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John Roughan: Nation-Building And The Churches

Nation-Building And The Churches!

From John Roughan in Canberra
23 October 2003

Did our small nation luck out? How close did the Solomons come to society collapse as happened and continues to take place in sub-Sahara Africa as we speak? Take the Rwanda case for instance. Hundreds of thousands of villagers--the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes--slaughtered each other in horrific ways. They started off well as did Solomon Islands. After a few years of independence, however, their state failed followed quickly enough by society collapse. Could Guadalcanal and Malaita people have traveled that same path? Fortunately society collapse has not become part of the Solomons story. But to think it could not have happened to us, is not accurate either.

RAMSI's intervention has been a great blessing. Within a brief few months, its troops collected thousands of guns, captured handfuls of warlords putting them behind bars and the militants who had been destroying the country by their antics are currently on the run. But the danger of our people rebelling once again has not left our shores either. That danger remains with us until there is serious work on melding hundreds of different tribes and cultures into something resembling a nation.

Nationhood doesn't come automatically, nor easily. Simply because our country has been called a state--Solomon Islands--is far from saying we are a nation. Statehood is about trappings: flag, national anthem, own currency, special laws, having a parliament, etc. etc. A nation, however, is something else again. It's about welding many different kinds of people, separate island groups, dozens and dozens of languages and cultures, into one people. We are very far from this goal.

Building a nation is a difficult task, takes time and above all, the nation-builders must be dedicated and committed to such an enterprise. That is where the churches come into play. Over the past 25 years, the political elite who should have been the lead actors in nation building, have proven themselves singularly unfit for such a task. In spite of state wealth, power and prestige, the masters of the state, its politicians, did not think nor act in nation-building terms. Church leadership, however, in a dynamic partnership with other national leaders must see themselves stepping into this widening and dangerous gap in Solomons' history.

The churches over the past 100 years have proven themselves to be close to the people. Their village networks scattered across many islands, their active presence among the vast majority of people and their moral authority give them an ideal platform to work from. Of course our schools must become more closely involved in nationhood building but that work is long term. The churches must gear themselves up for the short and medium term so that when today's school children graduate they really do find a country that is already traveling the nationhood road.

Refusal by the churches to become active participants in this most difficult nation-building task makes it almost impossible for other organizations or structures--Civil Society, Women's Groups, NGOs, etc.--to do this work on their own. RAMSI could indeed extend its stay with us another ten years, but if society's major structure is reluctant or unwilling to take on the task of nation-building, then a second RAMSI intervention force may well have to be called into help ten years down the track. And that won't happen! Society collapse along African lines could well be our lot next time.


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