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Country Profile

Solomon Islands

Country profile: Solomon Islands.

Where are the Solomon Islands? The Solomon Islands and its largest island, Guadalcanal, may be known to fans of Hollywood movies as the site of one of the key battles in the Pacific during World War Two. A British colony between the two world wars, the Solomons were invaded by the Japanese in 1942. Recaptured by the Americans after a six-month battle, the islands were finally granted independence in July 1978. The US provided much initial aid to the Solomons, but now Japan has a much greater influence, providing 40 per cent of the country’s aid.

There are six main islands, each containing a large number of small villages – over half the population live in communities of fewer than 200 people, and most of these still practise subsistence farming. The isolation of the villages has fostered the development of over 80 distinct languages. The extended family system is strongly adhered to in a society as yet untouched by broadcast television – though video cinema is popular in towns.

Solomon Islands politics are characterized by personalities rather than political parties. In October 1994, after just 16 months as Prime Minister, Francis Billy Hilly resigned amid a political crisis. Early in November Solomon Mamaloni, twice in power in the 1980s, was once again elected Prime Minister.

Mamaloni has an economic and environmental crisis on his hands. In recent years the largest export earner has been timber supplied mainly to Japan. But since 1992 logging rates have doubled to four times the sustainable level – environmentalists have calculated that, if current logging rates continue, the forest will be totally wiped out by the end of the decade. When several aid donors threatened to withdraw support, Hilly’s Government placed limits on the generous logging quotas.

Hilly’s anti-logging stance may have helped bring him down – loss of income from the logging industry will have dramatic effects on the economy and involve substantial job losses. It remains to be seen whether Mamaloni will continue the new limits on logging. He has something of an environmental track record, having rejected proposals by Western companies to dump industrial waste on the islands.

Since the beginning of the 1990s Government expenditure has doubled and foreign debt has steadily increased. But there is a renewed attempt to build a self-reliant economy and reduce dependence on external aid. Employers who hire overseas workers are obliged to train local counterparts and land can be wholly owned only by indigenous people.

In recent years violence from the island of Bougainville, which is governed by neighbouring Papua New Guinea, has overflowed into Solomon territory. Peaceful negotiations have so far been unsucessful, but the Islands would be hard put to hold their own in a confrontation with their much bigger neighbour. Economic problems would be greatly eased if precious cash were not spent guarding the border.

Orly Jacobson


LEADER: Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni – but the titular head of state is still the British Queen, represented by a Governor-General.

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $580 (US $22,240)
Monetary unit: Solomon Islands Dollar
Main exports: Fish, timber, copra, palm oil
Main imports: Machinery, transport equipment, mineral fuels
External debt: $130.3 million (1991)
The economy is agriculturally dominated and the subsistence economy contributes 38% of GDP. The main drain on the economy is the high cost of importing fuel. There are high hopes for tourism, which is low at the moment but should increase as more cruise ships include the islands on their route.

PEOPLE: 342,000. Population growth rate 3.5% per annum.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 27 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Melanesian 95%. The rest are a mixture of Polynesians, Micronesians (from Kiribati), Chinese and European.
Religion: Mainly Christian.
Languages: Over 80 languages. Pidgin is widely spoken and English is spoken in towns.

Sources: State of the World’s Children 1994; Asia & Pacific Review 1993/94; Third World Guide 93/94; and information supplied by the author.

Never previously profiled


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
A small cash economy.
[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
62% (1985-90). Education is not compulsory and only 60% of children attend primary school.
[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Increasing dependence on Japanese aid and on fuel imports.
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Democratic elections are peaceably contested and the press is uncensored.
[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Only 18.5% of the workforce is female but the first woman Cabinet Minister was appointed in 1994.
[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
70 years. This compares with the 77 years in the regional superpower, Australia.


[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The Solomon Islands have not developed political parties in the Western democratic tradition - alliances ebb and flow around individuals. This may be no bad thing: the strong emphasis on indigenous traditions and subsistence agriculture is healthy. But politicians all too often seek the quick fix.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

New Internationalist issue 266 magazine cover This article is from the April 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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