Capital City: Honiara
Largest City: Honiara
Official Currency: Solomon Islands dollar (SBD)
GDP (nominal) $642 million (2008)
Population: 2009 estimate 523,000
Land Area: 28,896 km2
The Solomon Islands is a country in Melanesia, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. Together they cover a land mass of 28,400 square kilometres (10,965 sq mi). The capital is Honiara, located on the island of Guadalcanal.
The North Solomon Islands are divided between the independent Solomon Islands and Bougainville Province in Papua New Guinea.
The Solomon Islands archipelago is part of two distinct terrestrial ecoregions. Most of the islands are part of the Solomon Islands rain forests ecoregion, which also includes the islands of Bougainville and Buka, which are part of Papua New Guinea, these forests have come under pressure from forestry activities. The Santa Cruz Islands are part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion, together with the neighboring archipelago of Vanuatu. Soil quality ranges from extremely rich volcanic (there are volcanoes with varying degrees of activity on some of the larger islands) to relatively infertile limestone. More than 230 varieties of orchids and other tropical flowers brighten the landscape.
The islands contain several active and dormant volcanoes. The Tinakula and Kavachi volcanoes are the most active.
Solomon islands -- History --
It is believed that Papuan speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived circa 4,000 BC also bringing cultural elements such as the outrigger canoe. It is between 1,200 and 800 BC that the ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived from the Bismarck Archipelago with their characteristic ceramics. The first European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neira, coming from Peru in 1568.
Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-19th century. They made little progress at first, because "blackbirding" (the often brutal recruitment of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji) led to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in 1893. This was the basis of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. In 1898 and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate; in 1900 the remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German jurisdiction, was transferred to British administration apart from the islands of Buka and Bougainville which remained under German administration as part of German New Guinea (until they were occupied by Australia in 1914, after the commencement of World War I). Traditional trade and social intercourse between the western Solomon Islands of Mono and Alu (the Shortlands) and the traditional societies in the south of Bougainville, however, continued without hindrance. Under the protectorate, missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population to Christianity. In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the islanders benefited little.
With the outbreak of World War II, most planters and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased. Some of the most intense fighting of World War II occurred in the Solomons. The most significant of the Allied Forces' operations against the Japanese Imperial Forces was launched on August 7, 1942 with simultaneous naval bombardments and amphibious landings on the Florida Islands at Tulagi and Red Beach on Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal became an important and bloody campaign fought in the Pacific War as the Allies began to repulse Japanese expansion. Of strategic importance during the war were the coastwatchers operating in remote locations, often on Japanese held islands, providing early warning and intelligence of Japanese naval, army and aircraft movements during the campaign. Sergeant-Major Jacob Vouza was a notable coastwatcher who after capture refused to divulge Allied information in spite of interrogation and torture by Japanese Imperial forces. He was awarded a Silver Star by the Americans. Islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana would be noted by National Geographic for being the first to find the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and his crew of the PT-109. They suggested using a coconut to write a rescue message for delivery by dugout canoe, which was later kept on his desk when he became the president of the United States.
The U.S. employment of tanks in Guadalcanal was hampered by the nature of the terrain.The Solomon Islands was one of the major staging areas of the South Pacific and was home to the famous VMF-214 "Black Sheep" Squadron commanded by Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington. The Slot was a name for New Georgia Sound, when it was used by the Tokyo Express to supply the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal.
Following the end of World War II, the British colonial government returned. The capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara to take advantage of the infrastructure left behind by the U.S. military. A revolutionary movement known as Maasina Ruru helped to organize and focus a mass campaign of civil disobedience and strikes across the islands. There was much disorder and the leaders were jailed in late-1948. Throughout the 1950s, other indigenous dissident groups appeared and disappeared without gaining strength. In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by a legislative council, and an executive council was created as the protectorate's policymaking body. The council was given progressively more authority. In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate.
On January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence followed on July 7, 1978, the first post-independence government being elected in August 1980. The series of governments formed since have not performed to upgrade and build the country. Following the 1997 election of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu the political situation in the Solomons began to deteriorate. Governance was slipping as the performance of the police and other government agencies deteriorated due to what is commonly known as "the tensions".
Commonly referred to as the tensions or the ethnic tension, the initial civil unrest was mainly characterised by fighting between the Isatabu Freedom Movement (also known as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army) and the Malaita Eagle Force (as well as the Marau Eagle Force). (Although much of the conflict was between Guales and Malaitans, Kabutaulaka (2001) and Dinnen (2002) argue that the 'ethnic conflict' label is an oversimplification). For detailed discussions of The Tensions, see also Fraenkel (2004) and Moore (2004).
In late 1998, militants on the island of Guadalcanal commenced and had a campaign of intimidation and violence towards Malaitan settlers. During the next year, thousands of Malaitans fled back to Malaita or to the capital, Honiara (which, although situated on Guadalcanal, is predominantly populated by Malaitans and Solomon Islanders from other provinces). In 1999, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established in response.
The reformist government of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu struggled to respond to the complexities of this evolving conflict. In late 1999, the government declared a four month state of emergency. There were also a number of attempts at reconciliation ceremonies but to no avail. He also requested assistance from Australia and New Zealand in 1999 but this was rejected.
In June 2000, Ulufa'alu was kidnapped by militia members of the MEF who felt that although he was a Malaitan, he was not doing enough to protect their interests. Ulufa'alu subsequently resigned in exchange for his release. Manasseh Sogavare, who had earlier been Finance Minister in Ulufa'alu's government but had subsequently joined the opposition, was elected as Prime Minister by 23-21 over Rev. Leslie Boseto. However Sogavare's election was immediately shrouded in controversy because six MPs (thought to be supporters of Boseto) were unable to attend parliament for the crucial vote.
In October 2000, the Townsville Peace Agreement, was signed by the Malaita Eagle Force, elements of the IFM and the Solomon Islands Government. This was closely followed by the Marau Peace agreement in February 2001, signed by the Marau Eagle Force, the Isatabu Freedom Movement, the Guadalcanal Provincial Government and the Solomon Islands Government. However, a key Guale militant leader, Harold Keke, refused to sign the Agreement, causing a split with the Guale groups. Subsequently, Guale signatories to the Agreement led by Andrew Te'e joined with the Malaitan-dominated police to form the 'Joint Operations Force'. During the next two years the conflict moved to the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal as the Joint Operations unsuccessfully attempted to capture Keke and his group.
New elections in December 2001 brought Sir Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Ministerís chair with the support of his People's Alliance Party and also the Association of Independent Members. Law and order deteriorated as the nature of the conflict shifted: there was continuing violence on the Weathercoast whilst militants in Honiara increasingly turned their attention to crime and extortion. The Department of Finance would often be surrounded by armed men when funding was due to arrive. In December 2002, Finance Minister Laurie Chan resigned after being forced at gunpoint to sign a cheque made out to some of the militants. Conflict also broke out in Western Province between locals and Malaitan settlers. Renegade members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) were invited in as a protection force but ended up causing as much trouble as they prevented.
The prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread extortion and ineffective police prompted a formal request by the Solomon Islands Government for outside help. With the country bankrupt and the capital in chaos, the request was unanimously supported in Parliament.
In July 2003, Australian and Pacific Island police and troops arrived in the Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). A sizable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about 20 other Pacific nations began arriving the next month under Operation Helpem Fren. Since this time some commentators have considered the country a failed state.
In April 2006 allegations that the newly elected Prime Minister Snyder Rini had used bribes from Chinese businessmen to buy the votes of members of Parliament led to mass rioting in the capital Honiara. A deep underlying resentment against the minority Chinese business community led to much of Chinatown in the city being destroyed. Tensions had also been increased by the belief that large sums of money were being exported to China. China sent chartered aircraft to evacuate hundreds of Chinese who fled to avoid the riots. Evacuation of Australian and British citizens was on a much smaller scale. Further Australian, New Zealand and Fijian police and troops were dispatched to try to quell the unrest. Rini eventually resigned before facing a motion of no-confidence in Parliament, and Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as Prime Minister.
Solomon islands -- Economy --
Its per capita GDP of $600 ranks Solomon Islands as a lesser developed nation, and more than 75% of its labor force is engaged in subsistence and fishing. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products must be imported. Until 1998, when world prices for tropical timber fell steeply, timber was Solomon Islands main export product, and, in recent years, Solomon Islands forests were dangerously overexploited. Other important cash crops and exports include copra and palm oil. In 1998 Ross Mining of Australia began producing gold at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal. Minerals exploration in other areas continued. However in the wake of the ethnic violence in June 2000, exports of palm oil and gold ceased while exports of timber fell. The islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold.
Solomon Islands' fisheries also offer prospects for export and domestic economic expansion. However, a Japanese joint venture, Solomon Taiyo Ltd., which operated the only fish cannery in the country, closed in mid-2000 as a result of the ethnic disturbances. Though the plant has reopened under local management, the export of tuna has not resumed. Negotiations are underway which may lead to the eventual reopening of the Gold Ridge mine and the major oil-palm plantation.
Tourism, particularly diving, is an important service industry for Solomon Islands. Growth in that industry is hampered, however, by lack of infrastructure and transportation limitations.
The Solomon Islands Government was insolvent by 2002. Since the RAMSI intervention in 2003, the government has recast its budget. It has consolidated and renegotiated its domestic debt and with Australian backing, is now seeking to renegotiate its foreign obligations. Principal aid donors are Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, and the Republic of China.
Recently, the Solomons courts have re-approved the export of live dolphins for profit, most recently to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This practice was originally stopped by the government in 2004 after international uproar over a shipment of 28 live dolphins to Mexico. The move has resulted in criticism from both Australia and New Zealand as well as several conservation organisations.
A team of renewable energy developers working for the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and funded by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), have hatched a scheme that enables these communities to access renewable energy, such as solar, without raising substantial sums of ready cash. They also use water and wind power. If the islanders were not able to pay for solar lanterns with cash, reasoned the project developers, they can pay with crops.
Solomon islands -- Culture --
In the traditional culture of the Solomon Islands, age-old customs are handed down from one generation to the next, allegedly from the ancestral spirits themselves, to form the cultural values to Solomon Islands.
Radio is the most influential type of media in the Solomons Islands due to language differences, illiteracy, and the difficulty of receiving television signals in some parts of the country. The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) operates public radio services, including the national stations Radio Happy Isles and Wantok FM, and the provincial stations Radio Happy Lagoon and, formerly, Radio Temotu. There is one commercial station, PAOA FM, that broadcasts in the Solomons. There is one daily newspaper Solomon Star (www.solomonstarnews.com) and one daily online news website Solomon Times Online (www.solomontimes.com), 2 weekly papers Solomons Voice and Solomon Times, and 2 monthly papers Agrikalsa Nius and the Citizen's Press. There are no TV services based in the Solomon Islands, although satellite TV stations can be received. There is free-to-air access to ABC Asia Pacific (from Australia's ABC) and BBC World News.
Solomon Islands writers include the novelists Rexford Orotaloa and John Saunana and the poet Jully Makini.
Solomon islands -- Political system, law and government --
The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy and have a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Monarch of the Solomon Islands and the head of state; she is represented by the Governor-General who is chosen by the Parliament for a five-year term. There is a unicameral parliament of 50 members, elected for four-year terms. However, Parliament may be dissolved by majority vote of its members before the completion of its term. Parliamentary representation is based on single-member constituencies. Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 21. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is elected by Parliament and chooses the other members of the cabinet. Each ministry is headed by a cabinet member, who is assisted by a permanent secretary, a career public servant, who directs the staff of the ministry.
Solomon Islands governments are characterized by weak political parties (see List of political parties in Solomon Islands) and highly unstable parliamentary coalitions. They are subject to frequent votes of no confidence, and government leadership changes frequently as a result. Cabinet changes are common.
Land ownership is reserved for Solomon Islanders. The law provides that resident expatriates, such as the Chinese and Kiribati, may obtain citizenship through naturalization. Land generally is still held on a family or village basis and may be handed down from mother or father according to local custom. The islanders are reluctant to provide land for nontraditional economic undertakings, and this has resulted in continual disputes over land ownership.
No military forces are maintained by the Solomon Islands, although a police force of nearly 500 includes a border protection unit. The police also are responsible for fire service, disaster relief, and maritime surveillance. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor-general and responsible to the prime minister. On 27 December 2006, the Solomon Islands Government said it had taken steps to prevent the country's Australian police chief from returning to the Pacific nation. On 12 January 2007, Australia replaced its top diplomat expelled from the Solomon Islands for political interference in a conciliatory move aimed at easing a four-month dispute between the two countries.
On 11 July 2007, the Solomon Islands swore in Julian Moti as their Attorney General. Moti is currently wanted in Australia for child-related sex offences. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called the move "quite extraordinary". Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has described the country as the "laughing stock" of the civilised world. However the Australian charges against Moti relate to events in Vanuatu, and parallel charges which the courts in Vanuatu dismissed in the 1990s. Julian Moti has attracted Australian attention because he advised the Solomons Government to inquire into the role of Australian police in provoking the 2006 Honiara riots.
On 13 December 2007, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was toppled by a vote of no confidence in Parliament, following the defection of five Ministers to the Opposition. It was the first time a Prime Minister lost office in this way in the Solomon Islands. On 20 December, Parliament elected the Opposition's candidate (and former Minister for Education) Derek Sikua as Prime Minister, with 32 votes to 15.