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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Possible re-colonisation of the Solomon Islands

The ethnic crisis in the Solomon Islands was resolved following a lot of great attempts from ordinary citizens, leaders, religious organisations and assistance from the neighbouring countries. The very significant contribution to this peace rebuilding process was from the intervention by the Australian led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The intervention came about after the Solomon Islands was declared a failed State in the region thus Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard decided to send in more than five hundred troops to settle the upheaval. The assistance was welcomed and appreciated until many people felt that this move was one way to recolonise the Solomon Islands.

Doubts arose among a few Solomon Islanders when they saw Australia’s political influences seem to be overpowering in the country. It seems that the decisions by the Solomon Islands’ leaders must be according to what the Australian government wants. If any decisions made were not according to what the Australian Government wants, the Solomon Islands would be punished.
…in a September 18 national radio address — six days after ordering the expulsion of Australian high commissioner Patrick Cole — Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare accused Canberra of using aid and the presence of Australian troops “as leverage to dictate Australia's involvement” in determining his government’s policies. This came about because Australian Prime Minister John Howard threatened to cut his government’s aid budget to the Solomons. The next day, Canberra suspended multiple-entry visa arrangements for Solomons Ministers as punishment for Cole’s expulsion. Sogavare described this measure as “bullying and harsh”. (Lorimer.D. 2006)

Another possibility of the intervention as an attempt to recolonise Solomon Islands is that, most of the government sectors in the Solomons are being headed by Australians. The Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) for example is under the Australian Federal Police (AFP’s) command. Similarly the Australian magistrates and prosecutors run the Solomon’s’ court system and Australian bureaucrats dominate key government departments. This is a sure sign that the Solomon Islands is very likely to be recolonised by Australia.
…unless local understudies are cultivated, and unless training and localization are prime aims, the Solomon Islands will have been ‘re-apprenticed’, this time to Australia rather than to Britain, still with no long term ability to govern themselves. (C.Moore, Happy Isles in Crisis.p215)

The intervention has also triggered social problems like the increasing rate of criminal activities in the country. This could be because the criminals feel challenged by the presence of the military personnels and want to prove that they can defeat or surpass their power. An officer from the Australian Police was even murdered while on duty as a result of this attitude from the criminals. This is nothing to be proud of but it seems that Australia could not solve the root of criminality in the Solomons. They should however address the problem of illiteracy and unemployment in the Solomons if they want to really assist the Solomon Islands get back on its feet. Unemployment is one of the major causes of these criminal elements so instead of trying to catch everyone and putting them in jail, Australia should provide projects that the youth can be involved in. Otherwise, what Australia is trying to do would be still seen as an attempt to overtake the country, which would anger the locals even more resulting in more violence than peace.

The arrival of almost a thousand soldiers skyrocketed prostitution rate in the country as well. All the nightclubs are filled by military personnels where local young girls and women are being constantly used by the military personnels for their pleasure. If Australia was really concerned about improving the life standard in the Solomon Islands, the soldiers should be warned that they should not indulge in such activities. Besides that most of the RAMSI personnel are family people and it is really a disgrace that all they do in the Solomon Islands is having fun and not really doing serious work.

Despite the presence of many personnels from the RAMSI, medical services continue to decline. This is due to the fact that most of the personnel sent were with guns and not with medical supplies. Malaria cases are still high and many deaths are still caused by Malaria. Sexual transmitted diseases, like gonorrhea and syphilis actually increased and the army personnel are to be blamed for this increase. These are yet causes of more doubts as to whether the intervention was really genuine or if it was made for the Australians to use and enjoy the limited resources in the Solomon Islands.

The results of the RAMSI-“guided” economic policies were summed up by Anglican Bishop Terry Brown in an article in the January 18 Solomon Star as “increasing poverty and unemployment, high school fees, a downward-spiraling economy, higher inflation and lower incomes, declining medical services, ongoing corruption in government ministries, lack of planning and implementation of how Solomon Islanders will competently run all parts of their own government, crumbling infrastructure, millions and millions of RAMSI funds spent on Australians with the money going back to Australia with minimum cash benefit for Solomon Islanders, continued centralizing of everything in Honiara”.

Canberra is providing Australian eighty five million a year in “development aid” to the Solomon Islands and Mr. Sogavare the Solomon Islands Prime Minister thanked “Australian taxpayers for their assistance”, but pointed out that most of this aid money goes to pay the “extravagant” salaries of RAMSI’s Australian bureaucrats and aid workers (Craig Skehan.2003).

Thus it can be said that economically, the Australians do not really benefit the nation at all. They provide job opportunities but employ their own workers instead. The salaries of these workers therefore are spent back in their own economy. This is not really assisting the Solomon Islands economy. Many people are still left unemployed and so there is little they could spend on the economy. If Australia wants to help they should offer the job opportunities to the locals. If they are not qualified they should be given the chance to train. Otherwise it will be true to say that this intervention is an attempt for Australia to recolonise the Solomon Islands.

It seems therefore that Australia is assisting with some strings attached and people find the recolonisation of the helpless Solomon Islands a very likely reason for this intervention. Even Australians like Craig Skehan see Australia’s interest to intervene into the Solomon Islands as a move to recolonise the country rather than restoring peace and harmony for the good of Solomon Islanders and even for the peace in the world as a whole.
All in all, RAMSI has been successful in terms of restoring law and order, stabilising the economic and social conditions and beginning institutional strengthening but with the political, social and economical impacts it brings upon the Solomon Islands, Solomon Islanders and other people overseas have begin to doubt if the intervention is genuine or if there are strings attached. In the worst scenario the intervention has been seen as an attempt to recolonise the Solomon Islands. The Australian Government should therefore prove itself if it is really trying to assist the people of Solomon Islands or merely attempting to recolonise their country.