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John Roughan: Pushed to Statehood!

Pushed to Statehood!


John Roughan
2 December 2003
Canberra

Twenty five years ago, 7 July 1978, UK pushed the Solomons to statehood. Our colonial masters fondly hoped, a dream built on solid foundations, that with dedicated local leadership, armed with a national vision and enjoying a bit of luck citizens would experience the worthwhileness of a functioning state--quality education, solid medical attention, personal safety and security, modest material growth etc.--then nationhood would surely follow. And in truth, up to the middle of the 1980s, the Solomon Islands state was becoming a reality. Major qualities of nationhood were beginning to root..

During the nation's first eight years--1978-1986--the fledgling state grew slowly and began to think itself a unified nation as well. The government made strong attempts to create quality education across the nation not only in town. Medical attention was beginning to reach out to the village sector, certainly not every where but on many islands. Jobs, economic progress and overseas investment monies were becoming evident. However, after Cyclone Namu in 1986, the government's 'two step forward/one step back' development approach was loosing momentum. National leaders could not abide such slow progress. What was needed, they felt, was something more dynamic, more forward looking! They intensified the emerging disastrous program of super export of round logs to Southeast Asia in the hope of, if not working for development, it could be bought.

1998-2003 Social Unrest seeds were sewn during the Logging Frenzy years. During the 1987-1998 decade government and land owners competed with each other to entice overseas logging companies to harvest the country's tree wealth at an alarming rate. Those years witnessed the yearly export of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of round logs over and above the sustainable production rate of 300,000 cubic meters. The Solomons Central Bank Governor repeatedly warned that the economic 'progress' of these years, build upon unsustainable harvesting of the nation's tree wealth, was following a disastrous road.

The national preoccupation to capture great amounts of money through little or no work actually diverted attention from our first serious steps at nation building. Not only were our frenzy logging activities destroying our environment but the national consciousness which was beginning to focus on nation building took a severe beating as well. We not only ruined our natural environment but we sewed the first seeds of societal destruction. These destructive seeds took a few years to germinate and by 1998 they took on a life of their own. Citizens' social capitol no longer invested itself in nation building but actively destroyed the very base of nation building--social harmony, trust, respect, love of the other.

The nation paid dearly for this crop. Over a five year period, a thousand of our citizens were killed, some very cruelly, the nation's social fabric of peace, tranquility and order was literally destroyed, our national treasury, local business and overseas investment dried up and most importantly, we stole our young people's future. Local warlords killed with impunity, strutting Rambos ruled the city and government corruption and private sleaze infected all levels of society. Our nearest neighbors called us a 'failed state' while others just shook their heads and wondered what had happened to the 'Hapi Isles'.

But in a true sense, we're currently experiencing a fairy tale ending. Over the past few months the RAMSI intervention has given the people of the country a second chance to respond to the question we abandoned in 1987 . . . do we want to be a nation or not? Do Solomon Islanders want to be more than just another unstable state but a strong nation? The next few years will sort out those who have made up their minds and opted to build a nation and those who do not wish to take up the hard and difficult task of transforming the country's many tribes into a single people.

The departing colonial power, United Kingdom, at independence thrust statehood upon the country! The Solomons at that time needed to be a state because it had to operate in a world of other states. Who ever heard of such a thing as a village-state? The people made a solid start. Peaceful beginnings--little or no ethnic strife--, economic vibrancy--no crushing debt to discharge, $35 million dollar golden handshake from the departing colonial power and a dynamic people impatiently waiting to carve out their future with a productive land and bountiful sea.

Now, with five years of Social Unrest under its belt, Solomons' people are once again asking themselves whether it's worth while becoming a nation. The answer to that question will determine whether Solomon Islands people grow strong, happy and well or lapse into a no-man's land of lawlessness. We have seen the ugly side of life in our small country. It can happen again and the chances of a future RAMSI coming into save us is remote indeed. No, we have been given a second chance, a second try at creating the nation of Solomon Islands as was our original dream in 1978. But the opposite is also possible as we have witnessed over the past few years.

Nation building is a difficult work with few if any shortcuts. We were well along that road in our early days but were distracted by the lure of easy money. The next few years is like a second independence day. What we started back in 1978 is once more given us but with the vivid experience what happens when a people choose the easy path and forget the hard one.

*** ENDS ***

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