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John Roughan: Tension 2!

Tension 2!


John Roughan
7 December 2004
Honiara

Solomons' Tension 1 days -- 1998-2003 -- were fairly straight forward. A bunch of hoods, conmen, thieves and government officials decided that the best way to guarantee their life style was initially to launch a coup and then proceed to loot the national treasury. For a while it worked! The 2000 Coup basically ripped the nation's social fabric to pieces while its masters insisted that it had been a necessary step to save the nation.

Fortunately, our Tension 1 days came to a screeching halt by the end of 2003. More than a thousand troopers from many Pacific Island nations had landed on our shores in mid-2003 and began making life miserable for many Coup Masters. These men had stolen the public treasury blind and in the process made the country unmanageable. Many of these criminals, however not all, now reside in a Rove prison cell and thankfully will be there for the next few years.

RAMSI's intervention destroyed the criminals way of life, one built around the gun. This overseas force collected and destroyed thousands of weapons, arrested warlords and especially chased youthful Rambos back to their villages. Tension 1 days with its intimidation, public looting, arson, physical threats, vicious murders and the general undermining of the national way of life ceased almost overnight.

Security, peacefulness and basic order slowly made its way back to daily life. Villagers especially women and children were eternally grateful that their lives were once more marked by peaceful days. They returned to garden chores with little fear. Travel to distant relatives, other villages and to town, at least in most parts of the country, was once again assured. The peaceful days of the early 1990s had almost come back to normal.

But the major reasons why our Social Unrest years rooted so deeply in the first place--poverty growth, youth joblessness, unequal and unfair development practice, pitiful leadership patterns, cargo cult thinking about wealth, Honiara's colonial attitude--have hardly been touched. These fundamental weaknesses continue on strongly even today although they operate in a some what different climate. The nation currently witnesses welcome strides in government revenue collection, better accounts keeping, stronger accountability levels, increased donor trust, etc.

But government's positive fiscal developments remain light years away from the typical citizen's daily life grind. Every time a government minister boasts of an increase in millions of dollars collected, or donor generosity, or dollars paid out to creditors, etc. these positive steps are not matched by better basic village life style. RAMSI's 17 months presence, to many a citizen, IS a long time. Although it was the very village sector itself that kept the nation afloat and functioning during its Social Unrest years, even managed to jump start the national economy in the period before RAMSI arrived on the scene, it has experienced little peace dividend it had rightly come to expect.

The old pattern of youth's head long travel to Honiara, searching for non-existent jobs and hopes to join in to the 'good life', have yet to change. When frustrated village youth experience Honiara's reality, then Tension 2's petty crime, kwaso and marijuana use, frustration and anger mount. In spite of the village's proven track record as an example of private sector growth, investment in village life remains on hold. Transport services, communications links, market infrastructure, banking facilities, access to credit, etc. remain only in dreams.

RAMSI in less than 17 months has gone through two phases. The military might phase--disarming criminals (2003)--and the current phase when military muscle has been giving way for strengthening of government structures, capacity building, intense scrutiny and supervision of the police force, etc. (2004). However, 2005, must see a third phase kick in . . . building up a strong creative relationship with the villager as partner.

In past decades political leaders too often viewed the village world as the place for the gift, the hand out and at best, the project site. These past few years, however, paint another picture. The national resource base, its labour pool and resourceful population lie in the village, not in Honiara or its small provincial spin offs. Elevating this national resource base to the level of investment reality as partner insures a strong base. RAMSI would be well advised to become a leader in this process for its own well being as for the nation as a whole. Bart Ulufa'alu's plea in parliament this week says much the same thing. The past 26 years development plans have failed because the village, our natural base, has been forgotten, no worse, deliberately overlooked. It's no wonder that we paid for this blindness with Social Unrest.

ENDS

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