji. Gross foreign exchange earnings from tourism replaced sugar as Fiji's major foreign earner, rising to USD 244 million in 1993, with projections reaching USD 250 million by 1994. Various policy reforms have been implemented by the government to revitalize the economy of Fiji following the economic recession experienced immediately after the coups of 1987. These include the deregulation of the economy and the introduction of incentive measures geared at the private sector in the form of tax free zones and tax free factories to boost foreign investment. New projects in recent years have included a growing garment industry, a wood chips mill, a distillery and several food processing factories. The garment industry, which has taken advantage of tax incentives and duty free entry to the Australia and New Zealand market, has grown rapidly since 1988 and now employs as many as 10,000 workers. Exports rose to USD 86.4 million in 1993. The government encourages local and foreign investment to promote industrial development and provide employment. The production and export of copra has declined and has been overtaken by the export of gold and marine products. Coconut oil earnings for 1993 were $2.5 million while receipts from gold and marine products were $45.0 million and $21.1 million, respectively. The export share of forestry products is expected to increase as harvesting of the country's plantations of Caribbean pine is intensified. Timber earnings in 1993 amounted to USD 8.6 million. In nearly all factors of production, Fiji is a well-endowed country, albeit with certain problems still in need of development solutions. The labor force is well-educated, with relatively good productivity and reasonable wage rates. Per capita income is twice that of most other countries in the region. The country's location and trade agreements (SPARTECA, Lome Convention) are generally regarded as assets. The government business policy framework is generally regarded as good. The land is productive, despite unrealized potential due to the land tenure system. DEFENSE The Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) is an integrated, infantry- dominated force whose primary mission is to provide a credible deterrence and to protect Fiji's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The RFMF currently consists of approximately 4,100 active duty personnel and approximately 10,000 territorial reservists. The RFMF is commanded by Brigadier General Ratu Epeli Ganilau. Organizationally, the RFMF consists of eight Fiji light infantry regiments (FIRs) and a naval division. When deployed, a regiment would have three to four independent companies, a special forces unit, engineer, logistics, maintenance, and training units. Two of the infantry battalions are deployed to the Middle East in support of United Nations peacekeeping missions (UNIFIL in Lebanon and the Multi-national Force of Observers in the Sinai), and a third (the 3rd FIR) is headquartered at Queen Elizabeth Barracks near Suva. The independent companies from the 3rd FIR are located at Nadi, Lautoka, Nausori, and Labasa. The RFMF's naval division, headquartered at Walu Bay, Suva, with some 300 personnel, is responsible for enforcing Fiji's maritime-related laws of fisheries, customs, quarantine and immigration within Fiji's territorial waters and its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The naval division currently consists of two coastal patrol craft purchased from a U.S. manufacturer in 1987, four ex-Israeli Dabur-class coastal patrol craft which were built in the mid-1970's and acquired by the RFMF in 1991, and three newer Pacific-class patrol boats which were donated by Australia in 1994 and 1995. Following the 1987 coups, the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United States officially suspended defense cooperation and military assistance arrangements with Fiji. By the end of 1993, Australia and New Zealand had resumed cooperation; the United States has not. Since the coups, RFMF personnel have received training in Malaysia, Pakistan, France, England, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. The RFMF also opened its own company-grade officer training school in 1989. Fiji also has a separate police force of some 2000 personnel, including administrative and support elements. Police Commissioner Isikia Savua, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, has been in charge of Fiji's police force since March 1994. The military and police force are both under the Ministry of Home Affairs portfolio. FOREIGN RELATIONS Fiji maintains an independent, but generally pro-Western, foreign policy. It has traditionally had close relations with major trading partners Australia and New Zealand, although those relations cooled somewhat in the post-coup period. The interim government was offended by those countries' public criticism of its policies and the 1990 constitution. Relations with India have also declined markedly, punctuated by the expulsion of the Indian Ambassador in late 1989 and the forced closure of the Indian Embassy in Suva in 1990. Fiji has worked to build closer ties with Southeast Asia, Japan, and France in order to diversify its trading patterns and sources of assistance. Since independence, Fiji has been a leader in the South Pacific region. While Fiji has taken a less active role in regional affairs since the 1987 coups, regional governments have generally been sympathetic, declining to take a position on Fiji's internal political problems. The South Pacific Forum heads of government rebuffed efforts by Fiji's Indo-Fijian politicians to involve the Forum in the Fiji domestic situation. Fiji became the 127th UN member on October 13, 1970. It participates actively in the United Nations and its specialized agencies, some of which maintain offices in Suva. Fiji's contributions to peacekeeping in the Middle East and Africa are unique for a nation of its size. Fiji maintains a 600-man battalion with the UN forces in Lebanon and a 400-man battalion in the Multinational Force of Observers in the Sinai. In addition, Fiji has sent police detachments and/or officer observers under UN auspices to Namibia, Chad, Afghanistan, the Iraq-Kuwait border, and Cambodia. Fiji has indicated it will contribute police personnel to UN operations in the former Yugoslavia. Fiji has embassies or consulates in London, Brussels, Tokyo, Washington, Canberra, Wellington, Kuala Lumpur and Papua New Guinea, and an ambassadorial-level mission to the UN. There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the country or abroad. Fiji citizens are free to emigrate. About 40,000 have done so since May 1987. Most of the emigrants are Indo-Fijians, many of them professionals. U.S.-FIJI RELATIONS Fiji and the United States enjoy excellent relations. Then Prime Minister, now President Mara was received twice at the White House, by President Ronald Reagan in October 1984 and by President George Bush in October 1989. Then Vice President Bush and then Prime Minister Mara opened Fiji's Washington Embassy in October 1985. Secretary of State George Shultz visited Fiji in July 1985. In October 1990, then Prime Minister Mara attended the first summit of Pacific island nations hosted by President Bush in Honolulu. U.S. Ambassador Don L. Gevirtz arrived in Fiji in January, 1996. The United States assisted with the medical evacuation and care of Fiji's much-respected late President, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, who sadly died in December 1993 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Fiji has expressed interest in attracting U.S. investment. OPIC and EXIM investment insurance is available. Trade between the two countries is relatively small due to high shipping costs and other economic factors. The U.S. was Fiji's fifth largest supplier in 1993 with exports of USD 56.7 million, consisting mainly of industrial machinery, manufactured goods and chemicals. The U.S. imported USD 48.1 million from Fiji in 1993, primarily in sugar and garments. The U.S. fishing treaty in the area has brought opportunity for economic links and renewed efforts to ensure access to exclusive economic zones through U.S. development assistance to the marine resource sector. USAID administers modest regional assistance programs which benefit Fiji. The Government of Fiji has expressed its disappointment with the September 1994 closure of the USAID regional office in Suva. Approximately one hundred Peace Corps Volunteers will continue to teach and provide technical assistance throughout Fiji until this program phases out by 1998. The U.S. Embassy in Suva has a small commercial section to facilitate trade and investment. Principal U.S. Officials Ambassador--Don L. Gevirtz Deputy Chief of Mission--Larry Dinger Military Attache--Lt. Col. Richard LeVan Peace Corps Director--Carolyn Waterman Consul--Nicholas MacNeil The U.S. Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus Street, Suva [tel: (679) 314-466, fax: (679) 300-081]. The mailing address is U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 218, Suva, Fiji.
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