John Roughan: Go Solo Go!
Go Solo Go!
By John Roughan
15 June 2004
Last week Honiara's people poured out onto the city's roads and streets in a frenzied joyful welcoming home of our football heroes. It was wonderful to experience. More than 20,000 (I ran out of numbers counting the dozens and dozens of busses, cars and trucks!)--about a third of the city--lined both sides of the road from Henderson Airport right through the down town area out to the White River settlement, the western most part of the city.
Our football heroes had returned home sporting a resounding success. They hadn't lost a game in the international tournament and in their last contest played Australia's top team in their own back yard to a 2-2 draw. The Solomons' team had advanced to the World Cup's next step, the furthest any Pacific Islands national football team had advanced ever.
In reality, however, last week's celebration was more, much more, than winning a spot in the next round of the World Cup. People's enthusiasm, outpouring of joy and sheer happiness had as much to say about the people themselves, the nation, as it did about a football winning streak. The Solomons' last five years--1998-2003--of Social Unrest has badly scarred people. Guadalcanal's ethnic cleansing, the Malaitan-led Civilian Coup of 2000, destroying the national economy and undermining confidence in all things government, had devastated people's confidence in themselves. This period of chaos had undermined national confidence, identity and self-assurance.
Looking back at those five years, however, it's worth recalling that only a few places in the whole country went off the deep end. With little help from state institutions and structures--no police, no national security apparatus --, 98%+ of villages had kept the country whole, alive and functioning. Not one island suffered massive famine, no dreaded disease killed thousands and women's, children's and the elderly's safety was guaranteed by people themselves. Imagine what would happen in many world cities if police, military and security forces would abandon them for five days much less five years!
But returning home to a shaky, unsure nation, a bunch of dedicated boys showed us what raw talent, spirit and determination could accomplish. They had won their marvellous victories but in ways different from what we had grown weary of hearing about here at home. No money changed hands, they didn't call upon wontoks to ease their way nor did they ask for or receive any special treatment. No, they did it with their own efforts, as a team. Every thing that Solomon Islanders had hoped the nation would have done since 1978!
During the whole parade from the international airport east of the city through to its other end, more than 8 kilometres long, people waved the flag joyously, happily and I would say, defiantly. Car after car, bus after bus, truck after truck were draped with the green, yellow and blue colours of the nation's symbol of itself. I never saw so many flags waving at the same time. This was a time to stand up and be counted as a Solomon Islander. I don't remember seeing or hearing anyone claim that these victories were the work of a single island, or a particular group. The proud flying of the national flag by thousands of ordinary citizens was a not so gentle reminder to our leaders that unity, working together and oneness makes things happen that no one individual can get done on his/her own.
Parliament was wise to suspend its sitting, make the journey out to the airport to greet the victorious team and then join the lads on their victory swing through the city. However, people's reaction to the political leaders' presence in the parade and to the players was different indeed. Politicians have a long way to go to win back the ordinary citizen's trust, confidence and hope for a better future. The painted slogan "Go Solo Go!" which hung all over the city's streets, on cars/trucks/buses, carried by thousands, wasn't simply about a football team continued victory march but a cry from the heart that Solomon Islands once again become "Go Solo Go!".