Questions from Honiara
Peacifica has just spent a week in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. It’s my first visit there, and it is also Peacifica’s first overseas venture. It was exciting to be on the road to test our ideas.
I came to Honiara because earlier this year the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) finished its mission to restore law and order and strengthen parts of the government following their total collapse during the ‘tensions’ of 1998-2003. The RAMSI force of Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Islander police and others did their job well and left the country to near universal accolades. But everyone, from the Prime Minister down, recognises that RAMSI was only ever intended to address one aspect of the threats to peace here. So my aim was to start to explore what these other aspects are.
Over the week I met with some wonderful champions of peace and justice, including NGO workers, church leaders, ex-combatants from the tensions, donor representatives, police and public servants, all of whom are one way or another contributing to peacebuilding here. Indeed the Solomon Islands is committed to this from the heart of government: it is one of very few countries to have demonstrated its commitment to peace at ministerial level. I would like to thank the Ministry for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace’s Mr Peter Mae for his support in connecting me to many of those I met and offering his own time and insights.
I’ve taken in as much as I could in this short time and heard many good ideas about the contribution that Peacifica could make. Everyone was very willing to talk, to listen and critique my own ideas. I got answers to many of my questions, but
many more emerged through the week: Can the successes of RAMSI be sustained? Are the grievances that led to the tensions still there? What reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the violence remains undone, and what form should that take? How can women be protected from violence and their status elevated, from the home to the marketplace to the parliament? How can overstretched and under-resourced government services like police, forestry, health and education reach the remote parts of the country? What do we need to learn about communities affected by climate change – those losing their homes, those who have lost them and those who receive them when they move? Can the import of illicit firearms be stopped? Can jobs be found for the very many young people who need them? Can a new forestry law possibly protect the country’s remaining untouched forests? Can civil society ensure that a stalled anti-corruption bill gets through parliament? And finally (for now) will 2019’s elections be fair and safe?
These aren’t my questions. They were all posed by the people I have talked to, and they and their colleagues are working very hard to address them. If I had gone outside Honiara I would certainly have heard more. But this was a good start.
There are a number of international NGOs supporting local civil society and the UN and Australian and New Zealand governments continue to provide generous assistance. But resources and capacity is still very constrained, and I heard clearly that more assistance is welcome, especially if focused on peacebuilding. I am confident that Peacifica can play its part. As our plans take shape I will say more about them here.