The wisdom of Solomons
Imagine a country which up to now had maintained its stability through a network of dysfunction and a web of corruption. Sharar Hameiri in the Age described this country.
In the past, personalised networks of patronage and loyalty were precisely the way political leaders managed to maintain a modicum of cohesion in this geographically and ethnically fragmented country. ... [which] was ruled by a small group of corrupt politicians and ex-militants who milked the country dry for personal benefit.
But although things had gone on for a long time, the system was starting to run down. Political leaders at the top had become too greedy and began impoverishing the people. Money was not trickling down through the old tribal networks. Unrest was starting to grow. Imagine further that a contingent of foreign troops arrived in comparatively overwhelming strength arrived to set things right, but in the process disturbed the status quo ante. Although the foreign presence:
was particularly successful in the area of law and order because most [inhabitants] and eventually political elites, had had enough of this exploitative and unsustainable political order but were unable to remove the thugs by force.
Unfortunately the reforms also created its own tendency toward destabilization.
However, most [inhabitants] did not want [the foreign contingent] to eliminate personalised rule completely because it was the glue that connected [the national capital] to the provinces.
The country is not Iraq but the Solomon Islands; and the foreign contingent was not American but Australian and New Zealand. Not MNF-Iraq, but RAMSI. Let's hear the story again with the right names.
The development model RAMSI and other donors promote relies on the supposed "trickle-down" effect of private sector-led economic growth through export-oriented, market-driven reform. However, the measures pursued to attract investors actually increase poverty, at least in the short to medium term, because they stipulate severe cuts in government spending and public sector redundancies, as well as apply pressure on the customary land ownership system.
Consequently we have seen wealth disparities increase in the Solomon Islands in tandem with the rise of a small mostly Chinese business class that has benefited from RAMSI contracts and the presence of aid workers and other personnel.
Before RAMSI's arrival, the Solomons was ruled by a small group of corrupt politicians and ex-militants who milked the country dry for personal benefit. RAMSI was particularly successful in the area of law and order because most Solomon Islanders, and eventually political elites, had had enough of this exploitative and unsustainable political order but were unable to remove the thugs by force. However, most Solomon Islanders did not want RAMSI to eliminate personalised rule completely because it was the glue that connected Honiara to the provinces.
In the Solomons, political and economic power is gradually shifting from the public sector to the Chinese-dominated private sector, partly as a result of RAMSI's governance reforms. A dangerous disparity has thus appeared between the expectations and interests of ordinary islanders that their representatives in Honiara look after, and the needs of a market-driven economy, which tend to concentrate wealth in the hands of few. As the riots demonstrate, the legitimacy of formal political institutions is difficult to achieve in this context.
The Australian reports:
THE Australian-led and funded intervention team in Solomon Islands is finding itself on increasingly uncomfortable ground.
And for RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, which was welcomed with open arms by 99.9 per cent of Solomon Islanders less than three years ago, this is very unfamiliar territory.
As young islanders openly sneer at the heavily armed Australian troops making their rounds of Honiara's market, the real cost of last week's violence and RAMSI's mishandling of it is becoming apparent.
Images of the lockdown of the Solomon Islands parliament only add to the sense of a well-intentioned mission going terribly wrong. Parliament sat yesterday under the guard of highly armed, black-suited Australian and New Zealand anti-riot police.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports: Solomons Parliament Locked Down in a kind of Green Zone.
More, but not much more blog discussion here.
I am waiting for someone to call for the resignations of the Australian and New Zealand Defense Ministers. But joking aside, sounds eerie, doesn't it?
One of the problems with the paradigm of nation building is the expectation of effecting change while ensuring that in the meantime things remain the same. The ancien regime and its supporters are somehow supposed to be overturned and supplanted by a new order through a procedure more painless than modern dentistry. Or our money back. And so there are calls for UN Relief Missions to Somalia to be protected from gangs; calls for intervention in Darfur; calls to end the Chinese occupation of Tibet. But nobody wants to think about what that really means.
And then there will be calls to examine 'what went wrong?'; to identify the defects in planning that led to the moment of disillusionment when it proved after all to be impossible to change things while keeping them the same. But the first thing that went wrong was the acceptance of the flawed premise.
As I walk along,
I wonder what went wrong ...
And as I still walk on,
I think of the things we've done
Together, a-while our hearts were young