(OLDIE!) Review: “Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State” – Michael C. Howard

(This is an OLDIE – an old review from years ago! My views and opinions might have changed since then.)

Michael Howard’s “Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State” provides interesting insight into Fijian and Pacific politics, despite its liberal weaknesses. Fiji, the author argues, is no democratic and racial paradise but rather is an extremely divided country, a fact that the country’s repeated military coups in the 1980s and early 2000s serve to highlight.

Fijians are divided by class, between workers and capitalists; by race, between indigenous or native Fijians, Indo-Fijians (the descendants of slaves/indentured servants the British brought to Fiji from India), and Europeans; by region, especially between East and West, the Eastern chiefly elite historically having collaborated with British colonialism and having close relations with Tonga, and the Western chiefly elite having distinguished itself by its resistance to colonialism; and by rank, between commoners and the chiefly elite.

Reading this book, I couldn’t help but find parallels between the power struggles within Fiji since independence in 1970 and those in South Africa and Israel, which Fiji’s conservative leaders have cultivated close relations with. The apartheid aims of the ultra-nationalist Taukei movement, which conservative leaders such as former PM Mara cultivated for decades, and those in the Fijian military are identical to apartheid South Africa and Zionists in Israel. (It is interesting to note that former Fijian soldiers, like former apartheid-era South African soldiers, have frequently been recruited as mercenaries to serve in U.S.-led wars.)

The biggest weakness with the book is the author’s excessive dependence and focus on electoral politics and individuals. His analysis of Fijian politics would be far more interesting — and more complete — if the issue of class was raised more frequently in relation to Fiji’s repeated military coups, not just race.

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