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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Journey from the village to $$$

J. Roughan
25 November 2010

Solomon Islanders are in the middle of making their most difficult journeys since 1900 or so. It's the journey from village subsistence way of life to the cash economy. It wasn't that long ago when most islanders gathered their total daily food intake from garden lands and from the near-by sea. There was no such thing as home mortgages! Housing materials--roofing, flooring, posts, walling, etc.--came directly from the near-by forest. Cousins, uncles, aunties, wantoks all, were the labor force. Feeding them for a week or so while they put up one's home took care of labor costs.
Energy needs were found in abundance from the plentiful supply of wood in the near-by forest. Water for cooking, drinking, cleaning, washing  was at hand because a well situated villages was built close to the many major streams running in the area or from natural water holes. The rest of life's necessities--medicines, salves, antibiotics, lotions, etc.--were found in the nearby bush or at least a clan member had mastered the necessary local medical knowledge.
If the local scene was peaceful, tranquil and orderly--there were few family feuds, pay back situations or out right war--then life was fairly predicable..Unseasonable rains or droughts, plagues of insects or plant infections were a few of the things rural people couldn't control but these were few and far between. Life was physically tough--long hours of garden work almost on a daily basis, hauling bush material to the village, etc.--remained routine but peaceful  
The modern world of commerce, education, invention, military power, transportation, communication, etc. etc. had hardly penetrated the village sector 50 years or so ago. It didn't take long for villagers who had little knowledge of matches, kerosene, tinned food, suitable clothing, etc. however, to latch on to these useful items and in no time make them their own. From the lure of luxuries to becoming necessities came over night as it were. But what was clear that the life offered by the cash economy seemed an easier one than what they experienced in their daily lives. 
In truth this journey from almost a total self reliant life style to today's cash dominance to buy 'luxuries' has been gaining strength especially since our first days of independence in 1978. Honiara and all it stands for has been the strongest 'pusher' of the nation in this journey but other forces like the 1980s -1990s logging boom, paid employment, access to education, cash cropping and especially the overseas influence have helped fuel this present journey.
It was quite timely, therefore, for our own Central Bank and the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme to join forces and conduct a two day workshop accenting the need for a people to gain financial literacy. The workshop lasted only two days but it was a wake up call for our leaders  to take heed. Just as the ability for a modern citizen to know how to read and write, it's obvious that getting a working handle on how to understand, use and work with money is critical to a successful Solomons citizens future life. 
No one argues that the reading/writing skill should be only for certain types of people, so too is the necessity of learning to use the special skill of money management, financial understanding and working with the modern world of money. To make all this financial literacy happen, however, different financial actors--banks, credit unions, lending societies, National Provident Fund, saving clubs, even money lenders--play a vital part in helping rural and urban people become financially literate.
That is why it was so disappointing that not a single Parliamentarian showed up at any part of last week's two-day financial literacy workshop. Fortunately, the Minister of Finance did kick the meeting off with a key note speech. However, once his speech was finished he was the only member of Parliament to grace the meeting and become a lead presence in the formation of financial literacy program.
For the typical villager to take this difficult trip from village subsistence living to one where cash dominates requires a good deal of courage and luck. It's vital, then, that national leaders lend a hand, appreciate what this new kind of life means and work on ways to smooth the passage.. Of course with greater access to more and more cash, then a villager can live a better, more productive and secure life. The opposite is just as  true as well.  
The serious weakening of national economies across the world currently show that the cash economy still has much to learn. The country of Ireland, for example, which only three years ago boasted that it had become an "Economic Tiger". Twenty years ago its youth were hopping on planes and ships, running away from the country looking for employment in other parts of the world. But the Euro cash economy transformed Ireland into a leading world class economic miracle.
But it didn't last long at all. Now Ireland is in serious trouble, owing billions of Euros and wondering how it had gotten itself into such debt. If a European country with high education standards, first class economic system and tested leadership could have fallen so hard, so fast, what does that say about us? That's why it is so important for leadership to be at the forefront of helping our people make the journey from village to $$$.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marau is the place! Not Doma!

J. Roughan

11 November 2010


Last week's essay detailed why it is vital for the Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly to put as much distance between itself and the Solomons national capitol as possible. Today's writing makes the case that the tip of Guadalcanal, the southern end of the island, would make a fine location for a provincial headquarters.

The Marau area, on its own, however, even with its fine natural harbor and working air field, is insufficient to be chosen as a worthwhile candidate to establish it as a provincial headquarters centre. But Marau located at one end of a villager-worked road starting at Kuma stretching along the Weather Coast's far west right into the Marau area makes all the difference in the world. Of course it's not a perfect choice! Land purchases would have to be negotiated with local landowners and water rights could be another problem area but these would be minor issues.

More importantly, the Marau area is far enough away from Honiara not to have to constantly worry about its influence and it allows provincial members a chance to recognize the whole of the island is under its jurisdiction.  Most vitally, however, a Marau centre establishes a creative way of responsible leadership responding to Weather Coast villagers' concerns about being once more abandoned by government as they have been for more than four generations in the recent past.

As mentioned in last week's essay, Weather Coast villagers profound sense of government abandonment directly contributed to the nation's worst case social upheaval. It would have seemed only proper, once RAMSI's militantly force had calmed down the social melt down in the area, that responsible authorities would have tried their best to respond to the people's profound hurt.

But just the opposite happened! Like a very bad dream political leaders, provincial as well as central both, distanced themselves from their own people. The Chinatown Burn Down in 2006 where not a single person was killed and only a few were slightly hurt attracted its own Commission of Inquiry in less than 2 years.

Guale's Weather Coast atrocities--at least 100 murdered, hundreds of houses burnt to the ground, untold rapes of women and girls, severe dislocation of many village people--caused no public outcry nor called for a formal inquiry to be held. Only court proceedings which sent less than a dozen or so men to jail for life time sentences became the nation's sole response. 

Once again, when provincial authorities could do something positive and creative to respond to their own people's deep seated feelings of abandonment they spectacularly failed the test. A Marau Provincial Capital could go a long way in repairing the hurt feelings of these people but what we are currently hearing is a continuation of the pattern of running away from responsibility and setting up some kind of commercial centre in Doma, not too far away from Honiara.

A Marau site for a provincial headquarters makes it easier to establish a village-made coastal road along Guale's Weather Coast's shores from Kuma in the west right to Marau in the east. Such a track/truck road would go a long way to helping villagers along the coast to transport their cash crops of cocoa, copra and vegetables to Marau's all weather port. No matter how bad the seas are and at all times during the year, Marau's peaceful, sheltered waters hold out the hope of transporting people and getting cash crops to market without waiting for weeks and months. Once a Marau centre is established would a similar road be constructed linking Honiara with Marau be too far in the future?

But the most important consideration is that the political hub of the province has a place of honor among its people and it is not seen as simply an addition to an other urban centre. Tangarare, Doma, Aola and others should be seen at this stage as fulfilling the idea of a Growth Centre which would be information hubs housing telecommunication gear and awareness building locations. These are needed of course but the political heart of the province should be sited at the core of its people, especially a people who have suffered so grievously over a five year period.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Doma?? Please Re-think this decision!

J. Roughan

4 November 2003


Last week, Guadalcanal provincial authorities formerly asked Central Government to help them build a brand new provincial centre set up in the old Doma plantation, just west of Honiara. The price tag on this proposed establishment stands at a bit shy of a billion dollars--$871 million to be exact. At the outset may I congratulate the Province in making this historical decision . . . to flee Honiara's smothering influence and set up its own admin headquarters anew, away from Honiara's overbearing presence towards everything provincial .
Over the years, the Guadalcanal Province has been forced to take a lowly third place in Honiara and this in their own land. Of course, Central Government has always seen itself taking pride of place, becoming number one in the pecking order. Next came Honiara City Council and way down, in third place,  came Guadalcanal Province. Now with a desire to shift out of Honiara and move to a totally new location, Guadalcanal Province has begun its exodus from Honiara domination to take the first step towards a State System.
On closer study, however, the shift from the Honiara city area to Doma is not that much of a change at all. The smallness of the move but continues Honiara's domination, control and influence but it pretends to give the Guale people something new. Villagers along Guale's northern coast would travel a few miles less for services, markets and commercial activities. Villagers all over the province especially those on the Weather Coast, however, which suffered so severely during the Social  Unrest years of 1998-2003, will be aided not at all by a shift to Doma. In other words, the vast majority of Guale people get no benefit at all from this kind of shift. 
In fact such a shift but continues the Honiara influence at the expense of villagers who are in great need of services. Our Social Unrest years seem to have happened so long ago. The terrible happenings that made for an unwelcome history—cool blooded murders, burnt homes, rapes committed, loss of life, etc. etc.—have been partly forgotten.  The nation's courts have dealt with many of the criminals who had unleashed these crimes upon their own people. Yet, why these events had taken root in only one part of the Solomons with few similar examples in other parts of the country have hardly been addressed.
Weather Coast's people's present day silence, however, does not mean that the root causes that tore at the heart of society's social fabric have been adequately addressed.  Before those terrible days at the turn of the 20th century, many leaders thought that villagers in that part of Guadalcanal were much like the rest of the country. Yes, most villagers in the area were poor, politically marginalized, not adequately educated and with little hope that things would turn out well for them and their children in the new century. At first glance, these village people seemed little different from hundreds of villagers in other provinces. Why, then, did the serious social melt-down occur on Guale's Weather Coast and few places else?
Those people 'living on the edge', however,  had unfortunately experienced another grievance that other Solomon Islanders were not exposed to.  Weather Coast villagers had been suffering, over several decades, a severe sense of abandonment. Although they lived less than 30 miles away from the nation's one spot that housed the most modern, developed and prosperous part of the nation—Honiara, Weather Coast people  never participated in that life style. The city was a mere two day journey overland, less than a day by ship or an hour by plane. However, it might have been located on another continent for the typical Weather Coast village visitor.

Shipping to Guale's Weather Coast was, at the best of times, difficult because of the rough seas and unsafe anchorage up and down the southern part of the island. There were no roads in that part of Guadalcanal and unless ships could safely land on its coast, then getting cash crops like copra, cocoa, garden vegetables, etc. to market proved impossible. It became heartbreaking for villagers of the area, to see ship after ship sailing past unable to land to transport people's market produce. What did happen, however, was their product slowly rotted on the shore for the want of a way of getting it to market.

Given these circumstances, some 'hot heads' took things into their own hands and staged a rebellion. Fortunately, the vast majority of villagers never joined in but did suffer grievously at their hands. Yes. the courts jailed the most notorious of the culprits but the underlying cause of the grievance--the almost perfect abandonment by government authorities--continues on to this day. This author made a plea to Nick Warner, RAMSI's first coordinator, to begin a hand made road from Kuma in the west of the Weather Coast to Marau, to do something concrete to lessen the isolation of the area, but to no avail.

Here it is, going on 8 years since the RAMSI landing, and little has changed in that part of Guale. Next week's essay will detail where this author thinks a new provincial centre should be placed and give the reasons for shifting it completely away from Honiara. and Doma.