I suspect very few of the many men, women and pikinini that came to watch the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) forces arrive just after dawn on 24 July 2003 at Henderson International Airport could have imagined that in 13 short years Solomon Islands would have transformed itself from near-collapse to a peaceful nation that can now stand confidently on its own, backed by a competent police force.
Independence Day is a perfect time for the people of the nation to come together to reflect how far the country has come and re-commit to working together to build an even better Solomon Islands.
This year’s Independence anniversary has particular significance for RAMSI, as it is the last in which the Mission will take part. RAMSI will conclude on 30 June 2017 – a recognition by the Government and RAMSI of the tremendous progress made since 2003 by Solomon Islanders committed to rejecting violence and re-building their shattered nation.
Arriving at the point where RAMSI is no longer required has not been an easy path, but the time for Solomon Islands to resume full control for policing and national security and the time to normalise regional support to Solomon Islands security agencies is fast approaching.
Peace has clearly returned to Solomon Islands and, for three years now, the stability of the country has rested safely in the hands of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) and other law enforcement agencies. The RSIPF has been ably stepping up to take RAMSI’s place as we have reduced our presence in a manner and pace supported by successive Solomon Islands Governments.
I am confident that the RSIPF is now ready to seize the reins from RAMSI and take complete control of the nation’s security. Solomon Islanders should support and be proud of their police force. It is now one of the best police services in the region and is quickly becoming a truly independent, modern and professional force.
During our final year, RAMSI will continue to provide mentoring, training and infrastructure to sharpen the RSIPF’s skills and ensure it is best positioned for the transition of the final policing responsibilities. A key element will be completing the training of carefully-selected officers so the Solomon Islands Government can confidently re-arm two specialist RSIPF units, probably later this year. Limited rearmament of the police will enable the RSIPF to protect its communities, waters and border independently of RAMSI.
A national police force exercising full control doesn’t mean, however, that RAMSI contributing nations will walk away from their commitment to Solomon Islands security. The Australian and New Zealand governments are, for example, already in detailed discussions with the Government about further security support and follow-on programs of bilateral policing assistance once RAMSI concludes in 12 months.
RAMSI’s looming departure also magnifies the importance of this year’s Independence Day theme of ‘embracing peace for nation building’. RAMSI has played a central part in re-building the state over the past 13 years, including through efforts to stabilise the nation’s finances, re-set national institutions and remove weapons from the community.
Healing the wounds of the past and dealing with the underlying causes of the Tensions have always been, however, something that only the affected parties – not outsiders – could ultimately resolve, taking advantage of the time, space and stability created by RAMSI. This is why it was so heartening to witness the national apology and reconciliations in the lead up to this year’s Independence anniversary. These powerful and moving events demonstrated how far Solomon Islands has come, opened the door to new beginnings and new possibilities, and represented the start of an extremely important nation-building process.
And while this week of healing was undoubtedly an important step towards unity and a better Solomon Islands for all, it was also a reminder that there is still more work to be done. So, on this 38th Independence anniversary, RAMSI’s hope is that the people of the Solomon Islands accept the challenge to put the past behind them, overcome ethnic and gender divides, and work with each other and the police towards a truly Hapi Isles. The future of this nation is in your hands.
Happy Independence Day Solomon Islands. God bless the nation and its people.