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John Roughan: Brush with Death!

Brush with Death!

John Roughan
1 May 2005

Nations as well as individuals experience close encounters with death. Solomons' own brush with destruction lasted almost five years. The 1998-2003 Social Unrest period saw the nation state that we know so well come quite close to disappearing.

Major sections of the country had become unglued with many killings, hatred and physical damage, and our own government was unable to stop or even slow down the rot. In fact, many of the troubles that plagued the country-lack of law and order, crumbling economy, weakening of social bonds, serious disrespect for institutions-was laid at the feet of political leadership at all levels. It was their inability, many times, their refusal, to think and act for the good of the many that lay at the heart of why the nation was sliding to its doom

Fortunately, outside help in the form of a military intervention of a couple of thousand military troopers came to the rescue, gave us breathing space and offered a chance to re-create ourselves again., In a sense, over the past 21 months or so, we still wrestle with that same desire and are trying to figure out how best to work out our reconstruction strategies.

Recently, another form of help, an international conference, Peace, Justice and Reconciliation in the Asian-Pacific Region, was held in Brisbane during the first days of April. Sponsored by the newly opened Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, its first major study on peace and reconciliation focused firmly on Solomon Islands' recent Social Unrest years. To do this well, conference organizers invited more than a half dozen young Solomon Islanders to share their insights into the meaning and ways out of our recent troubles.

A consensus on insights emerged from the many discussions that took place during conference sessions and in the centre's hall ways . Yes, of course, the Solomons weakened state needed strengthening-a better trained police force, professional conduct among government officers, a strengthened service attitude towards villagers, a growing economy, and so on . But so too did a society severely mauled-over 20 years of neglect and distrust-need to be revitalized and renewed as well.

Law and order must return not simply through a professional police/courts/prison service, but that the broken and fractured relationships between citizen and government, among villagers themselves has to be addressed in an ongoing way. Both justice systems-courts and village level conflict resolution methods-play a vital part in re-creating the Solomons into a thriving state once again.

A thriving economy both on the national and local level lies at the heart of a revitalized nation. It is not a matter, however, of what comes first. We have often tried the plan that Honiara's economic vital signs must hum nicely before government has the luxury to turn its attention to villagers and their needs. It doesn't work that way! It was that very solution which leaders tried in the nation's earliest years and continued to follow for more than 20 years that started the country on its downward spiral.

National security is of a piece as well. It is not a pick and chose matter. Good health, for example, depends upon a host of things, done in balance. A healthy body needs ample food, plenty of rest, proper exercise, social peace and family harmony among other things. All these items need to come more or less at the same time. So too with plans to return our country back to normal.

A strong growing village economy, with youth jobs and women's political involvement are the minimum requirements for Solomons to put behind itself its recent brush with death. As well, a strengthened formal justice system--functioning and professional police force, properly operating courts on all levels, appropriate prison system--needs in parallel village level ways of taking care of the many conflict situations before can grow out of control. Nation building is not simply the work of a few professional politicians but is really a national enterprise. Without a national resolve in this matter, our recent brush with death may well might visit us again in the not too distant future.


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