John Roughan: A Solomons Future
A Solomons Future: Village, Women And Youth!
21 March 2005
For more than a quarter of a century, Solomon Island male leaders assumed they could successfully fashion a country primarily for themselves. Parliament, for instance, seated 300 men and only one woman in its 27 years of existence. Provincial membership was much the same. Less than a handful of women were dominated by dozens and dozens of men. Governance was an entirely male dominated, male oriented system. And, for this one-sided-ness, the nation paid and continues to pay a heavy price!
Now the country is currently given a wonderful opportunity to re-invent itself. But gender imbalance continues. Solomons men were the major architects of our recent Social Unrest and for the most part, they have not at all changed their ways. Government's current approach to respond to the pain, suffering and crimes of the years of 1998-2003, is not much different to the ways that produced the very troubles in the first place.
The three most important elements, however, for a new, robust Solomons future are a village-led economic recovery plan, women's involvement in national and provincial governance and youth employment and livelihoods advancement. Yet, one looks in vain for special programs, new investments and national leadership in any of these areas. What the nation witnesses is more of the same tired formulas of the past.
Government focuses great and commendable effort to get SIPL, Gold Ridge, Aluta Basin oil palms, and other big industries started or on stream once again. Honiara's boom economy is seen as the wave of the future. In reality, like the round tree exports of the 1980s and '90s, it is unsustainable. Money is concentrated in Honiara, house rents grow out of reach for all except those with deep pockets, overseas food is accordable to RAMSI personnel and the local political elite. Daily it becomes clear that Honiara has become the centre for the rich and out of the reach for 9 out of 10 Honiara people.
But in spite of the evidence staring us in the face that robust shipping, strong communication links, quality education and health investments in village people's lives would bring greater dividend for more people over a longer period of time, our male leaders remain wedded to the idea that only the Big Time Operation is the key to the future.
We know that in spite of being abandoned--no security, no investment, faltering economy, few services--by government, still village people jump started the national economy before RAMSI appeared on our shores. It takes little imagination to picture what would have become of our nation had affordable, reliable shipping, strong local markets, functioning schools and clinics, networks of good communications had been available rurally. If the village sector proved itself so strong with little to no investment, what would it have done with modest levels of investment!
If the village has truly been given short shrift, then double that when women's interests enter the picture. Our male leadership--and not a few women unfortunately--remain convinced that our country can fly on one wing. In spite of constant and consistent experience, our leadership weds itself to male cronyism, thinking that somehow the other half of the nation, the women, can not help get this nation flying for once in its history. What should we say of our youth, the one part of society so badly affected by a nation that pays only lip service to its most dynamic sector. If leaders do not actively engage in the creation of youth jobs, livelihoods and paid employment then the nation will fail once again. The question will not be if but when will our youth give up on us 'olos' and take things into their own hands. Presently youth in their thousands willingly give us a second chance, even a third. They are giving us a chance to create a nation that really looks after them, treats them as vital partners and invest in their lives. If we fail at job and livelihood creation, then be prepared to suffer the results.
Candidates running for parliament need to clarify how they will reach out, recognize and invest in village life; how to increase women's governance involvement and how best to engage our growing youthful population to be partners with them for a better and more vibrant Solomon Islands. State government on its own fails the test. Emphasizing big dollar investments in large enterprises as a bold step for the future limps. Better, come up with plans how to focus on raising the quality of village life by investing in its two most dynamic groups: women and youth.