• Fiji Sun
• 25 Sep 2020
• Jyoti Pratibha . Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

Osman Siddique was the American Ambassador to Fiji when the May 19 2000 coup happened, sending yet another wave of frustration amongst the diplomatic community which had wanted Fiji to prosper. In his newly published book Leaps of Faith: An Immigrant’s Odyssey of Struggle, Success and Service to His Country, he writes about his meeting with Sitiveni Rabuka who is today the Opposition Leader.

But before his meeting with Mr Rabuka, Mr Siddique recalled a phone call he made to America briefing them about the overthrow of Government. “Then I called Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Since our standard telephones had been disrupted, I had to make the call from the rooftop of the embassy building, utilizing a makeshift satellite link. The connection was scratchy and I’d apparently caught Stan at an odd hour. I explained to him the situation: “Stan, reports are that the government has been overthrown by some combination of paramilitary and local militia elements. The entire cabinet, including the prime minister, has been taken hostage inside the parliament building. At this point, their fate is unknown. As I speak, the whole place is being overrun by radical and criminal elements. I see smoke billowing out from buildings, and roads are being blocked with burning tires and fallen trees. There are masses of people running amok in the street with guns, machetes, firebombs, rocks, and everything else lethal. It looks like a lot of Indian-owned shops and restaurants are being burned and looted. There are no signs of any first responders or police anywhere.” “What?” he replied. “listen, hold on for a moment.” There was a short pause and then Stan came back to the line.”
When Mr Siddique is able to speak to Washington again, he was given specific instructions by Stan. These were: “Where is General Rabuka?” he asked, referencing the former P.M and leader of the 1987 coup. “Please get a hold of him and determine his movements. Also, is President Mara okay? Connect with him and make sure he is still functioning.” There were a few additional details, both general and classified, and we ended the call.

“The opportunity to speak with General Rabuka came the next day. Ron had tracked him down and he made his way to the embassy. Phyllis Williams, my executive assistant, opened the door to my office and there Rabuka stood- a stocky, middle-aged man with a thick mustache. Both his hands were raised. “Not guilty!” he said in his loud, commanding, general’s voice. “I didn’t do it!” “I stifled a laugh and ushered him inside. We chatted and Rabuka quickly disavowed any involvement in the overthrow of the government and he assured me of his fullest cooperation in resolving the crisis. I took his assurances with a grain of salt, however. We had some intel about recent activities on his island that involved him
and certain retired military officers and tribal leaders. We had no evidence of his involvement with the coup, but I decided to keep him on my radar and closely monitored.”

“What we would quickly learn was that a U.S.-educated Fijian businessman by the name of George Speight was behind the coup. Speight claimed to be a champion of indigenous rights and came along at just the right time. Resentment had been brewing, just as I’d warned Prime Minister Chaudhry. Chaudhry had dismissed it as a “Fijian Myth”. Speight, however, was no champion of indigenous rights. He was a disgruntled, mediocre businessman making a power play and he’d somehow managed to muster up support from some former solders and certain members of the military.” Child of a Bangladeshi immigrant, Mr Siddique was American Ambassador to Fiji when the coup of May 19, 2000 took place. He dedicates parts of his book to his time in Fiji. Mr Siddique’s book can be purchased through