Politics and Economy
Gaining independence in 1970, the government in Fiji follows a parliamentarian system. Military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who has ruled the country for more than a decade, maintained control of the government in the 2018 general election. His FijiFirst Party won with a majority, but have lost several congressional seats since 2014. While international observers believe the popularity of FijiFirst to be consistent with public polling, the party has used state resources to advance its political campaigns. The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Liberal Party, faces difficulty in gaining support with FijiFirst largely in control of the state. There are widespread allegations of corruption, a lack of transparency, and some repression of the journalism critical of FijiFirst.
Fiji’s economy relies heavily on tourism, remittances, and the sugar industry. Both sugar and tourism depend on favorable climate conditions, making the country especially vulnerable to climate change.
Geography and Climate Change
Fiji is made up of more than 300 islands, of which about 1/3 are inhabited. Most of the islands are formed through volcanic activity. The main airport in Nadi and capital city Suva are located on the largest island Viti Levu. In a tropical climate, it remains consistently warm year round. However, while Fiji remains one of the smallest contributors to global carbon emissions, it faces some of the most devastating consequences of climate change. These changes in weather patterns take the form of hurricanes, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and more. Fijian livelihoods and their economy are being unequivocally impacted, with only worse conditions to come without global efforts to drastically cut carbon emissions and pollution.
European explorers and missionaries of many national backgrounds set foot on the Fiji islands prior to colonization. By the 1860s however, Fiji was attracting European settlers intent on establishing plantations to capitalize on a boom in cotton prices caused by the American Civil War. After conflict arose between Europeans, Fijians, and other international laborers as the demand for land grew, the British established the Colony of Fiji in 1874 in an effort to assert control. The British brought indentured Indian laborers to work the plantations. This led to ethnic tensions, particularly emphasized in the refusal of many Indo-Fijians to enlist in the army during WWII. This stoked claims that Indians were not loyal enough to Fiji, fueling animosity. Fijians that volunteered for the army were offered lower wages and poorer quality conditions than Europeans.
Following independence, issues persisted between indigenous Fijians, priorly indentured Indians, and their descendants. Today, Fijians collectively own 80% of the land in the country, but Indo-Fijians produce 90% of the country’s main crop: sugarcane. Several coups have occurred since independence, largely tied to the power struggle between the two ethnic groups that exist as a result of colonization.