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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RAMSI in photos! Only half the story?

J. Roughan
9 March 2011

Honiara's newest highrise--the mid-town Hyundai Building--currently hosts a great photo history of the RAMSI presence in Solomons from its  earliest days in country. A couple of hundred pictures detail RAMSI's history from its initial arrival at Henderson Airport in mid-2003 to the present day. No matter what you may think of this intervention force, this picture-history makes for a worthwhile addition to national understanding of recent major historical events.
Historians, social scientists and Pacific Islands experts from different universities have flocked to our shores for a closer view of what actually happened here durng our Social Unrest period (1998-2003) and the RAMSI event (2003-2011). They have given themselves the task of more fully understanding why the RAMSI intervention event had been necessary to help not only Solomon Islanders grasp its full meaning but to learn what the intervention did right and what could have been done better.
The world's new millennium, not yet a dozen years old, has had more than its fair share of military interverventions. Three months earlfier, for instance--March 2003--just before RAMSI landed in the Solomons, America, Britian, France and other nations intervened in Iraq. In 2001, Afghanistan suffered its turn for military intervention. Currently, Libya with its Colonel Gaddafi, looks more and more likely to become a candidate for military intervention as well.
Scholars focusing on the Solomons RAMSI intervention eagerly search out what lessons could be gleaned from what happened in this neck of the woods to make other interventions more productive and peaceful and much less destructive. Over this 8 year period, then, only a single RAMSI soldier was killed in the line of duty. Yes, the RAMSI force suffered a few additional accidents but the outcome of a two-thousand  military, police and admin presence, working in a strange and foreign context, has been so remarkably peaceful, one could say, tranquil. Where else in the world over the past hundred years has such an outcome been achieved? 
And this question highlights the second part of the title of this essay: Only half the story? Are RAMSI's truly great accomplishments--quickly bringing peace back to troubled parts of the nation, rounding up, bringing to court and jailing many criminal militants, re-setting government's ability to once again function, getting the national economy back on track, etc. etc.--the fruit of the intervention force alone? Or have there been other forces, quite silent ones, working in the background which were as vital and critical to the very success of the whole RAMSI operation?
I speak of the typical Solomon Islands villager, the nation's silent majority, who seems to have been overlooked in the RAMSI photo history. Of course there are many photos of islanders in the picture-history but they are often portrayed as interested by-standers, as outsiders applauding the positive outcomes of the foreign presence. Factually the nation's Social Unrest period was basically confined to Honiara, Guale's Weather Coast, the Marau area, parts of North Malaita and one or two places in Western Province. Fortunately 95%+ of the Solomons were not involved with the disturbances of the Social Unrest period. 
It was, however, the nation's little people who kept the country glued together, functioning and caring for the women, children, sick and Olos at the village level. For five years--1998-2003--village people with little help from central authority and less from a compromised police force kept villagers, who make up more than 80% of the population, fed, housed and protected.
These very same people too had suffered the pains of over a twenty-year period, poor political leadership patterns, inept delivery of basic services of education, health services and infrastructure work, growing poverty levels, rampant corruption, etc. etc. but they never took up arms, killed people different from themselves and caused the nation to fly off its social rails.
For every unrest and social dislocation that was found in Guale, Malaita and Western Provinces, these were more than matched by other the Solomons provinces of Temotu, Makira, Central, Isabel, Choiseul where little or no unrest rooted.  RAMSI, in fact, didn't set a foot in these other provinces until more than a year had gone by since its landing.
I'm the first one to say that RAMSI has been a blessing to the Solomons. I make the point, however, that this great success depended a great deal upon the common sense, backing and cooperation of the 'silent majority'--the Solomons Villger. Yet, these have yet to be thanked much less duly rewarded with better political leadership and a stronger functioning state. The RAMSI photo history should at least recognize the place the Solomons small people played in keeping this nation alive.

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