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History of the Solomon Islands

Table of contents
1 Early history
2 World War II
3 Towards independence
4 Cyclones
5 Civil war

Early history

The Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendao de Neira discovered the islands in 1568. Spain lost its interest in the islands late in the 16th century, when one of Alvaro's ships was lost on a second visit to the area. Later, Dutch, French and British navigators visited the islands; their reception was often hostile.

Missionary activity started at the mid 19th century and European colonial ambitions led to the establishment of a German Protectorate over the Northern Solomons, following an Anglo-German Treaty of 1886. A British Solomon Islands Protectorate over the southern islands was proclaimed in 1893. German interests were transferred to Britain under the Samoa Tripartite Convention of 1899, in exchange for recognition of the German claim to Western Samoa.

World War II

Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands in January 1942. The counter-attack was led by the United States; the 1st Division of the US Marine Corps landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August 1942. Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II took place on the islands for almost three years. Tulagi, the seat of the British administration on the island of Nggela Sule in Central Province was destroyed in the heavy fighting following landings by the US Marines. Then the tough battle for Guadalcanal, which was centred on the capture of the airfield led to the development of the adjacent town of Honiara as the United States logistics centre.

The impact of the war on islanders was profound. The destruction caused by the fighting and the longer-term consequences of the introduction of modern materials, machinery and western cultural artefacts, transformed traditional isolated island ways of life. The reconstruction was slow in the absence of war reparations and with the destruction of the pre-war plantations, formerly the mainstay of the economy.

Towards independence

Stability was restored during the 1950s, as the colonial administration build a network of official local councils. On this platform Solomon Islanders with experience on the local councils started participation in central government. A Governing Council was set up in 1970, and in 1974 a new constitution was established which gave the islanders Prime Ministerial and Cabinet responsibilities. Self-government was achieved in 1975 and full independence was gained on 7 July 1978.


In 1992, Cyclone Tia struck the island of Tikopia, wiping out most housing and food crops.

In December 2002, Cyclone Zoe struck the island of Tikopia and Anuta, cutting off contact with the 3,000 inhabitants. Due to funding problems, the Solomon Islands government could not send relief until the Australian government provided funding.

Civil war

In early 1999 long-simmering tensions between the local Gwale people on Guadalcanal and more recent migrants from the neighbouring island of Malaita, erupted into violence. The ‘Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army’, later called Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), began terrorising Malaitans in the rural areas of the island, to make them leave their homes. About 20,000 Malaitans fled to the capital and others returned to their home island; Gwale residents of Honiara fled. The city became a Malaitan enclave.

Meanwhile, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was formed to uphold Malaitan interests. The Government appealed to the Commonwealth Secretary General for assistance. The Honiara Peace Accord was agreed on 28 June, 1999. Despite this apparent success the underlying problems remained unresolved. The accord soon broke down and fighting broke out again in June 2000.

Malaitans took over some armouries at their home island and Honiara and helped by that, on June 5 the MEF seized the parliament by force. They claimed that the government of the then Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, had failed to secure compensation for loss of Malaitan life and property. Ulufa’alu was forced to step down. On 30 June Parliament elected by a narrow margin a new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare. He established a Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, which released a program of action focused on resolving the ethnic conflict, restoring the economy and distributing the benefits of development more equally. However, Sogavare’s government was deeply corrupt and its actions led to the downward economic spiral and the deterioration of law and order.

The conflict was foremost about access to land and other resources and was centered around Honiara. Since the beginning of the civil war it is estimated that 100 have been killed. About 30,000 refugees, mainly Malaitans, had to leave their homes, and economic activity on Guadalcanal was severely disrupted.

Continuing civil unrest led to an almost complete breakdown in normal activity: civil servants remained unpaid for months at a time, and cabinet meetings had to be held in secret to prevent local warlords from interfering. The security forces were unable to reassert control, largely because many police and security personel are associated with one or another of the rival gangs.

In July 2003 the Governor General of Solomon Islands issued an official request for international help, which was subsequently endorsed by a unanimous vote of the parliament. Technically, only the Governor General's request for troops was necessary. However, the government then passed legislation to provide the international force with greater powers and resolve some legal ambiguities.

On July 6, 2003, in response to a proposal to send 300 police and 2,000 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to Guadalcanal, warlord Harold Keke announced a ceasefire by faxing a signed copy of the annoucement to the Solomons Prime Minister, Allan Kemakeza. Keke ostensibly leads the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, but has been described as marauding bandit based on the isolated southwestern coast (Weather Coast) of Guadalcanal. Despite this ceasefire, on July 11, 2003 the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation broadcasted unconfirmed reports supporters of Harold Keke razed two villages.

In mid-July 2003, the Solomons parliament voted unamimously in favour of the proposed intervention. The international force began gathering at a training facility in Townsville and the first members are expected to arrive by air in the Solomons before the end of the month.

In August 2003, an international peacekeeping force entered the islands: the largest single contribution coming from Australia, but with substantial numbers also from New Zealand, Fiji, and Paupa-New Guinea. It acts as an interim police agency and the front-line members of the force are police personel. However, the present state of lawlessness in the Solomons is such that it was not considered reasonable to send police alone to deal with it, therefor a substantial number of soldiers acts as a backup with sufficient force to overawe any gang.

On August 12, 2003, Keke surrendered to the Australians and was transferred to Honiara. His gang was responsible for much of the unrest on the islands.

Current issues include government deficits, deforestation, and malaria control.