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  • Solomon Islands
  • Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka

The period from late 1998 to 2003 was the most challenging for Solomon Islands since independence in 1978. Violent civil unrest on the island of Guadalcanal, which led to a coup on 5 June 2000 , had an adverse impact on the country, bringing to the fore political, social, and economic issues that had long existed but had not been adequately addressed by successive governments.

However, despite the dramatic events of the previous four years, perhaps the highlight of 2003 was Canberra's decision to lead a Pacific Islands Forum intervention force to restore law and order and rebuild Solomon Islands. Although the most troops and police came from Australia, other Forum member countries also contributed, resulting in the largest military and police deployment in the region since World War II. Canberra's decision reflected concerns that the events in Solomon Islands could become a security threat for Australia ( ASPI 2003). The action illustrates how internal instability was viewed as a potential source of external threat, and highlights the changes in global security discourses following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. The intervention also marked a dramatic change in regional politics; it was the first time that the Forum played an assertive role in the domestic affairs of a member country.

By the beginning of 2003 , although Solomon Islands was no longer experiencing the overt violence that characterized the period from 1999 to 2000 , problems with law and order, a declining economy, an inefficient public service, and a relatively weak state persisted, contributing to low public morale and a lack of trust in the state.

The law and order problems were worsened by the fact that, despite the October 2000 signing of the Townsville [End Page 393] Peace Agreement with its requirement for militants to surrender their arms, many continued to hold on to weapons, which they used to commit crimes. The ability of the police to enforce the law was weakened because some police officers had either joined or were sympathetic to the two major militant groups involved in the conflict: the Isatabu Freedom Movement ( IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force ( MEF). Furthermore, in 2000 and 2001 many former militants (who did not have appropriate qualifications or training) had been recruited as special constables. This compromised the professionalism of the police.

Economically, the government's capacity to collect revenue and manage the economy was severely weakened by the inefficiency of the public service and the lack of finance. Hence, by mid 2003 the country's debt was registered at A$352 million, more than three times the country's annual budget. The Central Bank of Solomon Islands ( CBSI) described the situation vividly: "Since 2000 , the Solomon Islands economy had severely contracted causing a fall in incomes, increased unemployment and widespread poverty, and the delivery of social services, particularly in the education and health sectors. In fact, without the goodwill of the donor community, services in these two important sectors would have discontinued early in the year" ( CBSI 2003, 6 ).

The poor economic performance was exacerbated by the closure of major industries such as the oil palm plantation and the Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal, in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

At the beginning of 2003 , nature added to the country's woes when tropical cyclone Zoe battered the eastern Solomons, especially the remote island of Tikopia. At the national capital, Honiara, people rallied together through fund-raising activities and donations of goods and building materials to assist the Tikopians. However, their ability to assist was limited by the economic problems.

The economic and sociopolitical problems were reflected in the declining ability of the government to provide adequate, quality social services; protect its citizens; and pay its employees. There was also a general decline in the standard of living. Solomon Islands was named as one of four Pacific Island Countries where living standards fell in the decade between 1990 and 2001. The others were Vanuatu, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia ( UNDP 2003).

Because of the government's inability to pay its employees, 2003 was marked by strikes and threats of strikes by public employees. In January...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 393-401
Launched on MUSE
2004-08-31
Open Access
No
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