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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Block the choke points!

J. Roughan
7 December 2010

More than 20 years ago, 8 -10 November 1989 to be exact, Honiara
braced itself for an invasion of more than 5,000 rioting youths. That
youthful riot made last month's rampage along Honiara's streets a pale
imitation. The 1998 Youth Riot was the first in a series--1993 and
1996 ones followed--that hit Honiara but it was one that had the real
potential of turning into something quite serious.

The 1989 youth troubles was triggered off by swear words supposedly
written by a Renbel person against Malaita. The paper which had the
swear words written on had been tacked to a store door at the old
Central Market. Unfortunately, no Commission of Inquiry ever reviewed
the origins of this riot and so Solomons people never knew for sure
what was the truth behind the 1989 Riot. But that didn't make any
difference. Youths from all over town believed that the swear words
had been posted in the market and they were determined to do something
about it.

What better way, they reasoned, than take their anger and frustrations
out on an innocent group of people, the Chinese, ruin their
livelihoods and loot their stores. How such mob rule--stoning people,
breaking into shops and stealing goods--responded to swear words
written on paper and publicly posted on a market wall is beyond

But the police reaction to the 1989 Riot presents valuable lessons we
should listen to. Hasn't the youth-riot pattern been the same kind of
response as in the 2006 Chinatown Burnout and in the most recent one
last month? Honiara rioters seem to follow the same behavior pattern
since 1989. Heap up dozens and dozens of young angry men, march them
along Mendana Avenue towards Chinatown and before burning stores,
shops and businesses, loot them first. However, in 1989 the youth
rioters were in for a nasty surprise.

Solomon Mamaloni, the PM of that period, had his own ideas how to
bring Honiara's streets back to peace and to do it without loss of
life. He ordered his Police Commissioner of the lightly equipped
police force to do three things: block all entry into Chinatown
especially at the old Metanikau Bridge site as well as the entrance to
it opposite the Referral Hospital; use tear gas to disrupt and
disperse the mob if they refused to obey the Police Commissioner's
orders and, finally, refuse the rioters entry to the road leading to
White River where they intended to do some nasty things.

The PM's plan proved quite successful! Dozens and dozens of rioting
youth never reached Chinatown. When they tried to get through to
Chinatown by way of Honiara's main road--Mendana Avenue--the police
used tear gas that stopped them cold. Dozens of the rioters jumped
into the river to get away from the gas. Then the crowd re-grouped and
marched along Mendana Avenue towards the White River settlement. But
here too the PM had a surprise waiting for them..

Approximately a dozen or so burly, stone-faced Solomon Islands' police
personnel with billy clubs in hand were lined up across the road near
St. John's School, a natural choke point. When the rioting-youth crowd
reached that part of Honiara, the police gave them an option. Turn
back and forget their plans about getting to White River by the main
road since it was blocked off from them by the police. The alternative
of swimming around the road block at St. John's School or taking the
bush track in back of Rove was not particularly inviting. In no time,
then, the youth marchers lost their enthusiasm for the march and most
of them returned home, disappointed of course, but little damage was
done either to the city or to themselves.

I checked the old Metanikau Bridge on Tuesday afternoon when the riot
was in full swing and there wasn't a policeman in sight. Streams of
young men--no young girls, no women, no olos, only youths--were
streaming across the bridge. A number of youth who recognized me
warned me away from the bridge and advised returning home. When I
drove to Chinatown by way of Menadan Avenue near the hospital, I found
it completely open as well, nothing and nobody stopped me from getting
into the Chung Wah School area.

This kind of security lapse would not have happened if Solomon
Mamaloni's tactics had been put into operation. Blocking off critical
entry points to Chinatown seems normal, natural and should be
inevitable. Every riot since 1989--and there have been at least six of
them--rioters have marched on Chinatown hoping to cash in on loot,
goodies and stock. The 1989 Riot was stopped dead in its tracks by
blocking off the town's natural choke points. Shouldn't that tactic be
one of the first strategies used to frustrate other would-be rioters?

Time is not on government's side!

J. Roughan
22 December 2010

The Philip Government has been in the driver's seat since late August.
That's more than four months now! Although it has survived a number of
dangerous internal shocks--death to two of its members, a cabinet
member's return to Rove and other serious internal woes--it still
manages to function as a going concern. But that reality is not the
same as saying that it is governing the nation. The events of the last
three to four weeks--ministerial shuffles, fining of illegal fishing
ships, etc.--are more about its own survival than exhibiting a strong
governance model!

But NCRA backers are claiming that the Government is still very early
into its hopeful four-year term of office. Present difficulties and
its hic cups should not be seen as anything very special. A quick
review of the reality of Solomons' politics, however, quickly raises
doubts about this claim. Basically the present government should only
count on being in power for three years, not four, to accomplish
anything of note. 2011, 2012 and 2013 if undisturbed by a successful
'no confidence' motion, are the only years open to it to push through
its legislative program.

During any government's last year in office, and 2014 is when the next
national elections should be coming on stream, national political
history reminds us that Parliamentary campaigning comes on strong,
one could say, overwhelmingly in the last year of the life of any
parliament. Little else fills Members' heads during the last year of
their term, except, of course, how to win back their seat in the House
once again.

So allowing that the last four months of this first year in office has
already disappeared like rain in desert sands it is a 'big deal' for
any new government to start off strongly in its second year of
service. NCRA is going to find it tough to gain back its initial drive
of becoming the new government of the land. But that hope must be part
of its new year's strategy to gain back people's respect and hope.
They are looking forward to a better and brighter future than what
they have received so far at the end of 2010.

NCRA's Policy Statement document is filled with dreams, visions and
hope-to-do plans. But few of these plans, given the three-year time
frame available to NCRA, are able to get off the blueprint table much
less become realities on the ground. There is one project, however,
that could be unleashed in early 2011, which could respond to a much
forgotten people, historically sidelined by government after
government since independence, and answer our youth's hunger and
thirst for paid employment and to be part of the nation's development

I speak of a villager-crafted road stretching along Guale's Weather
Coast from Kuma Village in the west of the island to Marau at Guale's
southern end. Such a locally worked road project, if properly
presented to the donor community, could open up a whole new stretch of
Guale's land holdings to thousands of people who have been abandoned
by the authorities for more than 30 years. In fact, it has been this
very abandonment over a number of generations that lies at the heart
of our Social Unrest years of 1998-2003.

Of course, permanent bridges construction, culverts, strengthening
road sections, for expertise, advise and over sight
monitoring from outside the local community but the basic road
building work would be assigned to village populations lining the road
way. Extra workers could come from the youth population when called

Such a major development road making project sends an unmistakable
message: Weather Coast people are important to the nation, it would
bring in much needed income for many levels of society of the area and
re-establish links of people with government both on the provincial
and national levels.

The message in this short essay is that the present government has
little time on its hands to effect projects and works to make a
difference to the citizens of this nation. It's vital that the newly
established government 'put runs on the board and quickly so'! Its
first four months of power have not been that productive and it needs
to show the nation that it is the right group of people who given half
a chance can bring the nation up to its potential.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Towards a fairer world!

J. Roughan
2 December 2010

From the Solomons earliest days, from 1978 onwards, most political leaders actually worked hard to make Solomon Islands a better, more productive and peaceful place. In a word they wanted the nation to be a fairer place for all: villagers, urban people, elite and the leaders themselves. Unfortunately, over the years, many of them lost their way and led the people and the nation down the wrong path.
Solomons first 6 years as a nation, for instance, were solid and growth-full. We had started off our historic journey in 1978 a poor nation but one that had no great war wounds to heal, our colonial masters gifted us with a $30 million golden handshake and our people although scattered among hundreds of islands were no less united.
The first few years of independence 1978-1984 were ones filled with hope. Unfortunately the base price of copra, cocoa and oil palm, worldwide, took a nose dive and this development thing, we were fast learning, was becoming harder and more expensive by the day. In was in 1985 that our leaders with the help of many landowners made their fateful decision. There had to be a better, quicker and easier way to become more independent, rich and developed than the road they had been following for the first 6 years of independence.
For the next 10 years or so our leaders claimed they knew a better and easier road to gain riches and strengthen independence. Sell off the nation's round tree log wealth to Asian buyers became the wisdom of the day. Not only would vast amounts of money roll in but peoples' lives would become easier by the day. Yes, by 1995 millions of dollars had flown into the Solomons (but land owners also lost millions more into the pockets of the round tree loggers and some of our own corrupt leaders).
Rather than continuing along our initial path of slow but constant development for all and government work to strengthen schools, better health facilities, more involvement in people's cash crops and the creation of more employment our leaders convinced the resource owners that there was a quicker and better way. Harvest the round tree logs and sell them at bargain basement prices. The result of this decision proved disastrous for the country and produced a profound weakening of village life.  
But the real cost of that poorly thought-out decision came in the 1998-2003 period.  Hundreds of our people died, thousands more lost homes and livelihoods and a nation was forced to call in strangers from other parts of the Pacific to help us get back on our feet. We, fortunately, did make it back to normalcy, back on our feet as it were and once again we had a functioning government, a trust worthy police force and a people once more at peace with themselves and each other. But that process is now into its seventh year and still we're not sure of ourselves.
Once again our nation faces a crossroad. More than 180 nations worldwide, Solomons included, in September 2000 made a solemn pledge to achieve the 8 Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. In 2005 these same countries reviewed how well or how poorly the nations of the world were on course. This year, 2010, again there was another review of the progress or lack there of on how far we have come to achieving these 8 goals. The jury is still out for most nations and Solomon Islands is very far from its target.
These 8 goals--eradicate extreme poverty, achieve primary ed for all, empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, fight AIDS and malaria, ensure environmental health and develop a global partnership for development--are at the heart of producing a fairer world. No where in the listing of these goals, however, is there any mention about the need to work on projects.
Once again our leaders have looked on a universally accepted way of bringing about a fairer way of life for most people by working on the MDGs. We as a nation in 2000 publicly signed up to work on these goals. But over the years things changed and we decided that there is a better way of bringing about a fairer world. Fund individual villagers and town folk to work on projects. This is the wave of the future we are told.
Let central government work on the MDGs our leaders say. Each constituency will concentrate attention and resources on achieving a fairer world by pumping money into project work and hope for the best. As in the 1986-1995 period we made a commitment to go one way--help our people--and then did something completely different--sell off our tree wealth. In 1998-2003 period we suffered the consequences of this decision with severe Social Unrest. What will the nation and its people pay for once more promising something--fairer society through the MDGs--but do something quite different--project work.