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John Roughan: Mending Broken Relationships

Mending Broken Relationships

John Roughan
14 March 2005

Solomon Islands suffered serious set back to its public cohesion during the five-year period-1998-2003-of social unrest. However, it is critical to be clear where exactly did this social dislocation take place, which group, for the most part, held its own and which groups were almost destroyed by the criminal acts of a small number of people. And finally how fortunate we were that the Social Unrest period was so well contained.

Solomon Islands is a nation of villages. People for very good reason decided hundreds of years ago, to create space for themselves that reflected the reality of their situation. Their life-resource base-food, shelter, water, medicine, recreation, other natural resources-became the very site where a people could live in one space.

But living together in small groups brings its own set of problems and difficulties. That is why Melanesians and Polynesians, through hundreds of years of practice, developed social cohesion structures and conflict resolution techniques. They understood well that groups of people, living close to each other on a daily basis, must create mechanisms that help them cope with frictions, large and small. In a real sense these people became masters at living harmoniously within small groups of people.

That is the major reason why Solomons' villagers produced a five year track record that has amazed the world. Both the World Bank and IMF voiced out their astonishment that villagers could have produced so much economic turn around in so short a time, under such adverse conditions.

The villager with his/her economic activity, social cohesion and sheer determination saved the Solomons' nation. RAMSI's intervention in 2003, although absolutely necessary, basically saved the government, its institutions and especially the political elite's life style. The villager, on the other hand, pulled the nation through its worst years.

Yet, there were serious pockets of social collapse--Guale's Weather Coast, parts of North Malaita, Honiara itself, Gizo--but for the most part it was the village sector that kept the nation ticking over. From tiny Tikopia in the east to the Shortland Islands in the far west life went on with little outside help. Abandoned by central government, with no security force to speak of, forced to make do in a shattered economy and surrounded by a compromised political system, villagers were the major contributor to the nation's 5.8% economic growth before RAMSI ever appeared on the scene. Their social peace and harmony work lasted 5 years.

But it a real sense the nation lucked out. What happened on Guadalcanal's Weather Coast with more than 50 murders, countless rapes and torched homes could have been a story repeated many times over in other parts of this country That's why it is so vital for national health that the current recovery plans adopted and put into practice, really do reach out, touch and make a difference to the bulk of our people, the villager..

But rather than our political elite recognizing these great achievements, the people's accomplishments are hardly spoken about. An exception is Rich Hou! The Director of the nation's Central Bank in his 2004 report underscored the village sector's achievements.

However, more important than government and the aid donors recognising this state of affairs, the recovery plans tabled recently are not sufficiently geared to respond to villagers' fundamental needs. In spite of this group of people having saved the nation in its darkest hours, their strengths are not being used as the basis for a full national recovery.

Government gambles on re-establishing the nation's economic system shattered by militants' and politicians' antics--gross stealing of government funds through obscene and ridiculous allowance claims--as the primary way of reclaiming and setting the nation back to social rest. Donor groups with better insight are focusing their priorities through the funding of development projects and programs. Yet, the village sector, not only over the Social Unrest years but many years previous, have seen their relationship with the governing process broken severely. This serious dislocation with national leaders and government processes mirrors itself as well in the distrust and wariness of villagers have with each other and with other villagers.

The Churches and a number of NGO groups, on the other hand, are accenting programs which feature reconciliation, restoring broken relations and trauma counselling. These groups feel that broken and shattered relationships are little affected by a growing economy, balanced budget, correct fiscal measures and such. Unless there is a deep healing process and recognition of the severe pain village people have endured for more than two decades now, then economic processes on their own do not adequately respond to this most fundamental reality.


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