19 Apr 2004

Former Fiji President Mara dies

2:15 pm on 19 April 2004

Fiji's former president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, has died at the age of 83.

He passed away in Suva last night after suffering from ill health.

Ratu Mara was the first chief minister in 1967 and prime minister from independence in 1970.

He also served as the head of the administration after the 1987 coups and in 1994 he became Fiji's president.

During George Speight's coup of May 2000, he had to be taken from Government House in Suva onto a naval patrol vessel for his own safety.

He stepped down as president soon after as part of a complex political settlement, and was later plagued by a stroke and other illnesses.

Ratu Mara is seen as the founding father of modern Fiji and was named the Pacific Islands Man of the 20th Century.

He was also a founder of what is now the Pacific Islands Forum.

A son of the hereditary chief of the Lau islands, Mara was also a great grandson of Ratu Sir George Cakobau the central figure in Fiji's cession to Britain in 1874.

Educated in Fiji and Auckland, he trained for 4 years at Otago Medical School before being persuaded that his future lay in the leadership of his country.

He became the first Fijian to take an MA from Oxford, and read politics and development studies at the London School of Economics.

Mara joined the Colonial Service in 1950 and held various administrative posts in Fiji before entering politics.

His multiracial, but indigenous Fijian-dominated, Alliance Party presided for 17 years over a country which remained peaceful despite growing racial and socio-economic tensions and allegations of government corruption.

It was finally ousted at the 1987 election by the Fiji Labour Party led by Timoci Bavadra.

A month later, army officers led by Sitiveni Rabuka ousted the government, claiming it was dominated by Indians.

Mara always denied claims that he at least knew of the planned coup, but he was widely disbelieved.

He was soon back as prime minister for five years and was made president of the republic when Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau died in 1994.

Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was married to Adi Lala, a hereditary chief of the Rewa district, and they had 8 children.