The Violent Epidemic in Solomon Islands

by Courtney Mabeus

It looks like the violence in the Solomon Islands has been getting worse. The bloodshed was compounded by the government’s failure to address the causes of the violence, and every week since the siren went out on Jan. 5 has seen a new bout of violence.

Last week, violence flared again and saw several people die, 14 injured, and almost 80 arrested. What started with an attack on a soccer pitch in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, escalated to a murder that left three people dead and left over 30 more injured.

The violence is especially troubling because it again places people with political and economic differences in constant danger of being attacked. There are many questions to be asked about why this should happen so often.

Before this week’s new bout of violence, all of this bloodshed was concentrated on the two main islands of Guadalcanal and Honiara, both of which are called Guadalcanal. (The region is longer than the continental United States and was once independent, though it retained the influence of the British.) The violence was scattered throughout the smaller islands. As population rises, so does the potential for violence, since resources are often strained. Communities can grow impoverished and vulnerable to attacks from other communities with resentment toward where they come from or are threatened by competition for resources.

There are attempts being made to address the issues at the root of the violence. Many leaders are demanding greater security for their communities. The entire police force has been deployed to all four of the major islands, and for two of those islands, the force is doing things like working with the militias instead of going after them. The government has also appealed to the civilian community to join in by helping to stop the violence. One organization has offered monetary prizes to help engage volunteers in seeking peace.

However, leaders continue to be involved in a political power struggle for the country’s leadership. So far the new president, Manasseh Sogavare, has not initiated a negotiation to end the violence. His opponent, prime minister Andrew Holness, has resorted to intimidation to push through his plans to consolidate power, a tactic that previous presidents used to consolidate power as well. One person died of gunshot wounds in Honiara following the new bout of violence and another was seriously injured after being beaten up by people trying to disrupt the funeral of the victims. This violence and the government’s refusal to consider any measures to reduce the power struggle and violence must end.

For most of the past month, Prime Minister Sogavare has been a statesman, showing compassion, justice, and comity toward all of his citizens. After listening to many of the different sides, and assuming the positions of both the justice and the Christian ministries, he has decided that there are solutions to the issues that have brought the violence to Honiara and the communities of Guadalcanal. He has agreed to meet with both candidates to devise a peace agreement to stop the violence. He has also invited the opposition to meet with him and discuss how to resolve the current power struggle. He has tried to do this on an island-wide basis, without any effect so far.

Violence in the Solomon Islands is certainly not normal. It is surprising that it continues so frequently and quickly, but given the last decade of turmoil, it is unlikely to end soon. Despite the government’s now vague plans to sort out the problems, it is unlikely to be resolved in any meaningful way. It is time that the government took more action. Without action, the worst parts of the conflict will continue to trickle across the boundaries of Guadalcanal.

Courtney Mabeus is an adjunct professor of media studies at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has studied media and mass communication in the Pacific islands, including Solomon Islands.

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