Fiji Sun

RAMSI Ends: What’s Next for the Solomon Islands?

The mission was devised not simply as a peacekeepi­ng operation, but as a programme to rebuild the state.

- [OCEANIA | THE DIPLOMAT] This article is published in the The Diplomat

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) ended last Friday, June 30. For the past 14 years the Australian-led mission has been assisting the Pacific Island country to reestablis­h stability and functional­ity after a period of ethnic violence from 1998 to 2003. During this period hundreds of people were killed, tens of thousands displaced, and the state was brought almost to collapse.

As a modern nation-state constructe­d out of a British colonial endeavour, the Solomon Islands brought together six large culturally distinct islands (and another 900 smaller islands) alongside 70 languages. Despite the creole of Pijin (closely related to Papua New Guinea’s Tok Pisin) developing throughout the colonial period as a lingua franca, an accompanyi­ng strong civic nationalis­m that could have transcende­d tribal divisions had failed to develop alongside it.

The second half of the 20th Century saw significan­t movement of people from the island Malaita, who were seeking opportunit­ies in the capital of Honiara on the island Guadalcana­l. Malaitans soon became the largest ethnic group in the capital and the dominant actors in many of the government’s structures and business community. This led to significan­t resentment within the native Guale population. The increasing tensions led to the formation of two militia groups, the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force. Law and order began to collapse along with the state’s ability to deliver services, and economic activity was diminished.

Prior to 2003, Australia had been reluctant to intervene in the conflict. Australia’s role in the recent independen­ce of Timor-Leste had aroused Indonesian suspicions of potential Australian sympathy towards the independen­ce movement in West Papua. The thinking was that any use of military force in the region could have been perceived by Indonesia as an Australian fondness for regional interventi­ons, compoundin­g suspicions of Australia’s disregard for Indonesian sovereignt­y.

Yet with the invitation of the Solomon Islands’ government, and with increased concern about a failing state in Australia’s “arc of instabilit­y,” the RAMSI interventi­on was launched with the support of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Violence came to an almost immediate halt with the RAMSI interventi­on, and within a few weeks most of the militias’ weaponry had been confiscate­d and destroyed. Although Australia provided the bulk of the 2200 military personnel and police, the other 15 member states of the Pacific Islands Forum all contribute­d some police and military personnel, as well advisors and diplomats to assist in the reconstruc­tion of the state.

The mission was devised not simply as a peacekeepi­ng operation, but as a programme to rebuild the state. This involved significan­t investment in not only the Solomon Islands’ security apparatuse­s, but also within the country’s financial infrastruc­ture, the justice system, and vital public services like health and education. Alongside reviving the country’s economy and building more inclusive civic institutio­ns.

In a statement to the Solomon Islands Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare recognised the success of this state-building project when he declared that “[l]aw and order has been restored, the machinery of Government is functionin­g again, the economy has recovered and the judicial system has been strengthen­ed; our Police Force has regained the confidence of our people.”

RAMSI has remained popular with the general population throughout its mission, and some sections of the Solomon Islands community are concerned that unrest will return when it departs.

While government corruption in the Solomon Islands remains an endemic problem, and former warlord Jimmy Lusibaea is now the Infrastruc­ture Minister, the chief of the RAMSI mission, Quinton Devlin, has stressed that the creation of a perfect state was never RAMSI’s purpose. The mission was to restore stability to the country and assist in establishi­ng institutio­ns that the Solomon Islands can continue to develop themselves.

However, the success of RAMSI, once it fully departs the Solomon Islands on Friday, will be judged by whether this stability and security can be maintained, and whether the country’s revived institutio­ns have the resilience to withstand the transition back to full sovereignt­y, and to accommodat­e the evolving needs of the Solomon Islands’ people.

For Australia, the end of RAMSI will signal a potential shift in Australia’s regional foreign policy.

Will Australia continue to pursue a more active and interventi­onist foreign policy, or move back towards the more reluctant position held prior to RAMSI, wary of Indonesia’s concerns. Of course the hope is that further interventi­ons of this kind will not be necessary – particular­ly in the Solomon Islands – however the forthcomin­g referendum on Bougainvil­le’s independen­ce from Papua New Guinea (currently scheduled for mid-2019) will undoubtedl­y be carefully observed by the Australian government.

 ??  ?? RAMSI has come to an end on June 30.
RAMSI has come to an end on June 30.

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