Republic of the Fiji Islands
Area: 18,376 sq. km (7,056 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Suva (pop. 167,000),
Lautoka (pop. 30,000), Nadi.
Terrain: Mountainous or varied.
Climate: Tropical maritime.
Nationality: Noun--Fiji Islander;
adjective--Fiji or Fijian.*
Population (2004 est.): 880,874.
Age structure: 31.7% under 14; 4% over 65.
Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 1.41%.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous Fijian 54%,
Religion: Christian 52% (Methodist and Roman
Catholic), Hindu 33%, Muslim 7%.
Languages: English (official), Fijian, Hindi.
Health: Life expectancy--male 66.74
years; female 71.79. Infant mortality rate--12.99/1,000.
Work force: Agriculture--67%.
*The term "Fijian" has exclusively ethnic
connotations and should not be used to describe
any thing or person not of indigenous Fijian
Type: Parliamentary Democracy.
Independence (from U.K.): October 10, 1970.
Constitution: July 1997 (suspended May 2000,
reaffirmed March 2001).
Branches: Executive--president (head of
state), prime minister (head of government),
parliament; upper house is appointed, lower
house is elected. Judicial--Supreme Court
and supporting hierarchy.
Major political parties: Soqosoqo Duavata ni
Lewenivanua (SDL), Fiji Labor Party (FLP),
Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua (CAMV),
National Federation Party (NFP).
GDP (2004): $2.9 billion.
GDP per capita (nominal): $3,436.
GDP per capita (purchasing power parity):
GDP composition by sector: Services 59.7%,
industry 30.4%, agriculture 9.9%.
Industry: Types--tourism, sugar,
Trade: Exports--$618.8 million; sugar,
garments, gold, fish, mineral water. Major
markets--Australia, New Zealand, Japan,
U.S., U.K. Imports--$721 million; basic
manufactures, machinery and transport equipment.
Major sources--Australia, New Zealand, U.S.
External debt (2004): $112.8 million.
Fiji comprises a group of volcanic islands in
the South Pacific lying about 4,450 km. (2,775
mi.) southwest of Honolulu and 1,770 km. (1,100
mi.) north of New Zealand. Its 322 islands range
in size from the large--Viti Levu (about the
size of the "Big Island" of Hawaii, and where
Suva and 70% of the population are located) and
Vanua Levu--to much smaller islands, of which
just over 100 are inhabited. The larger islands
contain mountains as high as 1,200 meters (4,000
ft.) rising abruptly from the shore.
Heavy rains--up to 304 cm. (120 in.)
annually--fall on the windward (southeastern)
side, covering these sections of the islands
with dense tropical forest. 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
Most of Fiji's population lives on the island
coasts, either in Suva or in smaller urban
centers. The interior is sparsely populated due
to 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 Indo-Fijian population has
grown rapidly from the 60,000 indentured
laborers brought from India between 1879 and
1916 to work in the sugarcane fields. Thousands
more Indians migrated voluntarily in the 1920s
and 1930s and formed the core of Fiji's business
class. The native Fijians live throughout the
country, while the Indo-Fijians reside primarily
near the urban centers and in the cane-producing
areas of the two main islands. Nearly all of the
indigenous Fijians are Christian; more than
three-quarters are Methodist. Approximately 80%
of the Indo-Fijians are Hindu, 15% are Muslim,
and most of the rest are Sikh, while a few are
Some Indo-Fijians have been displaced by the
expiration of land leases in cane-producing
areas and have moved into urban centers in
pursuit of jobs. Similarly, a number of
indigenous Fijians have moved into urban areas,
especially Suva, in search of a better life.
Meanwhile, the Indo-Fijian population has
declined due to emigration and a declining birth
rate. Indo-Fijians currently constitute 40% of
the total population, down from over 50% in the
1940s. However, Indo-Fijians dominate the
professions and commerce.
Melanesian and Polynesian peoples settled the
Fijian islands some 3,500 years ago. European
traders and missionaries arrived in the first
half of the 19th century, and the resulting
disruption led to increasingly serious wars
among the native Fijian confederacies. One Ratu
(chief), Cakobau, gained limited control over
the western islands by the 1850s, but the
continuing unrest led him and a convention of
chiefs to cede Fiji unconditionally to the
British in 1874.
The pattern of colonialism in Fiji during the
following century was similar to that in many
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,
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
the war, but Fiji itself never came under
In April 1970, a constitutional conference in
London agreed that Fiji should become a fully
sovereign and independent nation within the
Commonwealth. Fiji became independent on October
10, 1970. Post-independence politics came to be
dominated by the Alliance Party of Ratu Sir
Kamisese Mara. The Indian-led opposition won a
majority of House seats in 1977, but failed to
form a government out of concern that indigenous
Fijians would not accept Indo-Fijian leadership.
In April 1987, a coalition led by Dr. Timoci
Bavadra, an ethnic Fijian supported by the
Indo-Fijian community, won the general election
and formed Fiji's first majority Indian
government, with Dr. Bavadra serving as Prime
Minister. Less than a month later, Dr. Bavadra
was forcibly removed from power during a
military coup led by Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka on
May 14, 1987.
After a period of deadlocked negotiations,
Rabuka staged a second coup on September 25,
1987. The military government revoked the
constitution and 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 of Nations and
official nonrecognition of the Rabuka regime
from foreign governments, including Australia
and New Zealand. On December 6, Rabuka resigned
as head of state and Governor General Ratu Sir
Penaia Ganilau was appointed the first President
of the Fijian Republic. Mara was reappointed
Prime Minister, and Rabuka became Minister of
The new government drafted a new Constitution
that went into force in July 1990. Under its
terms, majorities were reserved for ethnic
Fijians in both houses of the legislature.
Previously, in 1989, the government had released
statistical information showing that for the
first time since 1946, ethnic Fijians were a
majority of the population. More than 12,000
Indo-Fijians and other minorities had left the
country in the 2 years following the 1987 coups.
After resigning from the military, Rabuka became
prime minister under the new constitution in
Tensions simmered in 1995-96 over the renewal
of land leases and political maneuvering
surrounding the mandated 7-year review of the
1990 constitution. The Constitutional Review
Commission produced a draft constitution that
expanded the size of the legislature, lowered
the proportion of seats reserved by ethnic
group, and reserved the presidency for ethnic
Fijians, but opened the position of prime
minister to all races. Prime Minister Rabuka and
President Mara supported the proposal, while the
nationalist indigenous Fijian parties opposed
it. The reformed constitution was approved in
July 1997. Fiji was readmitted to the
Commonwealth in October.
The first legislative elections held under
the new constitution took place in May 1999.
Rabuka's coalition was defeated by the Fiji
Labor Party, which formed a coalition, led by
Mahendra Chaudhry, with two small Fijian
parties. Chaudhry became Fiji's first
Indo-Fijian prime minister. One year later, in
May 2000, Chaudhry and most other members of
parliament were taken hostage in the House of
Representatives by gunmen led by ethnic Fijian
nationalist George Speight. The standoff dragged
on for 8 weeks--during which time Chaudhry was
removed from office by the then-president due to
his incapacitation. The Republic of Fiji
military forces then seized power and brokered a
negotiated end to the situation. Speight was
later arrested when he violated its terms. In
February 2002, Speight was convicted of treason
and is currently serving a life sentence.
Former banker Laisenia Qarase was named
interim prime minister and head of the interim
civilian administration by the military and
Great Council of Chiefs in July. The Supreme
Court reaffirmed the validity of the
Constitution and ordered the Chaudhry government
returned to power in March 2001, after which the
President dissolved the Parliament elected in
2000 and appointed Qarase head of a caretaker
government until elections could be held in
August. Qarase's newly formed Soqosoqo Duavata
ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party won the elections.
The SDL declined to include the largely
Indo-Fijian Fiji Labor Party (FLP) in the
Cabinet on a legal technicality. The 1997
Constitution states that any party receiving 10%
or more of the seats in Parliament must be given
an opportunity to be represented in the Cabinet
in proportion to its numbers in the House of
Representatives. In 2004, the Supreme Court
affirmed the constitutional provision and
instructed the Prime Minister to offer cabinet
seats to the FLP. Subsequent negotiations
between the two sides regarding the cabinet
portfolios proved unsuccessful until November
26, 2004, when Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase,
of the ruling SDL party, and Mahendra Chaudhry,
of the opposition FLP, agreed not to pursue
further the dispute over the composition of the
The president (head of state) is appointed for a
5-year term by the Great Council of Chiefs, a
traditional ethnic Fijian leadership body. The
president in turn appoints the prime minister
(head of government) and Cabinet from among the
members of Parliament. Both houses of the
legislature have some seats reserved by
ethnicity. Other seats can be filled by persons
of any ethnic group. The Senate is appointed;
the House of Representatives is elected.
Fiji maintains an independent judiciary
consisting of a Supreme Court, a Court of
Appeals, a High Court, and magistrate courts.
The judiciary remained independent through the
coups and the consequent absence of an elected
government. All but one of the five judges on
the Supreme Court also is a serving judge in
Australia or New Zealand.
There are four administrative
divisions--central, eastern, northern and
western--each under the charge of a
commissioner. Ethnic Fijians have their own
administration in which councils preside over a
hierarchy of provinces, districts, and villages.
The councils deal with all matters affecting
The Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu
Vakaturaga) is made up of 55 hereditary chiefs,
most of whom are nominated to the Council by
their respective provincial councils. It is
established under the Fijian Affairs Act and
recognized by the constitution.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State (President)--Josefa Iloilo
Head of Government (Prime Minister)--Laisenia
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Kaliopate Tavola
Ambassador to the United States--Jesoni
Ambassador to the United Nations--Isikia Savua
Fiji maintains an
embassy at Suite 240, 2233 Wisconsin Avenue
NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel: 202-337-8320).
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
Indo-Fijians. Intercommunal relations were
managed without serious confrontation. However,
when Dr. Bavadra's coalition democratically
installed a cabinet with substantial ethnic
Indian representation after the April 1987
election, extremist elements played on ethnic
Fijian fears of domination by the Indo-Fijian
community. The racial situation took a turn for
the worse from which it is only now recovering.
Three coups, two discarded Constitutions, and
political and economic uncertainty have been the
One of the main issues of contention is land
tenure. Indigenous Fijian communities very
closely identify themselves with their land. In
1909 the land ownership pattern was frozen by
the British and further sales prohibited. Today,
83% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians,
under the collective ownership of the
traditional Fijian clans. Indo-Fijians produce
more than 75% of the sugar crop but, in most
cases, must lease the land they work from its
ethnic Fijian owners instead of being able to
buy it outright.
The long-term leases provided for under the
1976 Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act
(ALTA) began to expire in the late 1990s, and
some indigenous landowners have declined to
renew the leases of their land to others.
Thousands of displaced Indo-Fijians have moved
to urban centers to look for jobs, and 35% of
the land has been taken out of production. The
continued impasse over ALTA is adversely
affecting the sugar industry. The Indo-Fijian
parties' major voting bloc is made up of
sugarcane farmers, and the farmers' main tool of
influence has been their ability to galvanize
widespread boycotts of the sugar industry, with
the potential of crippling the economy.
Prime Minister Qarase and FLP leader (and
former Prime Minister) Mahendra Chaudhry have
resumed dialogue on critical issues affecting
the country, including the ALTA. Mounting
pressure from nearly every sector of the
community is forcing these leaders to put aside
their personal differences and work for the
betterment of the country.
The next parliamentary election is due in
2006, although the government could call an
election at any time before then.
Fiji is one of the most developed of the Pacific
island economies, although it remains a
developing country with a large subsistence
agriculture sector. The effects of the Asian
financial crisis contributed to substantial
drops in GDP in 1997 and 1998, with a return to
positive growth in 1999 aided by a 20%
devaluation of the Fijian dollar. According to
the Asian Development Bank, the economy
contracted by 4.7% in 2000, but recovered
quickly and grew by about 4% a year, every year
since. Recent estimates for 2004 show an
economic growth rate of 3.5%. The Government of
Fiji reported that growth was driven by a
recovery in the tourism industry as well as by
improved performance in mining, the harvesting
and processing of mahogany, and fresh fish
Tourism has expanded rapidly since the early
1980s and is the leading economic activity in
the islands. Approximately 445,000 people
visited Fiji in 2004. About one-third came from
Australia, with large contingents also coming
from New Zealand, the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Japan. More than 70,000 of the
tourists were American, a number that has
steadily increased since the start of regularly
scheduled nonstop air service from Los
Angeles. In 2004, Fiji's gross earnings from
tourism were about $430 million, an
amount double the revenue from its two largest
goods exports (sugar and garments). Gross
earnings from tourism continue to be Fiji's
major source of foreign currency.
Fiji runs a persistently large trade deficit,
although its tourism revenue yields a services
surplus. Australia accounts for between 35% and
45% of Fiji's trade, with New Zealand, the
United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan
varying year-by-year between 5% and 15% each.
Fiji's two largest exports are sugar and
garments, with each accounting for about
one-quarter of export revenue in 2004--roughly
$145 million each. The potential collapse of
Fiji's sugar industry, due to quality concerns,
poor administration, and the phasing out of a
preferential price agreement with the European
Union possibly beginning in 2005, also poses a
major threat to Fiji's already uncertain
economic well-being. The Fijian garment industry
has developed rapidly since the introduction of
tax exemptions in 1988. The industry's output
has increased nearly ten-fold since that time,
but the lower labor costs of Chinese
competitors, the softening of a trade preference
agreement with Australia, and elimination of
quota restrictions imposed on competing nations
by the U.S., have resulted in closures of most
garment factories in the country.
Other important export crops include coconuts
and ginger, although production levels of both
are declining. Fiji has extensive mahogany
timber reserves, which are only now being
exploited. Fishing is an important export and
local food source. Gold and silver are also
exported. The most important manufacturing
activities are the processing of sugar and fish.
Since 2000 the export of still mineral water,
mainly to the United States, has expanded
rapidly. By mid-2004, it was more than $35
million per year.
Since the 1960s, Fiji has had a high rate of
emigration, particularly of Indo-Fijians in
search of better economic opportunities. This
has been particularly true of persons with
education and skills. The economic and political
uncertainty following the 1987 and 2000 coups
added to the outward flow by persons of all
ethnic groups. In recent years, indigenous
Fijians also have begun to emigrate in large
numbers, often to seek employment as home health
care workers. Unemployment is high, and wages
are very low. Advertised white-collar job
openings often attract hundreds of applicants,
many of whom are well-qualified.
Other long-term economic problems include low
investment rates and uncertain property rights.
Investment laws are being reviewed to make them
more business-friendly, including a relaxation
of work permit requirements. Investor confidence
in Fiji dropped significantly immediately after
the coup in 2000. However, in April 2002,
Moody's Investor's Service upgraded its Ba2
sovereign rating of Fiji from negative to
stable, noting that despite continuing domestic
political uncertainties, the country's external
financial position had weathered the past 2
year's volatility without significant
deterioration. External liquidity remained
Fiji maintains a pro-Western foreign policy. It
has traditionally had close relations with its
major trading partners Australia and New
Zealand, although these relations cooled after
both the 1987 and 2000 coups. Following free and
fair elections in September 2001, relations with
Australia warmed considerably. Australia is
easily Fiji's most important bilateral partner.
Fiji has recently adopted a "look north policy,"
establishing closer relations with the People's
Republic of China. A significant increase in aid
from China as well as an increase in Chinese
immigration has resulted.
Since independence, Fiji has been a leader in
the South Pacific region. Fiji is host for the
secretariat of the 16-nation Pacific Islands
Forum, as well as a number of other prestigious
regional organizations. Fiji hosted the Forum's
annual summit in 2002 at which the Nasonini
Declaration against terrorism was adopted. In
2002, Fiji also hosted the Africa, Caribbean and
Pacific (ACP) Summit with more than 80 countries
represented. During the ACP Summit, the Nadi
Declaration was adopted regarding economic
cooperation with the European Union. In July
2003, Fiji hosted the South Pacific Games, a
prestigious event that went far beyond athletics
and symbolized the country's return to normalcy.
Over the years, other Pacific Island governments
have generally been sympathetic to Fiji's
internal political problems and have declined to
take public positions.
Fiji became the 127th member of the United
Nations on October 13, 1970, and participates
actively in the organization. Fiji's
contributions to UN peacekeeping are unique for
a nation of its size. It maintains about 600
soldiers overseas in UN peacekeeping missions,
with MFO Sinai in the Middle East, East Timor,
and Iraq. Fiji also has a number of private
citizens working in Iraq and Kuwait, mostly in
Fiji maintains an embassy in Washington DC, as
well as a Permanent Mission in New York at the
United Nations. Although the United States
provides relatively little direct bilateral
development assistance, it contributes as a
major member of a number of multilateral
agencies such as the Asian Development Bank. The
U.S. Peace Corps, withdrawn from Fiji in 1998
for budgetary reasons, resumed its program in
Fiji in late 2003.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ted Mann
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs--Brian J.
Management Officer--Jeffrey Robertson
Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus
Street, Suva; tel: 679-331-4466, fax:
679-330-0081. The mailing address is U.S.
Embassy, P.O. Box 218, Suva, Fiji.