About 20 chiefs and church leaders from Honiara and the settlements around the capital recently gathered in a Wakabaot Toktok session, organised by the RAMSI community outreach program to discuss the Mission’s scaling down.
The program for the Wakabaot Toktok held at the RAMSI offices at the Lelei Resort in West Honiara included presentations by the RSIPF, the Government and the Mission. But the different sessions soon turned into discussions on what Solomon Islands’ leaders, including chiefs and church leaders, should do to move the country forward as RAMSI transitions.
The discussions became very passionate with the chiefs and church leaders considering their own roles in the communities they serve and what the national government should be doing to assist Solomon Islands build on what RAMSI had done since it arrived in 2003.
But at the same time the chiefs and church leaders also expressed some reservations about the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and urged the RAMSI Participating Police Force to continue to work with the local police to bring back its integrity and discipline in the four years that they will remain in Solomon Islands after July this year.
They also wanted Solomon Islands national leaders to have a vision for the country’s development.
“RSIPF must win back the hearts of the public. The RAMSI PPF must push hard on the RSIPF to regain its integrity and discipline. But at the same time, we the community leaders and members of the public must not blame the police all the time. It’s our responsibility as community leaders to help our own people as well,” says Joe Ririmae, a former RSIPF officer who is now assisting the community at Henderson in East Honiara.
Another former RSIPF officer, Steven Firibae, who is now a community leader in the Borderline area in east Honiara, expressed support for the downsizing of RAMSI after ten years. He’s happy that the Mission had got rid of most ofthe guns in the communities.
“We must change the minds of our people, not to steal and not to quarrel. There’s too many domestic problems in our communities. There’s too much frustration. If we call the police and they do not come quickly, as community leaders let us resolve these problems the way our grandfathers have done for many years. It seems we have forgotten the custom way of solving such problems. Let us not depend too much on the police,” said Mr Firibae.
Adrian Smith, Archbishop of Honiara described RAMSI as a successful mission when compared to other similar missions in other parts of the world.
“I was scared about the idea of RAMSI when it was first discussed but it came in with a good mixture of people from the region. Very few interventions in the world have been as successful as RAMSI,” said Archbishop Smith, who has served in various parts of Solomon Islands since 1966.
Archbishop Smith however expressed some reservations about the development that has taken place in the country over the years.
“What we have seen is basically re-development of the same areas that have been developed before. What the country needs is new development in areas such as the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal which has seen little development over the years.
“Development must be shared. The leadership of Solomon Islands must spread development throughout the country. When there’s no development, there’s no employment. The youth become frustrated and this is what led to the social unrest in our country. We have a lot of resources, but there’s no infrastructure,” said Archbishop Smith.
Other church leaders at the Wakabaot TokTok urged their colleagues in the country to challenge their membership to change their attitude. Change the attitude of people from an emphasis belonging to a particular province to an emphasis on being part of the nation of Solomon Islands.
The Reverend Eddie Rubaha, currently Rector of the Saint Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara summed it all up like this:
“RAMSI can’t be here forever, but we the people of this nation should become our own RAMSI. The Mission is part of the healing process in this country after the social unrest. The long lasting healing will come from ourselves. We must have a vision for our country. We leaders must make sure we do not become part of the problem.