History of the conflict in the Solomon Islands
Following an Anglo-German Treaty of 1886, a German Protectorate was established over the northern Solomon Islands, followed shortly thereafter by the establishment of a British Protectorate over the southern Islands in 1893. In typical colonial fashion, the German Protectorate was transferred to the United Kingdom in exchange for Western Samoa in 1899. Beginning in January 1942, Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands; in August 1942, the United States led a counter-attack against the Japanese, and fighting ensued on the islands for almost three years. The destruction caused by the intense fighting, as well as the long-term consequences of the introduction of modern materials, machinery, and western cultural artifacts, transformed the Islands and traditional ways of life. Due to the massive destruction of pre-war plantations (formerly the mainstay of the Islands’ economy) and the absence of war reparations, reconstruction was slow, and stability within the Islands was not restored until the 1950s when the British colonial administration built a network of official local councils.
The first national election was held in 1964 for one seat on the newly established Legislative Council, and by 1967, the first general election was held for all but one of the 15 representative seats on the Council. A new constitution was introduced during the elections of 1970, replacing the Legislative and Executive Councils with a single Governing Council, and established a “committee system of government” with the aim of reducing divisions between elected representatives and the colonial bureaucracy and providing opportunities for training new representatives in managing the responsibilities of government. However, many elected members of the Council opposed the new constitution and so a new constitution was introduced in 1974 which established a form of government more closely related to that of Great Britain, a “standard Westminster” form of government.
With the first oil price shock of 1973, the financial costs of supporting the Solomon Islands became too large to bear for the British, however despite the imminent independence of Papua New Guinea (which achieved independence in 1975), there was little in the way of an indigenous independence movement in the Islands outside of a small group of educated elite. Nonetheless, the Solomon Islands became self-governing in early 1976 and fully independent in July 1978.
In early 1999, tensions that had been festering between the local Gwale people on Guadalcanal and more recent migrants from the neighboring island of Malaita erupted into violence when the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army, later called the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), began terrorizing Malaitans in an attempt to make them leave their homes. As a result, about 20,000 Malaitans fled to the capital and many others returned to their home island. However, the violence affected the local Gwale residents as well, who soon fled the city. In response to the creation of the IFM and the violence that ensued, the Malaitans created the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) to uphold and defend their interests.
The government of the Solomon Islands appealed to the Commonwealth Secretary General for assistance in resolving the conference, and the Honiara Peace Accord was signed in June 1999. The Accord failed to resolve the underlying problems that caused the violence however, and fighting broke out again in June 2000. On 5 June 2000, the MEF seized the parliament by force and claiming that the government had failed to secure compensation for loss of Malaitan life and property. The Prime Minister at the time, Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, was forced to step down, and on 30 June 2000 Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as the new PM. Sogavare established a Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace, which enacted a program of action focused on resolving the ethnic conflict, restoring the economy (which had been struggling since after WWII), and distributing benefits of development more equally. However, Sogavare’s government was deeply corrupt and led to the downward economic spiral and the deterioration of law and order on the Islands.
The conflict in the Solomon Islands was foremost about access to land and resources, centered around the Guadalcanal area. Since the beginning of the civil war, it is estimated that around 100 people have been killed and that 30,000 refugees, mainly Malaitans, have had to leave their homes. Economic activity has been severely disrupted, and continuing civil unrest on the Islands led to an almost complete breakdown in normal activity: civil servants remained unpaid for months at a time; cabinet meetings had to be held in secret to prevent local warlords from interfering; and security forces have been unable to reassert control because many police and other security personnel are associated with the aforementioned warlords or gangs.
In July 2003, the Governor General of the Solomon Islands issued an official request for international help, endorsed unanimously by the parliament. In response, one warlord announced and faxed a signed copy of a ceasefire which, days later, he reportedly broke. In August, a regional peacekeeping force, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), entered the Islands. RAMSI was made up of personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea and has been successful in improving the Islands’ overall security conditions; however the country continues to face serious problems, including an uncertain economic outlook, deforestation, and malaria control.
In 2009, the government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the assistance of Desmond Tutu to address people’s experiences during the five year ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.
For more information:
The Human Development Report Case Study: Solomon Islands: http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2005/papers/HDR2005_McGovern_and_Choulai_33.pdf
Relief Web report on refugees and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Guadalcanal: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/reliefweb_pdf/node-131575.pdf
Information on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in the Solomon Islands: http://www.usip.org/publications/truth-commission-solomon-islands
Video of Peace Corps volunteers who served in the Solomon Islands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34SWAEVgFCY
Women Peacemakers Create Positive Change
“Reconciliation brings peace, but in the absence of forgiveness and repentance, reconciliation and peace cannot exist”
Apollonia Bola Talo is a grassroots activist from the Guadalcanal Province of the Solomon Islands. During the social unrest and tension in the late 1990s, Talo worked with the Peace Monitoring Council (now known as the National Peace Council), and played an active role in the disarmament of militants through the collection of illegally possessed arms around Guadalcanal. While this may sound like an easy task, Talo went around the Island and had to constantly engage in negotiations, as well as organizing and implementing awareness work on the importance of the surrender and collection of arms with the militants and also the general public in order to convince them to give up their weapons; by raising awareness for their cause, Talo earned the trust of both the rebels and the villagers.
In 2007, Talo received the annual “Women of Courage Award.” Currently, Talo works on women’s issues and interests related to HIV/AIDS, income generating enterprises, training, policy development, social justice and peace.
Her son says about her: “I have no enemies. Just like my mother, I believe in peace. Everyone comes to my mother for assistance; whatever it is and what time it is, does not matter. That is how I grew up and that is how I will live my life. My mother is a leader, teacher, and a human rights advocate.”