The Commonwealth Youth
Programme Pacific Centre is based in Honiara; it promotes youth
development in 14 Pacific countries with a total population of some 31
million. The country is an archipelago consisting of a double chain of
rocky islands and some small coral islands; the rocky islands are
remarkable for their steep rugged mountains, of which the highest,
Makarakomburu, on Guadalcanal Island, rises to 2,293m. Some 79% of
Solomon Islands is covered by forest, though this area declined at 0.2%
Joined Commonwealth: 1978
Population: 561,000 (2013)
GDP: p.c. growth: 0.5% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: 2014: world ranking 157
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 11hr
Currency: Solomon Islands dollar (SI$)
Area: 28,370 sq km
Capital city: Honiara
Population density (per sq. km): 20
Solomon Islands, an archipelago in the south-west Pacific, consists of a
double chain of rocky islands and some small coral islands. The major
islands are Guadalcanal, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, New Georgia, Malaita
and Makira (or San Cristobal). Vanuatu is the nearest neighbour to the
south-east where the archipelago tapers off into a series of smaller
islands. Its nearest neighbour to the west is Papua New Guinea.
The country comprises the capital territory of Honiara and nine
provinces, namely Central (provincial capital Tulagi), Choiseul (Taro
Island), Guadalcanal (Honiara), Isabel (Buala), Makira and Ulawa (Kirakira),
Malaita (Auki), Rennell and Bellona (Tigoa), Temotu (Lata), Western (Gizo).
Honiara (capital, pop. 63,300 in 2010) on Guadalcanal, Auki (6,800) on
Malaita, Munda (4,900) on New Georgia, Gizo (4,500) on Gizo in the New
Georgia Islands, Uruuru (3,300) on Malaita, Buala (2,800) on Santa
Isabel, Yandina (2,600) on Mbanika in the Russell Islands, Kirakira
(2,000) on Makira, Tulagi (1,700) on Nggela Sule, Taro Island (1,200),
Lata (630) on Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands and Tigoa (580) on Rennell
There are 1,390 km of roads (mainly on Guadalcanal and Malaita), 2.4 per
cent paved, with some 470 km of main roads, the rest private
rural-access roads. The terrain is mountainous and there is heavy
rainfall making road conditions unpredictable.
The international ports are Honiara (on Guadalcanal) and Yandina (on
Rennell Island); other significant ports are Gizo and Noro (on New
Georgia). Ferries ply between the islands. The international airport is
at Henderson Field, 13 km east of Honiara.
Solomon Islands is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group
of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and
World Trade Organization.
The islands are remarkable for their steep rugged mountains, of which
Makarakomburu (on Guadalcanal Island) is the highest at 2,293m. There
are also several atolls and reef islands, plus several dormant and two
active volcanoes. The rivers are fast-flowing and not navigable.
Equatorial; hot and humid. During the rainy season (November to April),
there are fierce tropical storms – for example, Cyclone Zoë in December
2002, which devastated the isolated islands of Tikopia and Anuta.
The most significant environmental issues are deforestation, soil
erosion, and that much of the surrounding coral reef is dead or dying.
Forest covers 79 per cent of the land, with dense tropical rainforest
occurring on most islands, this percentage having declined at 0.2 per
cent p.a. 1990–2010. There are large tracts of rough grass on the
northern side of Guadalcanal and Nggela Sule. Parts of the coast are
swampy, supporting extensive mangrove forests. Elsewhere, the coast is
dominated by coconut palms. Hardwoods now grown for timber include
mahogany, acacia and teak.
Indigenous mammals are small and include opossums, bats and mice. There
are crocodiles in the mangrove swamps and sea turtles nest on the shores
from November to February. Birdlife (more than 150 species) includes
many species of parrot and incubator bird. Some 20 mammal species and 20
bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).
Archaeological evidence suggests that the Solomon Islands have been
inhabited since 1000 BC. European penetration began in 1568 when the
Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana, exploring from South America, spent half a
year in the islands. Believing that gold was present, he gave them the
name of Solomon’s Islands, after the legendary King Solomon’s mines.
During the 18th century a few European explorers visited the Islands,
but made little impression on the inhabitants who lived in small
isolated communities, often at war with one another.
In the next century, as Europe’s penetration of the Pacific advanced,
naval ships began to call, and missionaries and traders arrived. From
1870, the islands were subjected to ‘blackbirding’ (attacks little
different from slave raids), when kidnappers from Queensland and Fiji
abducted Solomon Islanders as labour for the sugar plantations. The
Solomon Islanders fought back fiercely, leading to slaughter on both
In 1893 Britain made the South Solomons (Guadalcanal, Savo, Malaita, San
Cristobal, the New Georgia group) a Protectorate, to which the Santa
Cruz group was added in 1898 and 1899. In 1900 Germany ceded to Britain
the Shortlands group, Santa Isabel, Choiseul and Ontong Java. With the
establishment of the copra industry in 1908, and the spread of
Christianity throughout the islands, raiding and fighting as a way of
life began to die out, and mission schools provided a basic educational
The Solomon Islands were occupied by the Japanese army during the Second
World War, and counter-invaded by American and Allied troops. There was
almost continuous fighting from 1941 to 1943, and Guadalcanal was the
scene of a six-month battle which was crucial to the outcome of the war
in the Pacific. The Solomon Islanders fought on the side of the Allies,
achieving renown for their courage in battle, and several were
After the war, the movement for self-determination gathered strength.
There was political unrest in Malaita and elsewhere, which was eased by
the setting up, from 1952 onwards, of local government councils, elected
by universal adult suffrage.
In 1974 the governing council approved a constitution that provided for
a governor and a legislative assembly of 24 elected members. In 1975 the
name ‘British Solomon Islands Protectorate’ was formally changed to the
present name. On 2 January 1976 the country became internally
self-governing, proceeding to full independence on 7 July 1978. Solomon
Islands came to independence under the leadership of Peter Kenilorea
(later knighted), who had three periods in office, the first two
consecutive. He was succeeded by his deputy Ezekiel Alebua in 1986.
Other prime ministers since independence include Solomon Mamaloni,
leading the Solomon Islands National Unity, Reconciliation and
Progressive Party (1981-84, 1989-93 and 1994-97), and Francis Billy
Hilly, leading the National Coalition Partners (1993-94).
At the general election in August 1997 Prime Minister Mamaloni’s main
challenger was Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, leading a new group, the Alliance
for Change, comprising several small parties and independents. The new
coalition won, and Ulufa’alu became prime minister.
In July 1998, while parliament was in recess, Ulufa’alu dismissed
Finance Minister Manasseh Sogavare and brought two members of the
opposition Group for National Security and Advancement into the cabinet.
Sogavare then led a group of six MPs to join the opposition, and though
he could barely command a majority in parliament, Ulufa’alu appeared
determined to continue in government.
Intercommunal conflict In the latter part of 1998, growing intercommunal
tensions in Guadalcanal Province erupted into violence. The indigenous
people of Guadalcanal were concerned about continuing settlement on the
island of large numbers of Solomon Islanders from other islands and
especially from Malaita, who dominated the national public service and
the private sector in the capital, Honiara, located in Guadalcanal.
During 1999 the violence intensified and many thousands of Malaitans
(including many long-standing residents of Guadalcanal) were driven to
take refuge in Honiara or return to Malaita. In June a state of
emergency was declared and, at the government’s request, the
Commonwealth Secretary-General sent Sitiveni Rabuka, former prime
minister of Fiji, to broker a peace deal. Agreement was reached on
restoring peace and on the longer-term achievement of a more equitable
ethnic balance in the national public service and the police force. A
Commonwealth peace-monitoring group was to be provided.
Commonwealth-brokered peace Following further unrest, in August 1999
Rabuka brokered a new peace agreement (known as the Panatina Agreement)
which included a reduction in police presence in Guadalcanal Province
with effect from mid-August. In September 1999 the state of emergency
was ended and in October a Commonwealth peace-monitoring group began
supervision of the handover of arms by the militants. However, ethnic
unrest continued into 2000, led by opposing militia – Malaita Eagle
Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement. In June 2000 the Malaita Eagle Force
took the prime minister and governor-general captive and compelled the
prime minister to resign. When it was able to convene a quorum of
members on an Australian warship, parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare
as prime minister and he formed a new government. With the support of
the Australian and New Zealand Governments, the warring militia and the
national and provincial governments engaged in a peace process leading
in October 2000 to the signing of a peace agreement in Townsville,
Australia. This provided for a general amnesty for all members and
former members of the militia on the condition that they hand in their
arms within a given timeframe, and economic development of the island of
Former militia members were to be involved in the collection of arms and
the return of law and order, and an international monitoring team was to
supervise the handover of arms. Sporadic outbreaks of violence
continued. Another peace agreement was concluded in February 2001 but
still there were armed militia at large and many weapons remained in the
hands of former militia members.
In June 2003 Solomon Islands’ then prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza,
with the unanimous approval of parliament and the support of regional
leaders, accepted Australia’s offer to lead an international
intervention force to restore law and order. The force of some 2,200
soldiers and police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua
New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, began operations in July 2003. Its
first priority was to disarm the various militias and restore order. By
2005 the force had been reduced to a few hundred.
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