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Where next for the Solomon Islands?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Where next for the Solomon Islands?

Years of violence and conflict have left Solomon Islanders feeling disenfranchised and distrustful of state institutions, say a trio of academics who specialise in Pacific Island affairs.

Dr Bethan Greener-Barcham and Dr Manuhuia Barcham at the University’s Centre for Indigenous Governance and Development, along with Solomon Islander colleague Paul Roughan, say the post-election rioting reveals fundamental problems with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

The Massey team have been working with Mr Roughan, a fellow at the Islands Knowledge Institute a Solomon Islands research institute based in Honiara, for the last year. Their research has focussed on whether or not RAMSI - a regional police-led mission backed by military force that has been in place since 2003 – is delivering the best that it can within a complex situation.

Their research suggests that the current problems in the Solomons stem from several main areas:

- The first is the overall issue of nation-building.

“The state has often not played much of a role in the lives of ordinary people. Church and local community groups have often been the providers of basic services such as health and education. What stake, then, do people have in the rebuilding of an institution that took taxes and became implicated in corrupt and violent acts? Moreover, this state is being rebuilt with heavy international involvement.

The key issue of local ownership of this state-building process has not been central enough to RAMSI’s mission. For example, the placement of an Australian in the position of Accountant General might not on itself be too overpowering. Yet combined with the fact that both the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police are also still posts currently held by outsiders it is difficult for Solomon Islanders to see where this process is heading in terms of the future of their own political destinies.”

- The second lies in low levels of capacity within Solomon Islands.

“Given the large number of people involved in previous troubles, it is difficult to rebuild essential services such as police and government without potentially needing to use people implicated in those troubles. This has been the case in terms of purging and then rebuilding the previously highly corrupt and volatile Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), and – as the latest violence shows – in terms of politicians associated with or implicated in previously unsavoury activities. RAMSI personnel have not had a great enough awareness of the interests and relationships at stake.”

- The third problem is the question of sustainability.

“Once RAMSI leaves, what will happen? Will the Solomons’ be financially and socially sustainable?

There is a feeling of uncertainty about RAMSI’s level and length of commitment to the Islands that leaves much room for rumour and conjecture that feeds manipulation and tension. This crisis is therefore both a tragedy and an opportunity.

It has injected uncertainty into a situation that had seemed to be stabilising – creating threats to lives, property and to future investment and development projects. However that uncertainty also opens up a chance for a move beyond mere crisis management. RAMSI officials need to seize the opportunity to engage more broadly with the issues and people involved in this mission if they are to salvage the aim of helping to get life back on track.”


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