Social Policies in Samoa

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The country case studies and thematic papers in this series examine social policy issues facing small states and the implications for economic development. They show how, despite their inherent vulnerability, some small states have been successful in improving their social indicators because of the complementary social and economic policies they have implemented.


Samoa is widely known as a role model in the Pacific region for its economic and social achievements since gaining independence in 1962. This indepth study traces the history of government policy and examines the fundamentals underpinning the country’s social development progress: the welfare state; social cohesion; participative democracy and the power of jurisdiction. It also examines how the fa’a Samoa, the Samoan culture, and securing external assistance enabled the country to build resilience in the face of a number of crises in the 1990s – including two cyclones and a taro blight.



Political and Sociocultural Background

Samoa (known as Western Samoa until 1990) lies between latitudes 13 and 15°south and longitudes 171 and 173°west. The country is made up of two main islands, Savai’i and Upolu, and two small islands, Apolima and Manono, together with several other uninhabited islands. In pre-European days, Samoa was a geographical and cultural expression, rather than an effective political entity; the country was under the leadership of several paramount chiefs. The late nineteenth century saw the intervention of Germany, Britain and the USA, who attempted to introduce a Western-style administration for both trade and strategic reasons. This did not last long due to ‘internal intrigue and jealousy among the representatives of the interested Powers’ (Department of Island Territories, 1954: 12). A treaty known as ‘The Final Act of the Berlin Conference on Samoa Affairs’ was signed in 1889 declaring Samoa neutral and independent under the leadership of Malietoa Laupepa as king. Following Malietoa Laupepa’s death in 1898, Samoa again became unstable and this gave the ‘great powers’ another chance to intervene.


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