Solomons time: young men taking over Honiara, civil war in Papua New Guinea

I now live in Honiara, the capital of the country, also known as the Solomon Islands. It is the fourth largest city in the Pacific and home to more than 200,000 people, about 10% of the population.

It is called the Solomons for “sola nut”, which is what the name translates to. Solomon is a Javanese word, based on a word used to describe the qualities of the sideburns of Javanese men.

The Solomons are located in the west Pacific Ocean and share a small “winged” island in the middle of the ocean called Papua New Guinea. There is no direct connection between the two countries, so people call the Solomons “one big Papua New Guinea”.

The Solomons are an underdeveloped archipelago of around 150 islands. A single island can have an area of 250km² (75 sq miles). The islands are spread across an area of 2.5 million square km (932,064 sq miles).

The capital, Honiara, was a collection of old tin and iron buildings that grew into an active port on a hill that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s approximately one hour’s flight to Singapore and two to Brisbane.

Solomon Islands: locals on what causes unrest Read more

My ancestors are from the Malaita provinces of the Solomons and I am of Guadalcanal descent. Guadalcanal is one of the region’s three main ethnic groups, the others being the Malaita and the Kalambak. My grandparent’s ancestors from the Mako tribe lived in Honiara in the 1800s. They were the original owners of the original Honiara facility, a well known hotel.

In the early 1990s the primary part of the country was over-run by extremists who took power through military coup. The island of Flores was invaded by the Maori Polynesians, which were armed with anti-ship missiles. The island of Ligairi was taken over by the Sepist Wallah Resistance.

This led to a war and the annexation of the United Malaita Islands Administration (UMIA), ruled by Boere Kikau, one of the strongest local politicians.

As a result, a major peacemaking process took place in Australia. This saw the expulsion of Kikau, illegal internal deployment and a mandate from the Commonwealth Observer Group appointed by Australia, New Zealand and the United States. A United Nations commission of inquiry followed.

All this helped end the two-year conflict and pave the way for future government formation. Successive governments have taken the reins from these magistrates from time to time.

We seem to now be experiencing a significant eruption in Honiara. In particular, we’re noticing young adults involved in different activities. Why?

Most of the noise on social media is related to economic activities, such as weed eradication. Informational postings and alerts on social media have been doing the rounds. It can sometimes seem like the Solomons is in turmoil, other times, not.

We are in need of general development, other than the obvious such as law and order and political stability. We need investment, encouragement for the growth of tourism.

Even here in Honiara there are political issues. For example, there’s an increase in “banana bunting”, which is linked to political parties.

The good news is that we are moving in the right direction and the Solomons is becoming more open to business. The push to make Honiara a city that is regarded as one of the world’s top 50 top cities remains a priority for the incoming government, which will hopefully provide more opportunities and economic growth.

The Solomons’ overseas interests, from trade and tourism to education and research, have always gone hand in hand.

The Solomons is on the verge of becoming a pre-eminent regional business centre, attracting investments across all sectors.

Stéphane Goossens is executive director, NGO Development Advancement Foundation

This article was co-produced by Oxfam in partnership with Change Parliament.

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