The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 551-556
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John Moffat Fugui
Political Science Department, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2000
Solomon Islanders have not experienced a worse start to a year in decades. In January 2000, Solomon Sunaone Mamaloni, one of the country's veteran politicians and its first leader, passed away. Sir Peter Kenilorea's approbation of his friend and schoolmate as "the father of modern politics in Solomon Islands" could not have been more apt (SS,18 Jan 2000,5). In politics, Mamaloni was an all-rounder. He was a real "man of the people." He would fit most Solomon Islanders' honor list. When in need, Solomon Islanders, especially ordinary villagers, found him most accessible, even when he was prime minister. And without fail, Solo (as he was endearingly dubbed) would go an extra mile to help another wantok. Solo had long fiercely defended Solomon Islands' sovereignty and the right of Solomon Islanders to "do their own thing." If they learned from their mistakes, they should not fear making them. His experience during British colonialism taught him an important lesson--it was far better for Solomon Islanders to carve their own futures and destiny than be subject to ignominious racism, vacuous high-mindedness, and mindless arrogance, which Solomon Islanders detested. Mamaloni has left a leadership lacuna that will be difficult to fill for a long time, as events that unfolded in subsequent months have attested.
The 1999 census revealed that the population of the country had increased by 43 percent overall, from 285,176 in 1986 to 409,042. The growth rate declined markedly from 3.5 percent per year to 2.8 percent per year. Some 41.5 percent of the population is aged under fifteen years. But the census showed that only 23 percent of the population (57,472) were paying taxes. Conversely, 45 percent (111, 905) were involved in unpaid labor (SS,8 Sept 2000,3).
The sporadic ethnic fighting that began in late 1998 between the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and the Isatabu Freedom Movement (ifm) continued. However, it was limited mostly to areas around and peripheral to Honiara. In February, the Malaita Eagle Force claimed responsibility for several killings at Pelaha and Lunga areas (SS,23 Feb 2000,1). These intermittent insurgencies and killings merely escalated animosity between the two groups. In early July, the Malaita Eagle Force mounted operation [End Page 551] "Eagle Storm." A bulldozer was converted into a "tank," which helped them mount raids. The Malaita Eagle Force was able to gain greater control of the area from Alligator Creek to Solomon Island Plantations Limited (SIPL; SS,4 July 2000,1).
On 5 June a "civil takeover" of the government of the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change occurred. Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu was put under house arrest and asked to "voluntarily" resign within forty-eight hours by the newly formed Joint Military Operation (JMO), which comprised the Malaita Eagle Force and members of the Paramilitary Force (SS,4 July 2000,6). The main reason given for the takeover was Ulufa'alu's delay in seriously and urgently addressing the ethnic uprising. The Joint Military Operation claimed he seemed to have done very little to stop the conflict. Meanwhile the Isatabu Freedom Movement continued to harass or kill innocent people and brew mayhem around the capital.
The Joint Military Operation seized the Rove police armories and weapons on patrol boats and controlled the country's telecommunication facilities. It also called for the removal of the police commissioner who, like the prime minister, seemed not to have done much to abate the conflict (PIM, June 2000,12).
The expulsion of the prime minister instilled fear in the capital. Later in the month there was a mass "release" of prisoners from Rove prison. Soon foreign nationals began leaving the country. Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians were evacuated by HMASTobruk (SS,4 July 2000,6). Many Solomon Islanders found this confusing, if not amusing. It was clear from the start that the foreigners were not the target. It was...