- Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2013Solomon Islands
The year 2013 was another trying one for Solomon Islands, with some promising developments and also problematic hangovers from 2012. In the region, national leaders participated in the discussions and activities of the Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Community, and the Melane-sian Spearhead Group (msg). Nationally, the ruling government reiterated its areas of policy emphasis, formally established a national university, commenced the formal transition of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (ramsi), and initiated reconciliation efforts in parts of the country, albeit amidst criticism and a range of controversial decisions.
One of the memorable and positive events of 2013 was the country’s [End Page 516] hosting of the South Pacific Pageant, which brought in ten contestants from neighboring Pacific Islands to vie for the South Pacific Queen crown. The contestants brought to the forefront issues facing contemporary Pacific societies. Notably, they all highlighted the widespread concern for domestic violence and its impacts on women, children, and society in general; as the Fijian contestant declared, it “is not acceptable” (ss, 15 Dec 2012). Solomon Islands was honored to host such an important regional event, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Manasseh Maelanga reiterated this in his speech welcoming the contestants by stating that “events like this bring together people from the Pacific to the Solomon Islands and reinforce our image as the Hapi Isles” (ss, 2 Dec 2013).
Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Baini-marama was the guest of honor during the country’s thirty-fifth anniversary of independence on 7 July 2013. This gesture showed the closeness of Solomon Islands and Fiji as Mela-nesian neighbors; moreover, it was a statement of their solidarity in the Melanesian Spearhead Group, where Solomon Islands and Fiji have stood by each other’s side during times of trouble. The message behind Baini-marama’s selection might have been directed at the bigger countries in the region and those outside of the msg family who were not very happy with the Fijian prime minister and his path to power. Prime Minister Bainimarama boldly affirmed the countries’ close relationship by saying, “We are now working with our Melanesian partners—including Solomon Islands—to build a new and better region in the South West Pacific, a stronger region with more economic clout and a louder voice in global affairs” (Fiji Government 2013). There were concerns locally about the cost of hosting Bainimarama and his delegation on his trip. Just the vehicle that was purchased for Bainimarama’s use cost taxpayers approximately us$41,340 (ss, 9 July 2013). (One US dollar is approximately si$7.27.) Nevertheless, this invitation and visit by Fiji’s prime minister demonstrated the genuineness of the two countries’ relationship. To some extent, such visits boost Solomon Islands’ image. As Dorothy Wickham told Radio New Zealand (10 July 2013), Bainimarama noted that some ordinary, rural Solomon Islanders have expressed admiration for some of his policies.
Another noteworthy visit was that of King Tupou vi of Tonga in his capacity as chancellor of the University of the South Pacific (usp) to award certificates, diplomas, and degrees to 146 graduates at the usp Solomon Islands Centre in September. It was an important event, as the king represented both his country and the Pacific’s regional university. As with Bainimarama’s visit, people were happy that another neighboring Pacific Island leader visited the country and that King Tupou vi took time to share the experiences of Tonga and the university community with his subjects living in the country as well as with various government dignitaries, including Deputy Prime Minister Maelanga (usp Beat, 11 Oct 2013). The significance of this visit is that Solomon Islands continues to benefit from regional cooperation arrangements and is working closely with [End Page 517] other Pacific Island states on what matters to its people.
The year 2013 also celebrated hidden successes achieved by local and ordinary Solomon Islands businesses. Although these were not very well covered by the local media, there were certain positive changes throughout the country that are worth acknowledging. These are achievements in communities, spearheaded not by political...