Solomon Islands country brief

Overview

Solomon Islands is an archipelagic state situated in the south-west Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,000 kms to the northeast of Australia. Its land mass of 28,400 km² extends over nearly 1000 islands comprising nine main island groups. The capital, Honiara, is located on Guadalcanal, the largest island.

The population of Solomon Islands, estimated to be about 555,000, is predominantly Melanesian (about 95%) although there are also small Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and European communities. There are 63 distinct languages in the country, with numerous local dialects. English is the official language but Solomons Pijin is the lingua franca for the majority of people.

Historical overview

Solomon Islands' first contact with Europeans was in 1568, when the Spanish explorer Mendana visited the region. Whaling boats and traders began to visit the archipelago during the nineteenth century, followed closely by Christian missionaries.

In 1893, the UK Government established a protectorate over the eastern group of islands, Germany controlling most of the west. As the result of an Anglo-German agreement of 1899, the UK protectorate was extended to all nine main island groups now part of Solomon Islands, while Buka and Bougainville became part of German New Guinea (later incorporated into Papua New Guinea).

The UK granted Solomon Islands internal self-government in 1976, followed by independence on 7 July 1978. At independence, Solomon Islands joined the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State, represented by a Governor-General.

System of Government

The unicameral national Parliament comprises 50 members elected for a four-year term under a first-past-the-post voting system. The Prime Minister is elected by a simple majority of members of Parliament. Party structures in Solomon Islands are fluid, with extensive coalition-building usually required to form government. In addition to the national Government there are nine provincial assemblies, each led by a Premier.

The Tensions

In December 1998, existing ethnic tensions on Guadalcanal rapidly escalated. Many Guadalcanal people resented the influence of settlers from other islands and their occupation of undeveloped land in and around Honiara. The settlers, mostly from nearby Malaita, were drawn to Honiara and its environs by comparatively greater economic opportunities. Violent clashes involving rival militant groups erupted, destabilising Solomon Islands and undermining national institutions and coherence. This situation persisted for more than four years.

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)

In April 2003, then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza wrote to request Australian assistance in addressing the violence. Following consultations between the Governments of Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand, a comprehensive package of strengthened assistance to support the Solomon Islands Government — the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) — was proposed and unanimously endorsed by a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum. RAMSI was debated and unanimously endorsed by the Solomon Islands Parliament, welcomed by the President of the UN Security Council, commended by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and supported by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and then Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon.

RAMSI has been a long-term commitment aimed at creating the conditions necessary for a return to stability, peace and a growing economy. In 2009, RAMSI and the Solomon Islands Government signed a joint Partnership Framework, which sets out shared objectives and timelines for RAMSI's work, so that RAMSI activities can gradually draw down as Solomon Islands' capacity grows.

On 1 July 2013, RAMSI's military component was withdrawn and development assistance activities transferred to the programs of other donors, mainly Australia's.

The conclusion of RAMSI on 30 June 2017 signals a significant transition for Solomon Islands. A new bilateral policing capacity development program will commence in conjunction with new governance and law and justice programs. RAMSI's conclusion is recognition of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force's (RSIPF) capability to independently provide law, order and security for Solomon Islands.

Further information is available on the RAMSI website.

Political developments

National elections were last held on 19 November 2014. On 9 December 2014, Manasseh Damukana Sogavare was elected Prime Minister by the newly-constituted Solomon Islands Parliament. Prime Minister Sogavare leads a coalition of parties under the Democratic Coalition for Change (DCC) Government.

Economic overview

Solomon Islands experienced severe economic contraction and stagnation over the period of the ethnic conflict (1998-2003). Since RAMSI deployed in 2003, Solomon Islands has seen relatively consistent economic growth. Economic growth was approximately 2.9 per cent in 2016.

Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific's poorest countries, with high costs of service delivery due to a small and geographically dispersed population. The majority of the population (growing at about three per cent per annum) is involved in subsistence/cash crop agriculture, with less than a quarter involved in paid work. Agriculture and raw materials (including logging) accounted for 92 per cent of exports, leaving the narrow-based economy vulnerable to shocks.

Bilateral relations

Australia has a deep and longstanding relationship with Solomon Islands. During the Second World War Australians were involved in the struggle to liberate the islands from Japanese occupation. In the post-war period, people-to-people and business links grew steadily and there are estimated to be around 1500 Australians in Solomon Islands, mainly in Honiara. Australia is Solomon Islands' main development partner. Australian development assistance to Solomon Islands, through the Solomon Islands–Australia Partnership for Development, focuses on improving health, education, water and sanitation, transport, telecommunications, law and justice, rural livelihoods and effective governance.

Australia maintains close business relations with Solomon Islands. Shipping and air services directly connect Solomon Islands with Australia and one Australian commercial bank (ANZ) operates in Solomon Islands. A number of Australian legal and accounting firms are represented directly or in association with local firms.

Australia and Solomon Islands signed a memorandum of understanding for Solomon Islands' participation in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme in December 2011. The Pilot was replaced by the permanent Seasonal Worker Programme in July 2012. Under the Programme, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.

People to people links

Australia Awards

Every year around 30 Solomon Islanders study at Australian or regional universities supported by Australian scholarships. With very limited tertiary studies in Solomon Islands, these scholarships are helping the Solomon Islands Government to meet the training and human resource development needs of the country.

For more information, see the Australia Awards website.

Volunteers

The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. Australia's overseas volunteer program, Australian Volunteers for International Development, has a one-stop entry point to Australian volunteering. See the AVID page for further information.

Development assistance

More information on development assistance in Solomon Islands.

Agriculture

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) program in the south Pacific embraces Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries sustain many households in these countries and supply the majority of livelihoods, as well as food security. The ACIAR strategy works towards underpinning the competitiveness and security of these sectors. Women, in particular, have a central role in household food gardening; tree crop production; and marketing of horticultural, tree crop and fisheries products. To achieve sustainable change, ACIAR will help develop innovative approaches that engage, empower and invest in women. Transforming these agricultural, fisheries and forestry systems into sustainable income-generating activities through improved productivity and marketing will enhance food security and self-reliance, and reduce poverty.

Direct Aid Program (DAP)

The Solomon Islands Direct Aid Program is a small grant scheme that partners with various organisations to support projects that directly contribute to the welfare and income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups. The grants can also be used to enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Get involved in the Direct Aid Program

High level visits

  • December 2016: Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop led a bipartisan delegation to Honiara including Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Penny Wong; Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Senator Claire Moore, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific. The visit underlined the strong bipartisan support for Australia's continued commitment to peace and stability in Solomon Islands following RAMSI's withdrawal. Foreign Minister Bishop launched a $50 million program to foster private sector investment and inclusive economic opportunities.
  • August 2016: Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells visited Honiara to meet with senior members of the Solomon Islands Government, including Prime Minister Sogavare and Foreign Minister Tozaka. Minister Fierravanti-Wells reinforced Australia's commitment to peace and stability beyond RAMSI and announced new packages of bilateral support in health and infrastructure. Minister Fierravanti-Wells also delivered the opening remarks at the annual HMAS Canberra memorial service.
  • December 2015: then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Steve Ciobo led a Parliamentary Delegation to Honiara to meet with senior members of the Solomon Islands Government, including Prime Minister Sogavare. Mr Ciobo announced a new package of support to the education sector and confirmed Australia's commitment to security and stability in Solomon Islands throughout the RAMSI drawdown.
  • February 2015: then Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Steve Ciobo visited Honiara to meet with senior members of the newly-elected Solomon Islands Government, including Prime Minister Sogavare, and reaffirm Australia's support for a strong partnership with Solomon Islands.
Last Updated: 9 May 2017