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John Roughan: Our Youth, Nation Builders!

Our Youth, Nation Builders!


John Roughan
Canberra
8 December 2003

Solomon Islands five-year period of Social Unrest, 1998-2003, profoundly affected many aspects of island life. The vicious tribal fighting, wounding and the killings of this period literally destroyed the country's economic base, seriously crippled social relations among tribes and people but especially it robbed the nation's youth of their future. Solomon Island society's life expectations have been seriously diminished over these past five years, but youth--young men and women--lost the most. They have been robbed of their future!

Employment opportunities--young people, fathers of families, single-parents, educated and the half educated--dried up almost immediately. Overseas investment money, the life blood of a vibrant economy, quickly flew from the country in fear. Guadalcanal's Gold Ridge company, SIPL oil palm industry and budding tourist destinations, for instance, were literally blown away with little hope of being revived any time soon.

Education, especially basic and primary levels, took a severe beating when the Social Unrest affects rooted in different parts of the country. Even before the first beginnings of the unrest period, however, early in the 1990s, government schools across the nation were already tottering. Newly trained teachers were unsupervised in many village-level schools, students' class attendance was spotty and teacher pay scales failed to keep up with either inflation rates or Solomon Islands dollar's depreciation.

Hence, the twin roads out of poverty--quality education and paid employment--, youth's deep seated life expectation, were denied them. Young people felt their very future drain away. Society's leading structures and leaders were unwilling to reverse the trend or to even recognize the seriousness of the trend. National politicians, the public group that counted most, were self centered, unconcerned about youth problems and focused tightly on heaping up riches for themselves. Churches on the whole had basically washed their hands of education back in 1974, fixed their gaze on other goals--church structures, income generation, etc. Village society, especially land owners and major decision makers, focused their energies on making money through the over harvesting of the nation's tree wealth. Youth, their concerns and especially their future, had been firmly placed on the back burner.

In one area alone was youth participation thought useful. During the Social Unrest's militant period--from late 1998 to the Townsville Peace Agreement signing in 2001--Guadalcanal and Malaita militant leaders recognized youth involvement important to their interests. Both sides needed foot soldiers willing and able to provide fire power for Honiara's fortified bunkers east and west of the town.

Youth became painfully aware that their future was less important than that of the rebellion leaders. The civil unrest activities unleashed by disgruntled Guale leaders, fostered by Malaita's coup plotters and aided by disloyal police officers was not about working for quality education, increased employment chances and working for a peaceful future. It was, unfortunately, more about how to better control the national economy and gain wealth for corrupt leaders. Youth's place in this 'new' Solomon Islands was not about a future 'good life'. It was about the past--how to prop up a corrupt system that rewarded criminals who willingly destroyed the country for their own deep, greedy pockets.

RAMSI's recent intervention in Solomons' history, however, could well revive youth's dream for a better future. If the Solomon Islands people move smartly to embrace nationhood once again and youth join their energies, vision and passion to push this process, then perhaps their dreams of a worthwhile future will once more become a reality.

Youth on their own can not bring about such a transformation--working to strengthen the state to become in time a nation. They must join force with those institutions, organizations and persons who are already working for this same goal. Solomons churches, Civil Society, NGOs and women's groups are youth's natural allies. If Solomon Islands does not become a nation--a melding of dozens of cultures and languages into one people--then youth's future is dark indeed.

ENDS

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