If you‘d been on one of the islands or at a resort during the 2006 military takeover you may not have noticed anything going on – it was all very genteel and bureaucratic. Behind the scenes it was a more dangerous game for the main players. Only in Suva would the visitor have seen some saber rattling from the military.
For a country with a reputation for frequent coups d‘etat, (there‘ve actually only been 4) Fiji looks remarkably calm and stable to the visitor.
Fijians, from the lowliest hotel porter to whoever-happens-to-be-in charge-at-the-moment, know that tourism is the lifeblood of their nation. A lesson learned from the 3 previous coups.
The 1987 coups (really one long coup with a quiet bit in the middle) smashed the tourism reputation and resulted in substantial emigration of the Indo-Fijian population – the economic effects and skilled labor shortages are still being felt.
The 2000 coup, when George Speight and his gang took the Prime Minister and other MPs hostage, resulted in over 100 businesses being torched in Suva and sparked weeks of ethnic tension across the country. Holidaymakers were trapped in their hotels and fearing an all-out civil war. Australian and New Zealand warships stood offshore ready to evacuate them. The effect on the economy was devastating. 7500 jobs were lost, so was Fiji‘s reputation as a safe holiday destination.
Human rights watch group A World In Trouble measures the risk of another coup in Fiji as “moderate“ with a “moderate“ risk of conflict.
There‘s increasing international pressure on the Fiji interim government to return to full democracy. That includes diplomatic pressure and economic pressure; foreign aid has been suspended, inter-governmental assistance has stopped, and that‘s putting pressure on Fiji‘s economy.
The local populace has suffered this for a few years, and now it‘s starting to be obvious to the tourist. It‘s showing up in poor levels of infrastructure, roads which are not being repaired.
A skilled labor shortage; workers are leaving for better conditions and pay in Australia and New Zealand.
If you should need emergency police response, they may not turn up because they don‘t have petrol for the police car.
Public servants are poorly paid with little prospect of that changing soon, even though prices are rising and shortages more common, so service levels are falling.
And as poverty rises, so does crime, especially petty theft and stealing from the relatively wealthy tourists.
It‘s now not safe to be on an off-resort beach, especially at night. Locals will also tell you it‘s not advisable to leave valuables on the beach while you go swimming. They say the safest option is to stay within the resort compound during your stay.
Suva has a reputation for being a bit scary after dark, but in reality it‘s no worse and probably a lot better than most average sized cities in the world. There are a few gangs of youths who look for easy targets – just make sure you‘re not one of them (no flashy jewelry, don‘t walk darkened streets alone, don‘t get so drunk you can‘t make a sensible decision about your own safety).
If you‘re on an island resort you might not know unless you pick up a newspaper (that‘s the beauty of a relaxing Fiji holiday). So a day or two before your departure check with staff that there are no problems. If something‘s happened while you‘ve been incommunicado, they‘ll know the lie of the land.
It‘s very unlikely the inter-island ferry services will be affected. Ferries leave from Denerau Marina about half an hour from Nadi airport. It‘s not necessary to go into Nadi to transfer from an island to the airport.
Similarly, Suva‘s airport is about half an hour north-east of Suva city. Inter-island connections by air don‘t require that you go into the city unless you need an overnight stay to connect to an international flight. If the worst came to the worst it might be advisable to bunk down at the airport for the night. It won‘t be comfortable, but there‘s no chance of running into roadblocks or conflict.
If you‘re in Suva when it happens, there are places to avoid (and places to seek help). All of Fiji‘s government and parliament facilities are located in Suva. Stay away from them, especially the military barracks in the north of the city.
In the 2000 coup, ethnic tension resulted in indo-Fijian businesses being targeted, so avoid the business and shopping district in the west of Suva.
But if the worst case scenario happens and there are running battles on the street; stay in your hotel room, follow the instructions of staff and make contact with your family.
Also make contact with your government though the Embassy or High Commission. Let them know where you are so they can arrange evacuation.
Don‘t forget, your travel insurance includes an emergency assistance number. Calling this one number can get a message to your family and the authorities.
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