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Kamisese Mara

Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara is considered the founding father of the modern nation of Fiji. He was Chief Minister from 1966 to 1970, when Fiji gained its independence from the United Kingdom, and, apart from two very brief interruptions, Prime Minister from 1970 to 1992. He subsequently served as Vice-President of the Republic in 1993, and then as President from 1993 to 2000.

Table of contents
1 Early Life and Career: 1920-1970
2 Prime Minister of Fiji: 1970-1992
3 President of the Republic: 1993-2000
4 Evaluation
5 Criticisms
6 Twilight Years

Early Life and Career: 1920-1970

Kamisese Kapaiwai Tuimacilai Mara was born on 13 May 1920, in Vanuabalavu in the archipelago of Lau, the son of Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba, head of the chiefly Vuanirewa clan, and his first wife Lusiana Qolikoro. Mara's title, Ratu, which means "Chief," is hereditary. His other title, Sir, is a knighthood granted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. A Rhodes Scholar, Mara was educated first at Otago University in New Zealand, where he studied medicine, and later at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he graduated with an M.A. in political science.

Upon his return to Fiji, Mara married Ro Adi Lalabalavu Litia Katoafutoga, better known as Adi Lady Lala Mara, in September 1950. Her title, Adi, is also hereditary; like her husband, she is a chief in her own right. They have three sons and five daughters. One daughter, Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau, has followed in her father's footsteps and has served her country as a career diplomat and politician. She was Minister of Tourism in 1999 and 2000.

Mara was elected to one of four seats on the Legislative Council reserved for ethnic Fijians in 1953. (There were eight other elective seats, four reserved for Indians and four for Europeans and other minorities; a further twelve members were appointed by the colonial Governor). Mara was appointed Member for Agriculture (officially an advisor to the Governor, but in reality roughly equivalent to a modern cabinet minister). After 1960, he founded the Alliance Party, which, supported overwhelmingly by the ethnic Fijian and European communities (but not by most Indo-Fijians), won a majority of the seats in the 1963 and 1968 elections. In preparation for independence, the United Kingdom introduced the Westminster (Cabinet) system of government to Fiji in October 1966, and Mara was named Chief Minister. Under his leadership, Fiji became independent in October 1970.

Prime Minister of Fiji: 1970-1992

Mara retained power in the first post-independence election of 1973. Internal divisions within the ethnic Fijian electorate led to the narrow defeat of his Alliance Party by the Indo-Fijian dominated National Federation Party (NFP) in 1977. He resigned as Prime Minister, but was recalled after only three days, when the NFP splintered in a leadership dispute. A subsequent election held later that year to resolve the impasse resulted in the Alliance Party winning a record 36 seats out of 52.

The Alliance Party's majority was reduced in the 1982 election, but with 28 of the 52 seats, Mara retained power. In 1987, however, he was defeated by a multiracial coalition led by Dr Timoci Bavadra. Once again, however, his retirement was short-lived. Two military coups led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka seriously undermined the social and economic stability, and the international prestige, of Fiji. Mara was recalled to head an interim administration, with a view to restoring Fiji's international reputation and rebuilding the country's shattered economy. In 1992, he handed over power to an elected government.

President of the Republic: 1993-2000

Following the military coups of 1987, Fiji had severed its links with the British monarchy and become a republic, with a President and Vice-President chosen by the Great Council of Chiefs. Mara was elected to the Vice-Presidency early in 1993. He became Acting President on 16 December that same year, when the ailing President Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was incapacitated. On Ganilau's death in early 1994, Mara officially assumed the presidency. Modelled on the British monarchy, the presidency filled a largely honorary role, but was nevertheless vested with important reserve powers, to be used only in the event of a national crisis.

That crisis came on May 22, 2000, with the Fiji Coup of 2000. Armed gunmen led by George Speight forced their way into Parliament and kidnapped the Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, several Cabinet ministers including Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau (Mara's daughter), and a number of parliamentarians. Speight declared himself Prime Minister, and ordered Mara to step aside as president. Mara refused to negotiate with the plotters, and decided to dismiss the kidnapped government and assume emergency powers. The army commander, Brigadier General Frank Bainimarama forced his hand, however. Bainimarama asked Mara to appease the coup plotters by overturning the constitution. Mara refused, citing his oath to uphold the constitution, and was forced to resign on May 29 and had power over to the military. For the eighty year-old President, who was seen as the father of the country and had led it, in one capacity or another, for some forty years, it was an anticlimactic end. A period of military rule followed.


Ratu Mara is regarded as the Father of the modern Fijian nation. He not only led the islands to independence from British rule, and served the country for many years thereafter, but his achievements in office are impressive.

Sugarcane Industry

Under Mara's leadership, Fiji became a giant in sugarcane production. The sugar industry continues to be the mainstay of Fiji's economy. More than 90 percent of Fiji's sugar is exported. Mara's government led the way in negotiating special preferential marketing agreements with nations importing Fijian sugar, through the Lome Convention.

Pine Industry

Mara is also founded Fiji's pine industry. Today, pine plantations, virtually nonexistent forty years ago, cover close to 50 000 hectares throughout the Fiji Islands, and there is an ongoing programme to further expand acreage in all parts of the country. Fiji now derives more than $50 million a year in foreign exchange earnings from its forestry sector. Of this total, more than half is from pinewood chips exports. This industry now provides a substantial and an increasing source of income to those in rural areas, including especially the indigenous Fijian landowners.

International Achievements

In the 1960s, Mara led a revolt by Pacific Islands delegates that brought about a restructuring of the South Pacific Commission. He also helped to launch the Pacific Islands Producers' Association. This evolved into the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation, which grew into the South Pacific Forum, an association of Pacific nations, of which Mara was a founder member.

Yet another significant Mara achievement was his contribution to the negotiations that led to the signing of a new United Nations International Law of the Sea Convention in 1982.

On the global stage, Mara was known for his strongly pro-American views. He was a close ally of U.S. President Ronald Reagan.


There have been criticisms of his leadership, too, some of which he has acknowledged. Many Indo-Fijians criticized him for not doing more to thwart the 1987 coups which removed an Indo-Fijian dominated administration from office, and for giving his consent to a new constitution, drafted in 1990, which guaranteed indigenous Fijian supremacy and was widely regarded as racist, even drawing comparisons from some quarters with South Africa's apartheid system. Mara has defended his role in the post-coup era of 1987-1992, arguing that he was doing the best he could in circumstances that he could not fully control, and that it seemed better at the time to connive in the writing of a discriminatory constitution than to risk civil war at the hands of ethnic Fijian extremists. In 1996, he publicly apologized to the Indo-Fijian community for his role in drafting the 1990 Constitution. Mahendra Chaudhry, the leader of the Indo-Fijian community who in 1999 became Fiji's first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, has said that he does not agree with, but understands, Mara's reasons for acting as he did, and accepts his apology for having done so. Other opponents, both Indo-Fijian and ethnic Fijian, have been less forgiving, however.

Sitiveni Rabuka, who led the 1987 revolution, dropped a bombshell in 1999 when he claimed in an autobiography that he had carried out the coups at Mara's behest. Mara retaliated by suing him for defamation. Mahendra Chaudhry has said that he does not believe that Mara was involved.

Not all of Mara's critics are Indo-Fijian. George Speight, a commoner (i.e., of non-chiefly ancestry) who led the 2000 putsch, accused Mara of selling the country out to Indo-Fijians, and of working to keep power in the hands of a coalition of Fijian chiefs and Indo-Fijian businessmen, at the expense of Fijian commoners. This view is shared by certain dissatisfied elements of the Fijian population, mainly among the poorer sections of the community.

Twilight Years

Following his forced resignation, Mara retired to his native island of Lakeba. He continues to influence politics in Fiji, where democracy has been restored, through his membership of the Great Council of chiefs, which not only advises the government but has a veto over constitutional amendments and functions as an electoral college to choose the President of the Republic, as well as 14 of the 32 members of the Senate, and has continued to travel the world, lecturing and speaking. He continues to work for reconciliation between the ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities.

Ratu Mara is a devout Methodist, and in his younger years was a keen player of cricket.