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RAMSI: Adam Dunning's Death Requires Explanation

Why now and not before?

John. Roughan - Honiara

The death of Adam Dunning, the Australian Federal Policeman gunned down last week in East Honiara while on an early morning routine patrol, cries out for explanation. A month previous another RAMSI vehicle had also been targeted in similar fashion but, fortunately, with only slight injury to the driver. Authorities are now asking why has this happened? With almost 18 months of peaceful transition under its belt, the country seemed like it was quietly but surely on the road to recovery.

Thousands of guns had been collected, some of the country's worst criminals were securely held behind steel bars and people were enjoying a peace that they once enjoyed. Why has such a senseless killing taken place? We were on the road to recovery and now this stupidity! But, take the time and examine a bit closer what exactly has happened over the past 18 months. From the viewpoint of those who don't sit in the halls of power, who are condemned to live on less than US$1.00 a day and who have little hope in a future planned by the urban elite, they feel their lives shaky.

Basically from the villager's and the urban poor's viewpoint, that's 85% of Solomons total population, their lives have hardly leaped ahead since RAMSI came on the scene. Of course they are overjoyed that the basic peace of the early 1990s has been restored. However, their daily garden grind, the serious cost-rise of every thing--school fees, ship transport, price of 'luxury' items like soap, salt, kerosene, sugar, tea, coffee, rice, biscuits etc.--makes them wonder what the future has in store for them.

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On the other hand, our political masters, powerful business people, educated elite and the well-to-do have seen their life style flood back. Their fear of the gun has disappeared, Rove prison is filling up nicely and since rapid police response is now part of the local scene, development on their terms, is firmly back on the national agenda.

Our political masters, business strongmen and educated elite are clear what they claim development is all about: fast, easy travel (jet, 4 wheel drive, air conditioned cars etc.), overseas food, 24/7 entertainment and tons of leisure time. Most Solomon Islanders particularly village women, although they wouldn't turn up their noses at the elite's development parody, would gladly trade their back teeth for a little bit of The Basic Life. That is: peace , peace and more peace, progress in quality education, working clinics, strong local markets, adequate, affordable transport, growing communication links and with these firmly in place over a number of years, prosperity : modest amounts of income to buy the so called 'luxury' items of soap, sugar, kerosene, kids clothing, etc.

SIDT's March survey about RAMSI's work after 6-months in country said as much. While more than 2,500 participants scored security (the basic peace mode) high (88%), these same people marked the return of basic services a low 68% and even lower, the weak return of economic growth, 64%. The elite are ecstatic not so much about the return of national peace but that their life style has surged back while that of the poor seeps in slowly.

Policing in this two-tone atmosphere is hard and is only going to grow harder. So far there has been a more or less conscious decision on the part of government as well as RAMSI to back the elite's version of development--strengthen Honiara's economic life, water, electricity, road service returned to pre-Social Unrest period, businesses on the rise, etc. The poor person's Basic Life dream , however, currently languishes on the back burner and proceeds ahead slowly in comparison.

RAMSI is well advised to be clear why their first 18 months went down so well. They faced so few hitches. Of course its overwhelming show of force during the first few months of landing on our shores bought tremendous results--thousands of guns collected, peace, order and tranquillity became realities. The nation began to right itself. Yet this dramatic improvement could never have come about without the ordinary people's serious and continuous good will and assistance. Villagers were, in turn, hoping for a new kind of Solomons, one where their lives would finally be counted and their 1978 Basic life dream would at last be realized.

What they got was a re-run of an elite dominated past but one with far fewer jobs, a harder life style and especially little to inspire future hope. The political elite and powerful retained privileged positions. For the vast majority of poor, they simply got on with life, as Rick Hou, Governor of Central Bank recently stated, and bounced the national economy into a 5.8% growth rate. Thank goodness that has been the choice of the vast majority of our people. However, for a few twisted individuals the gun has once again become their chosen instrument for change.

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