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Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt is telling us something!

J. Roughan  

15 February 2011


Egypt's 80 million people have been shouting at us lately. Local TV, radio and newspapers are filled with their recent happenings. In fact that country is sending warning signals out to many others not only in the Arab part of the world but to many other nations as well.


Many nations—Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.—are seriously taking note of the Egyptian events and studying closely what it means for them and their leaders. If the mighty could fall and so quickly, what does that say to other nations, smaller and less oppressive.


Over the past three weeks, Egyptian youth startled the world. Basically, in non-violent ways—thousand-people marches, camping out in public spaces, chanting and singing—they have managed to topple a dictator of 40 years, send him and his family packing and put on notice that the high and mighty military as well, to follow its lead or face the same rejection.


All this political turmoil happened without a gun in sight, a bullet fired—at least not from the protestors but only from those desperate to hang on to power, privilege and wealth. The youth involvement showed People's Power at its best. Yes it was a close call. Certainly and definitely dangerous since people had no guarantee that the military wouldn't mow them down like so much grass. But their freedom and liberty was worth it and so they stared down the military and more importantly, the dictator and his cronies. 


These youth, society's poor, had little hope of securing meaningful jobs although blessed with many years of education and in many cases much better than their parents ever had. The old Egyptian regime had grown brutal, even murderous. However, the one area where the youth were strongest—the use of the computer, Twitter, cell phone—were the tools they used to topple the Old Guard.


Many times those at the top of the political ladder—cabinet, parliamentarians, civil servants, lobbyists, the Old Guard-- can hardly make their way around the simplest of computer programs much less harness its power to enhance their everyday political lives.


Youth on the other hand pressed home their advantage. They organized marches, talked to each other over cell phones and kept messaging hundreds and hundreds of their followers on a minute by minute schedule. The Old Guard worked on the out dated theory that if the media was controlled and directed then those opposing the regime would find it hard to do anything meaningful against it.


How wrong they were! In less than a month, thousands and thousands of Egyptian youth had out foxed, out smarted and out flanked the powers of the state which the Old Guard thought was unbeatable.


But is the Egyptian scenario saying anything to us sitting in 'far away' Solomons? First of all we are not 'far away' at all! TV, radio and the print media bring local youth into the international picture quite quickly. Secondly, the Egyptian youth's situation—poor, unable to get jobs, representing society's largest sector, better educated than their parents—are currently duplicated here in these islands as well.


No, fortunately, the murderous, repressive regime housed in Cairo is far from anything here in the Solomons. However, our youth are terribly upset to be experiencing first-hand the non-governance antics of the present government and opposition. Many youth ask themselves: What can we be doing to get our nation out of this mess? Does the Egyptian event have lessons we too should be learning?


Is the no-confidence vote the only, it certainly is not the best way, of resolving our disagreements? Can't 25 level-headed, fair minded Parliamentarians be found to lead the nation out of its impasse, work together to better the country and lead the majority of its poor people to prosperity?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Solomons Society and Political Life

J. Roughan

2 February 2011



Over the past 33 years of Solomons political history—1978-2011—the nation has experienced 14 changes in central government leadership. On average, then, during more than three decades of our nation's political history, the leadership changes have been occurring at a frightening rate. Buy lately the pace of instability has grown worse, not better!


In our first 22 years—1978-2000--, the rate of PM change, although unacceptable, was at a much slower pace: only 8 major leadership changes. But during this newest millennium the change-pace has picked up considerably. In the 2000-2010 period, for instance, the rate of a new leaders taking the reign of government has climbed to 6 but all of this happened during a much shorter time frame: eleven years.


This kind of major overhauling of our top leaders indicates severe instability in our government system. On average, then, during our first 22 years of political history, each PM and his cabinet served approximately 33 months running the country.


Now in the 2000-2010 period, only half the years of our initial period, we have witnessed six changes of the top leaders. A PM's time to run the country has dropped from 33 months to 19 on average. There is a distinct possibility that there could soon be another shift in the PM who currently leads the country.


While our political class 'fiddles while Rome burns', however, the rank and file of the nation, the backbone of the country, the villager, is filled with life and is hardly waiting for members of Parliament to get their act together.


Our current mobile phone revolution is an example. This silent revolution, not in their ring tones, of course, are seemingly everywhere—not merely with the town's elite and business class but in Honiara's many suburbs and hamlets, villagers in Are'are, Kwaio,, Makira highlands, Isabel coastal places, etc. etc.—has quietly been transforming the nation's communications scene.


It seems that having and using a mobile phone has become more important than food. If a choice must be made between 'topping up' the mobile or buying a packet of fish and chips, often the mobile wins out. Solomon Islanders' need to talk, to keep in touch, to be part of the 21st Century. That is why the mobile phone business grows by leaps and bounds.


But the mobile phone revolution by the masses is but one aspect of a changing Solomons. Notice the number of students clamouring to enter universities and secondary schools. Their thirst for higher education is somewhat like the mobile phone revolution. People are not to be denied and will squeeze themselves in whenever and where ever possible.


I mention these two different major changes which currently shape the modern Solomons. Shouldn't our political class be thinking along this same line and get in step. Game playing, press statements and public antics rather than real leadership qualities reflect times gone by—the late 20th Century—and are a far cry from what our people need and demand.


Just as in the Social Unrest years—1998-2003—it was the so-called uneducated, inexperienced and politically powerless—that kept the nation glued together in spite of the political elites poor performance. So too now we are having a re-run of People Power who look in dismay at our current leaders. Basically, it is our small people who are saying to our political leaders: 'Shape up or Ship out!