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Thoughts on Fiji

Granted I only had a few days in Fiji, but I had read a lot about it before I went and I thought I’d share a few of my impressions with you.

Fiji is an incredibly beautiful country, the forests are green and lush, the sea is blue and has an incredibly rich ecosystem. Snorkelling was amazing along the reefs and inlets. The cities and towns are amazingly dirty with little to commend any of them for areas of beauty or architecture. The older colonial buildings are similar to colonial buildings all over the world – one wonders if the British got a little bored with the same style?

The infrastructure in Fiji is in poor shape, years of neglect have rendered the road system poor at best. The main road between Nadi and Suva is a two-lane highway full of twists, turns, potholes and speed bumps. It is not for the faint of heart and probably shouldn’t be driven at night unless in an emergency. Many of the water pipes leak and are ignored, some places end up going without water as Fiji Water struggles to make the system work. Electricity is for the most part reliable in the cities, not so much in the remoter areas. The police force is being re-vamped and corruption and poor practice are being dealt with, but corruption was deep and rank and it will be a long time before past practices are abolished.

The main harvest is sugar cane and last year the price of the sugar cane approached the price of production, so little or no profits for the farmers. Rain followed by drought reduced the crop yield and everyone seemed to suffer. This year (2011) due to some poor planning Fiji is importing sugar from Thailand to satisfy local demand. Next year Tate & Lyle have signed a better contract for Fiji and hopefully the sugar harvest will be better for all concerned.

Politically Fiji underwent a coup d’état in 2000 and is now run by Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, who is an ethnic Fijian.

Bainimarama has taken power twice in Fiji’s history, the first time as Head of the Interim Military Government of Fiji from 29 May to 13 July 2000, after organizing a counter-coup to neutralize the ethnic Fijian putsch led by George Speight. He handed power over to the newly-appointed President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. He was instrumental in the rise to power of the government of the Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, but his intense criticism of the government’s policy of showing leniency towards persons implicated in the coup later strained his relations with the regime, and on 5 December 2006, he overthrew the Qarase government and announced that he had “reluctantly” assumed the powers of the presidency. He restored Ratu Josefa Iloilo to the Presidency on 4 January 2007, and was formally appointed Interim Prime Minister by Iloilo the next day. The appointment was declared lawful by the Supreme Court of Fiji in October 2008. Fiji’s Commodore Frank Bainimarama stepped down on 10 April 2009 as Interim Prime Minister, after the country’s Court of Appeal ruled the removal of the democratic government during his 2006 military coup was unlawful. President Ratu Josefa Iloilo then announced that he had abolished the constitution, assumed all governing power and revoked all judicial appointments. He reappointed Commodore Frank Bainimarama as Prime Minister. The media has dubbed Fiji a “Bainimarama republic”, a play on banana republic. (Wikipedia)

Bainimarama has declared that there will be public elections in 2014 and he will step down (again) for the elections.

There exists an interesting undercurrent in the relationships between the indigent Fijians and the Indian slaves imported by the British in the 1880s for the cotton crop. The Indians got freedom and have flourished, and now constitute the middle class, a few select areas of the upper class and some of the upper lower class. The Fijian hereditary Chiefs occupy some of the upper class as do many of the white immigrants, and the indigent Fijians compose all of the lower classes. I realise that class structure like this is outmoded but it is simplest to think in these terms for now. The Fijians resent the Indians’ wealth but do not seem to possess the same attitude towards work, planning, and business. At the same time the Fijians seem to be a happy people, content with their lot in life, but I sensed from many conversations with the staff at the resorts and people on the street that this status quo will not be like this for long. Many of the Indians I met were like the spivs of old London and could arrange deals and the like for you, nod nod, wink wink.

My overwhelming impression of Fiji is of the heat and humidity, there are few air conditioners (none in the arrivals area of the airport in Nadi) and you sweat from the moment you arrive. Food is expensive for the imported goods and pretty reasonable for the home-produced goods. Overall I found the people helpful and competent at what they do, but somewhat limited in their ability to think or perform “outside the box”. Fiji is where poor is really poor and wealthy is very wealthy and never the twain shall meet.

I enjoyed my time there and would love to go back and perhaps work on a volunteer basis, but I couldn’t live there long term and I probably wouldn’t go back there for a holiday unless I was able to afford the better quality resorts.

Hope that’s helpful and I stand to be corrected on any and all information included.

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