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Strengthen The State BUT Build The Nation Too!

Strengthen The State BUT Build The Nation Too!

By John Roughan
6 June 2005

Both--the State and the Nation--are but two sides of the same coin, the people of Solomon Islands. In our country's earliest days, the first years of independence (1978-1986), political leadership focused its energies on strengthening the State. Leaders of the day put the stress on setting up new ministries, working on parliamentary processes, collecting taxes and revenue, servicing citizens with medical, education, employment, securing law and order, etc. Their accent was primarily about strengthening the State apparatus.

The newly formed Solomons' State had only recently become a UN member. Dozens of nations recognized us as worthwhile through international recognition that we had the rights and duties of a soverign state. The country had to show the world that it was worthy of this public recognition and therefore it had to be seen as a functioning, working State. Nation Building, as vital as it was, would have to wait its turn somewhere in the future..

Unfortunately, we missed the boat on the concerted and difficult work needed in Nation Building. Yes, citizens, high and low, boasted about their special flag, a national anthem, own currency but basically lip serviced Nation Building work. Our political leadership, educated elite and influential people, who should have been in the fore front of Nation Building, failed spectacularly. And for this leadership failure, the nation continues to pay a steep price.

Nation Building for any country is difficult. Solomon Islands with its thousands of villages, hundreds of islands, dozens of languages/custom groups practiced by almost a half million people has proven to be especially hard. But we do had some strong unifying things going for us.

The people's language gifts helped create a brand new tongue--Pijin--which quickly became the country's language of political consciousness. In our beginning years, opposite to what many newly formed nations suffered, we had little or no ethnic hatreds to overcome, no great war wounds to heal nor civil war trauma to deal with. In a sense, our colonial masters left us a country, though poorly educated, basically at peace with itself. It should have been the most fertile of lands to sew the seeds of a new Nation. But we choose not to go down the Nation Building road.

Here we are now a quarter of a century later . . . a bit wiser hopefully. The disaster which befell us for our failure to work on Nation Building must not be repeated. Millions of dollars currently flood into funding the Machinery of Government. Retooling members of parliament, strengthening the Ministry of Treasury's ability to collect, handle and dispense funds, paying workers salaries correctly and on time, etc. are a big help. Yet, as our first years proved, simply stressing a strong State focus won't guarantee that the whole nation thrives. Machinery of Government funding strengthens the State apparatus. Who, then, funds Nation Building?

As happened in the past, Nation Building doesn't happen automatically, not without creative activity among those who lost the most during the recent Social Unrest. Our political leaders, educated elite and influence people historically haven't measured up to the job and still don't pull their weight. My feeling is that the immense but absolutely necessary Nation Building task must fall to the churches, villagers especially women and youth (who lost the most during the 1998-2003 period) and the non formal sector--NGOs, Civil Society and Non State Actors which must become lead actors in this critical drama.

An example! On Guale's Plains area youth, with the help of the Don Bosco Society, run a community FM radio service--Radio BOSCO--for a few months now. Youth with the help of Fr. Ambrose broadcast air time for an hour a day--4:00 to 5:00 daily--and it is their small way of welding together village people of the area. Efforts like this will prove influential in bringing different language groups together for Nation Building work.

Women's groups' meetings--recently in Buala and here in Honiara--realize that their future lies in their own hands not simply counting on bettering the Machinery of Government. They are making their voices known. Touring Youth Theatre teams informing Western Province people of AIDS' dangers are another example of concerned citizens not waiting for direction from on high but taking initiatives to make a better future happen. It's these and similar groups which are our hope for Nation Building.


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