On the 5th of December 2006 Fiji's military leaders declared a coup and toppled the PM Laisenia Qarase. Military commander Frank Bainimarama has seized control of the country, marking the 4th coup in 2 decades.
In 2000 the result of an attempted coup had seen Bainimarama installing Qarase in power. Subsequently, the 2 fell out over a number of issues, most noticeably a disagreement regarding an amnesty for those responsible for the attempted coup of 2000.
So Fiji found itself in the unfortunately common situation of receiving words of condemnation from other world leaders. Fiji's political problems stem mostly from tensions between the ethnic Fijians and those of Indian origin who have lived in Fiji for generations. However, these incidents are not the savage, bloody uprisings like those seen elsewhere. Fiji's political dramas tend to play out as bloodless and contained.
So what is it really like there now? If you were to visit Fiji what images would you see? Would there be violence in the street? Would you be safe? Here we give a voice to those who have struggled to be heard of the clamour of political soundbites and posturing. Below is a selection of comments from those who live there or have visited Fiji recently ...
DTW - Is the Coup something to be feared?
As with a lot of new, small nations, there is a growing period politically, as the country finds where it wants to be. There are often conflicts between traditional, cultural and tribal values and the values of 'democracy' as we define it in 'developed nations'. Fiji is still defining itself as a nation and going through those growing pains. It should be noticed that this coup has been affected over 'cups of tea' rather than use of force. More trouble happens in most provincial towns worldwide on a Friday night than has happened in the whole of Fiji throughout this episode.
The safety of citizens and visitors remains highest on everyone's agenda, as all realise the importance of the tourism sector to the economy and growth of the country. Divers are used to travelling in politically unstable areas (PNG, Solomons, many parts of Asia, several African countries etc). All the above mentioned have way more problems than the situation here. Now all the above really only applies to the capital Suva on Viti Levu. As for the outer islands, "What coup"???
DTW - What about the diving and other conditions at the moment?
We are in summer so the water is at its warmest - shorts, t-shirts, maybe a shortie. We generally get nice, calm weather at this time as well. We are seeing the mantas on a regular basis and a lot of sharks in Nacomoto and Naiqoro passages. As the weather is calm we also spend a lot of time exploring the outer reefs. I can guarantee that you cannot find better hard coral coverage anywhere. There really is something for everyone (well no wrecks, but nearly something for everyone!).
DTW - What message are you communicating to people about tourism in Fiji at the moment?
Come on out and experience for yourself the warm welcome that awaits you in Fiji and at Matava Resort. You really will be away from the rest of the world in our remote and relaxing resort. You really should dive as well. If you don't know how then no worries, we will teach you. After a couple of days you won't know what the time is, or maybe even what day it is!
DTW - How safe is Fiji currently?
Many people living outside of Fiji seem to have the opinion that it is unsafe for tourists to travel to Fiji due to the recent change of government. Many tourists have postponed their Fijian holidays due to the negative media reports which do not truly reflect the actual situation.
DTW - What brought the coup about?
Fiji had its 4th coup in 20 years on 5th December 2006 when the commander of Fiji's armed services, a navel officer Commodore Bainimarama, used the military to usurp the Qarase led government of power. Never before has a change of government been so publicly notified so far in advance of the actual change happening while the 'elected' government seemed unwilling or impotent to take charge of the situation.
Bainimarama told Qarase over and over again what he would do if the re-elected government didn't withdraw racist policies and allow the 2000 coup perpetrators to be brought before the courts. Qarase ignored the threats therefore the changing of the guard commenced early on Tuesday 5th December when the army took control of most of the government.
DTW - How has it affected life in Fiji and the tourism industry?
Apart from a very few road blocks, the military presence did not interfere with the daily life of Fijians nor visitors to Fiji. The biggest change was the way our largest trading partners and neighbouring countries responded, Australia and New Zealand's, unwarranted travel advisories that were really trade sanctions, as well as banning anyone involved in the interim government from travelling to their countries. Neither country made any attempt to gauge what the people of Fiji felt about the change, they just wanted the 'old guard' returned to power. Whereas the vast majority of the population accepted that the change was needed as the Fijian infrastructure had been neglected and the economy mismanaged.
Whether the Qarase administration lost power because of corruption or plain mismanagement, only time will tell. However, the one fact that is apparent is that the 4th Fijian coup was readily accepted by the people living in Fiji.
And what about a word or two from tourists who have been there during this time ...
As you are no doubt aware, the Australian Government had issued a travel warning for Fiji and we were slightly nervous about our booking. As it turns out the coup didn't affect our holiday in the slightest! The local Fijians were, if anything, even more friendly and helpful than we remembered from our previous holiday. At all times we felt safe and relaxed.
- Daniel Oates & Allison Benson, Australia
What Coup? We are so glad we came. Fijian people are beautiful and we feel very sorry that more people aren't coming to their country. We felt no effects of any tension. The kids couldn't understand why we were going to cancel.
- The Dryes Family, Bunbury, Western Australia
This is our third dive trip to Fiji. The first was during the 2000 coup. We felt completely safe then so did not give a thought of cancelling this current trip. Are having a wonderful time at Dive Kadavu. The diving is fabulous the food great and the staff very attentive. Our only regret is that we are only here for 1 week
- Jean & Bob Hansen, San Francisco
Check out some of the ridiculously cheap offers that are flying around at the moment:
Fiji - Specials and Last Minute Deals
Or, for more information on Diving in Fiji:
Dive The World Fiji