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John Roughan: We're still ahead!

We're still ahead!

John Roughan
2 February 2005

Earlier this week things seemed to be going well for Solomon Islanders! Our national under-20 football team won its way to a showdown match against the regional football powerhouse, Australia. The Republic of China's president, Chen Shui-bian, conducted a state visit to our country. There was high expectation for major assistance to our faltering economy. And this week, also, the nation finally experienced its first serious criminal trials against those who had only recently tried to destroy the country. Through severe human rights abuses, the weakening of government processes and the serious theft of government monies, criminals done their best to corrupt the nation's soul for personal gain.

Of all the above mentioned events, however, it's the last happening, the on going criminal trials against warlords, crooked politicians and those who almost ruined the country by lining their deep, greedy pockets, that is by far the most important. By holding these trials, we get a second chance at nation building. Inept leaders on all levels, corrupt politicians and a distracted population muffed the first chance at nation building in our early years of independence. Perhaps, now, with 27 years of experience and five years of social unrest under our belt, the nation will actually do the hard slogging work of thinking and acting as one people.

A nation that boasts a winning national football team is no mean achievement. Every Solomon Islander on Monday afternoon was loudly shouting "Go Solo, Go". They prayed for a miracle. It wasn't to be! A winning performance on a football field could perhaps offer some help in creating a new Solomon Islands nation. But it pales to nothing compared to the current criminal trials. Among other things, these trials will reveal how close our country came to disappearing from the list of nations. A few corrupt leaders tried to steal a whole nation for their own interests by destroying the lives of others.

The millions of dollars that we had expected to be donated by Taiwan's President would have gone a long way in bringing greater stability to national finances. Certainly such monetary gifts would vitally strengthen our country's resolve to finally travel the difficult road to nationhood. In spite of what many political leaders say, however, our most pressing difficulty has never been the lack of money. Our basic problem has been and continues to be a failure of political will. Our political masters have rarely accepted that nationhood is a worthwhile goal. There remains little or no commitment to craft, to weld together, to create a nation from different people.

Nationhood doesn't come automatically, nor easily. Simply because Solomon Islands has been labelled a state since 1978, it is a far cry from saying we are actually a nation. Statehood is about trappings: a country having its own flag, an anthem, own currency, special laws, having a parliament, and so on.

Building a nation, however, is something else again. It's about a people's sense of oneness with each other. Women from Makira should feel connected to women from Choiseul, Isabel, Malaita, etc. A Guale man, for instance, should accept that his well being is bound up with the well being of people from other provinces. Welding together people speaking tens of languages, practicing dozens of different customs, following varied traditional practices and living in thousands of villages scattered over hundreds of thousands of miles of ocean is the hard stuff of nation building.

But we, the nation, suffered a severe body blow during the Social Unrest years of 1998-2003. A few corrupt individuals thought they could fashion a state that catered to their life style primarily. In a very real sense their criminal actions, had they not been checked by RAMSI's intervention, would have destroyed the nation for all of us. During the forth coming criminal trials of 2005, the nation will begin to sense how close we came to being completely destroyed.

Solomons' people must once again ask themselves whether it's worth while working together to create a nation. The answer to that question should be clear enough when the trials of the murderers, thieves and rogues take their course. Our football team's loss and the sense that Taiwan's treasury has not given us what some had expected are temporary set backs. If the criminal trials go off as planned, are professionally conducted and come to just and fair conclusion, then, the nation has truly taken a remarkable step towards nation building.


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