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John Roughan: The Bomb Is Still Ticking!

The Bomb Is Still Ticking!

By John Roughan in the Solomon Islands
30 September 2003

A number of African states, during the 1990s, blew themselves apart. Some, in fact, continue to do so to this very day. These nations began their killing ways first as 'failed states' but quickly moved on to society collapse. Hundreds of thousands--the Tutsi and Hutu tribes, for example--killed each other in horrific ways. It is only now that some ten thousand murder suspects are facing trial after waiting in prison almost ten years.

Solomon Islands, during the 1998-2003 period, however, lucked out. In the five years of Social Unrest less than a 1,000 lives were lost but many of our people were truly walking the 'African' road of different tribes slaughtering each other. Yes, RAMSI has collected thousands of guns, captured some war lords and has the militants on the run but the danger of our society rebelling once again has not left the scene. Much, much more, has to be done to make sure that Solomons society does not collapse like those in Africa. As everyone knows so well, guns are easily replaced by knives, clubs and if need be, fists. The danger of a collapsed society has not left these shores.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side. It took 20 years of mismanagement, inept leadership and outright thievery to bring the nation to its knees in 1998. In the following five years, we became the Pacific's first failed state. During 25 years of independence, we did try, after a fashion, to strengthen the state. However, our approach was always to use a mixture of two closely connected plans: reduce the possibility of conflict through the handout, the Band-Aid approach or secondly to grow--it's called development--our way out of our difficulties. Rarely was the third approach ever thought of much less tried: re-structure society so that all sectors--men and women, educated and poorly educated, urban elite and rural masses--would be treated with equity.

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Our leaders never willingly tackled head on the sources of our deep seated difficulties: the land issue, unequal development investment, Honiara, a colonial power dictating to its 9 colonies, women/youth's second class citizenship, lack of quality education, poor medical services, etc. etc. Our leaders hoped that by the use of the Rural Constituency Development Fund, for example, to buy off the restless villager and if that failed, then development promises on everything from water supply, schools, clinics, roads, wharfs, etc. Everything and anything but the one guaranteed solution, empowering villagers to know not only what was actually happening to their world and to be really accepted as equal partners for the better life for all.

And our leaders are back to their tricks of old. They applaud RAMSI's good work as well they might. But fail to ask themselves why and how did we ever get ourselves into this mess in the first place. No, their response to the Social Unrest continues to be the tired and well worn answers of the past. The very things that were partly responsible for our past pain and suffering are not questioned. The most recent plan--the National Economic Recovery and Development Plan--is their preferred blue print for the future. The nation will grow its way out of its difficulties. Create a bigger pie, they state, so that everyone gets something. They carefully shy away from asking why we got ourselves into the mess in the first place. The present plan insures the time bomb ticks on!

Fortunately most decision makers realize that the handout, the Band-Aid approach didn't work in the past and won't work in the future. Villagers want more than a school fee paid, a free ship ticket, pocket money, etc. They are not that easily fooled as in the past. But the development ploy--a rush to water supplies, clinics with medicine, opening new schools, market upgrades, etc--are no longer adequate either. Of course people want these development goodies but something more. They want to see a real break through on land issues, much more, though, than an appointment of a Land Commission. They need to sort out the different new meanings of land in a modern economy.

What is at stake is a NEW Solomon Islands and not a re-tread of what worked in the past for the political elite, the power group--money, influence and clout--and the highly educated. But it didn't work for others. The current recovery plan works to keep those at the top remaining on top but gives a bit more goodies to the rest of society. The plan has no sense that a NEW Solomon Islands is about first class citizenship for all.

We are currently in our last chance to make a nation that works for all. RAMSI is giving us a level playing field but many leaders can't think that way. Past failed leaders are already positioning themselves to be right up there again in the future. If that means the nation well might suffer a failed state again in the future but could also experience the African collapsed society as well, so be it. Sometimes a time bomb, unfortunately, explodes unexpectedly and the very bomb maker dies.


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