Thank you to Shahar Hameiri for his recent post on RAMSI. No doubt we’ll be hearing and talking a lot about the impact and legacy of the mission in the coming months. Indeed in the last few days, we hear that the last of the NZ military rotations has completed its input.
Shahar’s particular viewpoint is one I find intriguing. Certainly the influence of those involved in logging on the political economy of Solomon Islands has been and continues to be significant.
In terms of the wider issue of the impact and legacy of RAMSI a number of things arise. Of most concern is the perception that the ‘institutional strengthening’ aspect of the mission has, in effect, created a parallel government rather than assisting local stakeholders in developing and maintaining crucial processes and systems that can be embedded and sustained. It’s hard to see how this has contributed to the statebuilding project overall. Allied with this (and alluded to by Shahar) is the skewing effect on the economy (particularly in Honiara) of the influx of military and police personnel as well as expatriate advisers wanting (and paying for) services and goods (but mainly services) of various kinds. It is a matter of concern as to what the social impacts will be if and when this largely artificial economic buttress is removed.
Managing the effect of withdrawing this type of economic buttress is not an easy challenge to address in any environment. The first aspect of addressing this challenge is to acknowledge its existence and identify potential risks, particularly those relating to social conflict at an early stage where possible. Allied to this is the importance of acknowledging the wider social impacts of a long-term intervention such as RAMSI on a small yet complex society such as that of Solomon Islands. It is inevitable that the presence of this mission will leave a range of impressions on the country, especially in Honiara where it’s most visible. These impressions span a range of things both tangible and intangible. The ‘exit strategy’ for RAMSI needs to encompass a whole lot more than putting people and equipment on planes and ships. It’s not possible for an outside influence, even one as significant as RAMSI, to ‘do’ nation building for a sovereign state. However, what is to be hoped is that Operation ‘Helpem Fren’ will have indeed assisted the people of Solomon Islands to recover from a very painful period in order to move forward on a their own journey.
Tess Newton Cain specialises in developing knowledge connections in the South Pacific region. She is a research associate of the Development Policy Centre and is currently employed by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy.