Samoa PM Tuila’epa — ‘the standout leader of his generation’

In 2012, when Samoa celebrated 50 years of independence, Victoria University awarded an honorary doctorate to Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Samoa’s longest serving prime minister.

The citation noted that Tuila’epa had “presided over the most politically and economically stable and successful small democratic country in the Pacific”.

“He is, quite simply, the most successful, the most eminent, and the most popular democratically elected politician in the Pacific.”

Despite vocal criticism from some journalists and academics, that popularity has hardly waned. At Samoa’s last general election, in 2016, Tuila‘epa’s Human Rights Protection Party won 47 of 50 parliamentary seats.

Tuila’epa, 72, has been prime minister since late 1998. He’d served a long apprenticeship as Minister of Finance and loyal lieutenant under his predecessor Tofilau Eti Alesana.

Pālemia, Tuila’epa’s memoir written with Peter Swain and published by Victoria University Press, was launched this month in Auckland and Wellington. It follows Tuila’epa’s journey from the isolated village of Lepā, to school in Apia, and then Auckland, and his career both on the world stage and back home in Samoa.

Peter Swain, a Wellingtonian who’s worked for many years in development and is married to the former Labour MP Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, interviewed Tuila’epa over several years to capture his story in his own words.

There have been few political biographies of Pacific Island leaders, he writes.

“The second generation of Pacific Island political leaders has faced many complex issues as the post-independence honeymoon glow faded and the realities of leading small island nations with limited resources, in a globalising world and during difficult times, set in.

“Prime Minister Tuila‘epa is the standout leader of his generation and his story has many resonances beyond Samoa.”

There are many New Zealand connections.

Tuila’epa studied in New Zealand, spending a year at St Paul’s College in Ponsonby, Auckland, in preparation for Auckland University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce in 1968, and a master’s in 1969.

Tuila’epa is a matai who holds eight titles, and is deeply grounded in fa’a-Samoa. He is a devout Catholic, and a father of eight. Continue reading


  • E-Tangata article by Peter Swain, who has written extensively on the Pacific and is an Honorary Research Associate in Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.
  • Image: Samoa Observer

News category: Features.

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