“Violent conflict in the Solomon Islands, locally referred to as ‘the tensions,’ began in 1998 … prompted by the failure of successive national governments to address issues raised by the indigenous people of Guadalcanal.”* This major conflict ended in 2003 with the assistance of the international community. The author of this article, Reverend Mark Graham, was the Secretary for the Commission on Justice, Reconciliation and Peace of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.
I attended MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training in 2013, taking the courses Introduction to Conflict Transformation and Trauma Healing & Reconciliation in Divided Communities. These courses covered various areas in peacebuilding, such as the definition of violence and conflict, conflict analysis—including mediation—shuttle diplomacy, and more.
These topics equipped me to be able to respond positively to the effects of the ethnic conflicts in the Solomon Islands, especially in Malaita Province and Guadalcanal Province, where the people were most directly affected by the tensions and conflict. Although the ethnic conflict happened between 1999 and 2003, the aftereffects continued to fuel new conflicts, divisions, and trauma in the communities even up to the present day.
Community-based trauma healing session at Kolina village in south Guadalcanal: “Healing Past Wounds” first in order to reach mutual “Reconciliation.”
Working as a peacebuilder in the Solomon Islands, there are four problems we frequently face.
Weather conditions: The weather conditions in an archipelago like the Solomon Islands is not always friendly. Sometimes we encounter rough seas and strong wind when travelling to the destination given that, in most cases, we travel by boat using an outboard motor.
Peace talks between the officials from the Ministry of Peace representing the Solomon Islands’ Government and the chiefs and elders of the communities in south Guadalcanal.
Finances: It is very costly to carry out peacebuilding work in the Solomon Islands. Because it is a nation made up of many islands, we travel primarily by boat, as I already wrote. Since fuel cost is very expensive in sea travel, this becomes a major part of our limited budget.
Trauma: Working in a traumatic situation is in itself risk taking and can be difficult to handle. Sometimes I experience negative reactions and resistance. We spend much of our time with the survivors, but without sufficient backup services.
Build Trust & Relationship: Dealing with the political conflict is very challenging in the Solomon Islands. In Guadalcanal and Malaita, those affected by the conflict were not always willing to enter into dialogue with the government representatives. In such situation, because our team represents the Christian churches, we win trust from the people and are able to serve as the “go-between.”
A traditional reconciliation for an ethnic-related conflict in one of the communities in East Malaita. This reconciliation we facilitated, as with others, received the final blessing from the Church.
All these challenges were overcome by the commendable achievements of my peacebuilding team. This included when I played the key role in the peace talks between the officials from the Ministry of Peace representing the Solomon Islands’ Government and the chiefs and elders of the communities of the weather-coast on south Guadalcanal in 2013. This was the first step forward towards reconciliation that was seen in the celebration of what is called “Solovisu” in the Guadalcanal dialect which means “calling to return.”
I sincerely acknowledge and thank MPI for such an effective peacebuilding training that has had a great impact on our ongoing peacebuilding history in the Solomon Islands.
* McGovern, K. and Choulai, B., Case Study of the Solomon Islands Peace and Conflict-Related Development Analysis, Human Development Report 2005, United Nations Development Program