23 February 2011
Near-East countries—Egypt, Bahrain, now Libya, etc.—to name but a few are currently in deep social and political turmoil. Governments, decades in power are being swept away overnight like so many dead leaves on a tree. Strong men, kings, Prime Ministers, dictators and whole government systems are feeling the awesome strength of People Power.
Machine guns, even the use of heave duty mortars, rockets and anti-aircraft guns are being used to quell their own people who only last month cowered in their homes in deep fear. Now thousands, not just young men but women, older people even children in parents' arms continue to come out on city streets. Nothing stops them until they see and feel a new political order in their country beginning to take root.
This new order represents a full flowering of basic Human Rights where all—peasant, villager, worker, business owner, politician, ruler, etc.—are all equal under the law. Where corruption, no matter at what level, is tackled head on, people voice out their frustrations without fear of prison, a safe life becomes the fundamental part of all levels of society and not just for the rich, famous and powerful.
All of these happenings began in mid-January this year. Of course the peoples' frustration, fear and poor lives were rooted in decades of discrimination and government contempt of Small People. What could these poor, ordinary people possibly do? They had become so used to repression, without any rights and powerless to act that the only option open to them was to keep a low profile, pray a lot and hope for the best.
But this faded overnight! One young Tunisian had had enough! All he was doing on a daily basis was to feed and care for his small family by earning a few cents selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. But he refused to pay a bribe to the local police. They confiscated his meagre garden produce and refused to give the vegetables and fruit back to him until he paid the bribe.
Rather than giving into their unjust demands, he burnt himself in a public square rather than continuing a life of salivary. That was 25 January 2011, less than a month ago! Since that time, however, ordinary people of the Near-East have exploded in rage. After years of repression, lack of basic Human Rights and living in deep poverty, they exploded on the streets of many capitals.
No one could have predicted that such a minor happening—a street vendor's refusal to pay a bribe—could have caused so much upheaval. Yes, had a head of state been assassinated, or a government toppled by an army of terrorists or some kind of a natural calamity hit the region, perhaps that would have been enough to trigger off a universal rebellion.
In hindsight, however, the continuous government refusal to honour people's fundamental and basic Human Rights for many years must now be added to those events which have the power to change the direction of history overnight. The question we in the Solomons must now ask ourselves is: Will the continuous disregard by authorities to people's basic rights trigger a revolt among our own people?
Like the Near-East countries now burning out of control many of their people's grievances—growing poverty levels, youth unemployment, corruption at society's highest levels, poor delivery of basic social services of education, health and infrastructure building, etc.—are alive and well here in our own islands. Twenty years of SIDT's survey work is proof enough that village people and the urban poor are dissatisfied with government non performance.
Are we building a big stick to beat ourselves with by refusing to listen to our people and to their just demands on human rights, security and therefore peace? The utter nonsense of parliamentarians hopping from one side of the House to the other leaves the nation gasping for breath. When will it stop? When will our leaders take their citizens seriously? Must the country explode like the Mid-East nations are doing right now before we come to our senses?