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John Roughan: Decent Into Tribalism!

"Decent Into Tribalism!"

John Roughan
17 October 2005

Recently an overseas newspaper ran this headline about the likely outcome of what would happen if Melanesian tribes would suffer a law and order breakdown. The only thing left to local society, the newspaper writer thought, would be chaos, destruction, murder and total lawlessness on a grand scale among the tribes in this part of the world. But, what actually did happen? If a Melanesian state were to completely lose control of its house, if law and order totally broke down and society was at the mercy of the so-called savages, what would happen?

Of course by headlining the article 'Decent into tribalism', the writer's answer was quite clear. Without a Western-style 'law and order' regime the only outcome open to villagers would be complete and utter destruction of life and property. But a quick review of the Solomon's history over the past five years of its troubled past paints a completely different picture.

Yes, certain parts of the Solomons experienced social collapse but these were very much the exception, not the rule. In this country, for instance, 95%+ of villagers got on with the life; they never faced famine, hundreds were not taken away by dreaded diseases and people's customs and traditions guaranteed peace and order. With a barely functioning police force, no military presence (the Solomons has no army) nor any other kind of security body at all to call upon, village people through their own strength and skill held the nation together.

Rather than waves of lawlessness swamping the countryside, rampant rape and pillage ruling lives and a people living in total fear, villagers cared for the old and infirm, children were fed and protected, women, although fearful of traveling to far away garden areas alone, were totally looked after. It's hard for people in developed countries who depend greatly on police personnel and military forces to credit such behavior. Last year, for instance, I asked an Australian visitor, "How long would Sydney last if had no police force, no army and in fact, no security presence of any kind?" His response after a few seconds thought was clear and to the point. "About a week!" he replied!

Our people--without a functioning police force, no prison service, little in the way of a justice system and a government that was more the problem than the solution--secured the nation for five years--1998-2003! Yes, Guale's Weather Coast, parts of Honiara and a few other places went off the social rails but the rest of these islands, the vast majority of its people, acted well, basically obeyed the law and protected the most vulnerable

When the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and its 2,000+ soldiers landed on our shores in late July, 2003, they found a basically peaceful people. Solomon Islanders coped with severe lack of government services in education, health, transport, law and order, etc. Rather than descending into savagery, into wanton killing, into destructive ways, however, they gathered up the broken pieces the political leaders had left them and got on with life.

RAMSI was more than welcome by these same people. Five years of experiencing one's country slowly disappearing, not functioning and making life difficult was beginning to stretch their meager resources. Five years of protecting the nation with little assistance from those who should have been caring for the nation, was beginning to take its toll. That is why almost 94% of all people surveyed three weeks before RAMSI appeared on the scene gave the 'invasion' a hearty thumbs up approval.

But the reason for bring these facts up at this time, is to remind our decision makers, politicians and Big Men that it was the 'little guy and gal' who were at the heart of our recovery process. As Rick Hou, the Governor of the Central Bank, reminded us 'it was the small farmer, fishers and woman gardener that jump started our economic recovery' before RAMSI appeared on the scene. Doesn't that send a strong message to the next parliament that investing in the lives of the poorest, society's least and most forgotten will bring the best dividends.

But that is not happening! The current budget process is driven more by self interest--witness the desire to pour more money into tertiary education at the expense of primary schools--than for nation building. Solomon Islanders deserve not only more recognition for their contribution to keeping the nation from sinking below the waves but by actual investment in their lives.


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