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John Roughan: First Things First!

First Things First!

John Roughan
27 April 2004 - Honiara

On the battlefield, the first work doctors and medical personnel do is to separate those who have been slightly wounded from those who have been seriously hurt. They do not simply lump all wounded together and treat all the same way. No, they first identify the really badly hurt from those who, with a bit of medical attention, will make it. Over the past five years, during the Social Unrest period of 1998-2003, some parts of our country were terribly hurt while others suffered only slightly.

The country is now experiencing its recovery phase. RAMSI's intervention has given us a chance to respond to all groups of people, areas and sections which were hurt, who suffered a bit and those who suffered greatly. During the recent past, it was impossible for the government to do much about those who had lost loves ones, had homes destroyed, lost jobs and had lives turned up side down. But RAMSI came in, picked up thousands of guns, jailed warlords and brought peace and order back to daily living both in town but especially in the village. But as on a battlefield, not everyone in the Solomons suffered the same.

Over our five-year Social Unrest period, most Solomon Islanders saw their quality of life fall. Schools didn't function well, clinics hardly opened, jobs dried up and normal everyday life became hard and difficult. But in certain areas dozens and dozens of people died not from medical neglect but who were tortured and later gunned down or butchered. These people's quality of life didn't simply go down, it disappeared. Some were murdered in cold blood . . . Fr. Geve, the Melanesian Brothers, ordinary village folk, etc.

In a real sense, Guadalcanal's Weather Coast came close to society collapse. While the nation experienced failure of the state to serve and protect its citizens, most people rose to the challenge and protected men, women, children and the old in their own areas. While the state proved incapable of doing this basic service, local tradition and custom kicked in and kept society working. The great majority of Solomons people, although suffering, came out of this time of crisis of fire the stronger and the better for it.

But one area, Guadalcanal's Weather Coast, suffered greatly and deeply. And as on a battlefield, our nation must now focus its energies, show its greatest attention to this area. It is clear that those who live on the Weather Coast demand our concern so that the neglect of past years will not come back and haunt us once again. It is a basic mistake to believe that the terrible torture, rape and killing of the Weather Coast was done by one man and a few of his followers. Now that these killers are in prison facing trial for their evil, some think that it was all a bad dream never to be repeated again.

Keke and his band of killers, however, operated in a Culture of Death. They, like many who currently face serious charges, convinced themselves that no power could bring them to justice. Of course they and others around Honiara erred seriously. But Weather Coast people had some reason to think and act this way. For years we--government, Honiara's elite and the rest of the nation--neglected them. We felt it was acceptable that they suffered poor schools, few clinics, little communication, weak transport and hardly any economic activity. In their own eyes they felt like second class citizens. If truth be known, they were not taken seriously nor listened to when they pleaded to be full members of the Solomons as promised at independence.

Are current government plans repeating past mistakes? Its National Recovery Economic and Development Plan makes no mention that the Weather Coast is priority. Quality education, well stocked clinics, transport links (not one air strip--Babanikira, Avu Avu, Makina--is yet re-opened) and economic activity all remain poor. In the face of this continued second-class citizenship, the Duidui people are now into a full blown cargo cult thinking: their leader, Harold Keke, will soon leave his prison cell and return with much money! We know that the Moro Movement of the late 1950s still operates in the villages of the area. Must we wait for a second cargo cult movement to root before we start investing in people's lives!

Service the Weather Coast with quality education, basic health attention, strong transport links, a web of local markets and robust leadership. Then these people will not so easily fall prey to glib conmen who promise the moon but, as in the past, basically destroy them.

Guadalcanal's Weather Coast has experienced the worse and suffered the most during the Social Unrest period. As on a battlefield, national attention has to see the area as a priority for the next five years to make up for the fifty years of neglect that started 25 years before during colonial days and continued during the nation's 25 years of independence. For the nation's own security, peace and prosperity, treat the Weather Coast as a priority!


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