Learning4Peace/Solomon Islands/Leeming Chapter Isabel Youth

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Youth and Women Collaborating for Peace with Community Media in Solomon Islands

Draft chapter of a book:

  • Working Title of Book: Learning to Live Together: Using interactive media for respect and understanding
  • Editors: Tanyss Munro (COL) & Rawwida Baksh (IDRC)
  • Publisher: Commonwealth of Learning, Publication Date:June 2009

David Leeming

Technical Advisor, People First Network

Director, Leeming International Consulting

Honiara, Solomon Islands


Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a nation of around half a million people scattered over an area (EEZ) of the South West Pacific the size of France, Germany and Spain combined, although the total area of land is only 28,000 sq km. This description belies the fact that, even relatively small on a global scale, the Solomons are actually the second biggest of the Pacific Islands countries in terms of land mass and third in terms of population. Solomon Islands only became an independent state in 1978, and the concept of nationhood in the islands is a recent one that hardly existed before the British declared a protectorate over the southern Solomons in 1893. The country is peopled by a Melanesian majority, with Polynesian outliers and in more recent times, influxes of settlers from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) Europeans and Chinese. The diversity is illustrated by the large number of languages spoken (more than 80).

The Solomons is an LDC (Least Developed Country) as classified by the UN, and around 85 percent of the country's population live in isolated rural villages, with many on underdeveloped outer islands. It consists of a total of over 347 permanently inhabited islands of which six are large. The population in 2007 was approximately 570,000 with a growth rate of approximately 2.8%. Around 80% of the population are largely engaged in subsistence agriculture. More than half the formal employment is concentrated in and around the national capital Honiara.

The western border of Solomon Islands is with Bougainville; a province of Papua New Guinea. The conflict that took place there between 1989 and 1998 preceded and was interlinked with the ethnic conflict that erupted in the Solomons at the end of the 1990s.

Isabel Province

Isabel (or Ysabel) province has a total area of 4,156 square kilometres with vast resources. Most of the land is rugged and mountainous with 2.3 percent of the total land identified as Agriculture Opportunity Area.

People on Isabel have a strong affiliation to their culture and to Christianity. The Church of Melanesia is the main Christian Mission on the Island, having 96 percent of the total population. Chiefs govern village affairs, land issues, and mandate the cultural practices. Traditionally land ownership is passed through matrilineal system. There are 8 main languages spoken, plus Solomon Pidgin. English is the official administrative language, but is spoken confidently mainly by the young and educated only.

Isabel is mostly rural with no road other than a few kilometres of unsealed track near the capital and one or two other locations. Travel is almost exclusively by sea, along the reef-fringed coastline by dugout or motor canoes, or the weekly round-island ship. There are two airfields including Fera Island which serves the provincial capital next to Buala with three flights a week to the capital Honiara by Twin Otter.

There are 3 constituencies within the province namely Hograno/Kia/Havulei, Maringe/ Kokota and Gao/Bugotu. These constituencies have a total of 16 wards. The Buala provincial headquarters is located in Maringe/Kokota constituency. Most villages are located on the coast.

Major income earning activities are from copra and cocoa, logging and marine products. The formal employment of the province is small, making up only about a fifth of the working age population. Most people are either self employed, or working in the subsistence sector to provide for own consumption.

The provincial government provides its service delivery through substations, which are located in the rural areas. Over the years, the national government grants in area of health, education and recurrent services have been the main source of revenue for the province. The provincial government has earned a small amount of income from business licenses and the major provincial expenditure is civil service salaries.

Buala has fixed and mobile telephone coverage, a twice weekly air service to Honiara and weekly shipping service. Buala has small stores and a market and a small hospital and clinic, and a Police post. By 2009 there was only a very slow dialup Internet access in Buala for fixed lines and via a small Internet Cafe at the Telekom office. No other location on Isabel has Internet access other than a distance learning centre at Guguha, which is described later in this chapter.

Development priorities are also very apparent in Isabel. For instance, despite the matrilineal land ownership system, women hold very few positions in the “Tripod” governance system, which consists of the Provincial Authority, Council of Chiefs and the Church.

Ethnic Conflict

Between 1999 and 2002 the country experienced a breakdown of law and order which was restored with the arrival of the military intervention force, Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in mid 2003. The “tension”, as it is known in the Solomons, was exploited by political and criminal opportunists and fuelled by corruptive influences of the logging industry dominated by south-east Asian companies.

The recent history and eruption of the conflict begins with the 1998 Isatabu uprising in Guadalcanal Province and the eviction of thousands of settlers from Malaita Province. Things came to a head on 5th June 2000 when militant factions from the most populous province, Malaita, allied with many of their “wantoks” in the police force staged a coup, deposed the Prime Minister and took over control of the capital Honiara. Meanwhile, the Guadalcanal militants developed alliances with counterparts in Western Province and as far as Bougainville.

The Townsville Peace Agreement (TPA) of October 2000, which followed, largely failed due to non-implementation and this led to further deterioration, lawlessness and more serious atrocities especially on the remote “Weathercoast” of Guadalcanal.

In rural areas away from the Weathercoast and a few other hotspots, people suffered from the deterioration in services such as transport and non payment of public service salaries but customary land ownership and reliance on subsistence agriculture saw them through the worst of the troubles.

However, in Honiara the worsening situation began to undermine the democratic functioning of state institutions. This finally led to the Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza requesting assistance from Australia in May 2003. The violence was curtailed before it could reach the levels of the earlier conflict on neighbouring Bougainville island by the deployment of RAMSI on 24 July 2003 with a mandate unanimously approved by the Solomon Islands National Parliament, to help the Solomon Islands Government restore law and order, strengthen government institutions, reduce corruption and re-invigorate the economy. An Agreement between Solomon Islands and six regional countries was signed on the 24th May 2003, paving the way for the deployment of armed forces, police and other personal to Solomon Islands. The Facilitation Act of July 2003 provided for the powers and privileges of the visiting contingent and the control of weapons. In addition to restoring law and order, the mandate of RAMSI is to help rebuild the Solomon Islands economy.

The root causes of the “tension” are complex and many commentators agree that they have not yet been fully addressed. The subject is explored extensively by Dr. Jon Fraenkel in his book “The Manipulation of Custom”, described by USP Publications as “a critical investigation of the usage of appeals to Melanesian Kastom and compensation demands throughout the crisis, and the way in which these were exploited by governments, failed politicians and militia leaders to bankrupt the Solomon Islands state”.

The underlying tensions surfaced again when riots occurred in Honiara in April 2006 following the General Election. This time the ethnic Chinese business community was the target. Again, as the Commission of Enquiry that followed hinted at, there were signs that the political stand-off had been manipulated by opportunists who wished to take advantage. The government formed in 2006 after the riots resigned following a vote of no confidence of the prime minister in December 2007, and a coalition government was formed, headed by previous Education Minister Dr Derek Sikua.

Youth Riots

“The riots of 2006 were not Honiara's first”, commentator and long-term rural development specialist Dr. John Roughan wrote for a New Zealand newspaper. He related that Honiara has experienced at least three separate serious disturbances, in 1989, 1993 and 1996. The 1989 disturbance was perhaps the most serious. It manifested itself as a confrontation resulting from grievances borne on ethnic grounds between groups of youths from the island of Malaita and those of Rennell and Bellona. “Who can ever forget the Star newspapers' front page photo of dozens of youth jumping from the Mataniko River bridge to escape the police's tear gassing!”, wrote Dr. Roughan, adding that five thousand or more young people had looted hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods from stores, shops and business premises. He recalled how the angry crowd was then only narrowly halted by skilful and courageous police action that defused the situation before they were able to march to the majority Rennell-Bellona settlement at White River where serious bloodshed or deaths could have occurred.

Certainly all three previous riots and the events of 2006 featured the involvement of large crowds of youths. Police records indicate that most of those involved in the rioting were unemployed youths. Most notoriously the ethnic conflict of 1999-2001 was fought out between rival militant groups, the majority of them young people, and the period of “tension” that followed prior to the arrival of RAMSI was accentuated greatly by the slow progress in demobilising and these young people and creating adequate alternative opportunities for them.

Dr. Roughan continued on the 1989 riots: “How exactly did the events spin out of control? Who--youths, young people, older ones--did most of the trouble? Were there other forces at work than simply bored and listless youth?”

It was not only in 1989 riots where the young people may have been manipulated by influential figures in the background seeking political advantage. The Commission of Inquiry into the 2006 riots noted in an interim report that “There is evidence that the 18th April 2006 Civil Unrest in Honiara was not spontaneous as was originally claimed but rather the event has the hall mark of having been orchestrated and planned in a broader sense of that word. There is now some evidence connecting the identity of a number of leading politicians, political groups and organisations who had in one way or another contributed to the execution of the planning for a regime change, should the previous government or elements of it return to power.”

Most of the young people who took part in these disturbances were unemployed. Although the problem of urban drift has not accelerated as quickly in the Solomons as other developing nations, due to their strong resource bases secured through customary land ownership in their home villages, the influx of people from the rural areas is often described as a contributing factor to many social problems in the town. A chronic lack of employment opportunities, low salaries and increasing rents combine to severely strain the working families with whom the (mostly young) incomers find automatic residence rights stemming from kinship ties.

It is clear that social tensions in Honiara have periodically expressed themselves through the young people of the town, who may have been unwittingly manipulated to serve more sinister agendas.

But no-one would lay all the problems at the feet of the young people. Where the young may have been the primary players, they did not write the script. Young people have often been at the forefront in attempts at peace building, and the future of the nation will of course be in the hands of today’s younger generations.

Role of Isabel in building the peace

In a country that is highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion[1], traditional governance, land ownership (lineality) and language, Isabel Province has long been a settled and unified province. This fact was illustrated when, shortly after the TPA was signed in 2000, the government invited provincial premiers to a conference in Buala, Isabel Province, which was seen as neutral – the “Switzerland” of Solomon Islands.

At the conference, the premiers acknowledged the recent conflict as the "darkest period of the country’s history". It was acknowledged that one of the underlying causes was the failure to maintain an acceptable balance of power between central and provincial governments, and that there was an overriding need to maintain national unity. Resolutions were adopted that the Solomon Islands Government adopt a home-grown state system of government to correct the system introduced by the past colonial masters, which has proven unsuitable. Thus, the premiers hoped, would begin a new constitution for good governance and democracy.

Equitable access to education

Improving access and quality in education and in providing opportunities for school leavers through continuing and adult/vocational education is an important contributing factor in peace building. The Solomon Islands Government with donor partners reflect this in their priorities.

The regional priorities for education in the Pacific region are embodied jointly in strategies such as the Pacific Island Forum’s Forum Basic Education Plan, and nationally under the member states’ own reform programmes that are supported by various donors. These priorities include improving and transforming teacher education, curricula, and vocational education, with many voices (c.f. the University of the South Pacific’s PRIDE Project) calling for more Pacific cultural relevance and culturally appropriate pedagogy and content introduced into all of these areas, as well as a shift towards more progressive methods such as “active learning” and “learning by doing”.

In the Solomon Islands, 2004 the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) with its main donor partners, the EU and New Zealand, launched the Education Sector Investment and Reform Programme ( ESIRP ) with the intention of implementing an Education Reform over the next twelve years or more. As of 2009, MEHRD was nearing the end of the implementation of the National Education Action Plan (NEAP), 2007-2009 and in the beginning phase of the Education Strategic Framework (ESF), 2007-2015. The priority areas for the NEAP and ESF are improvement of:

  • Access by all children to all levels of education (from early childhood to tertiary education) and in particular to establish Free Education for All at least till Form III of Junior Secondary School by 2015
  • Infrastructure (school infrastructure and communications)
  • Quality of Teaching and Learning
  • Planning and management capacity at school, provincial, Educational Authority and national levels

The EU is supporting the NEAP and ESF in many ways; with support to secondary education infrastructure, grants for secondary education, institutional and co-ordination support in the Sector Wide Approach, support to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and introduction of distance mode into many of its programmes:

  • By funding the development of a Distance Learning Strategy for formal and non formal education;
  • By funding pilot project to establish 9 Distance Learning Centres in rural Community High Schools.
  • By establishing and maintaining a Technical Working Group for DFL (Distance Flexible Learning) since 2007.

Furthermore, the Ministry has recognised the opportunities that open approaches to content and capacity development will bring. Thus, the Solomon Islands held the very first “Learning4Content” Wikieducator training workshop in the Commonwealth of Learning’s programme, in January 2008.

The main thrust of the EU support to education in the country now shifts to the TVET sector. By linking in the distance mode, facilitated by ICT and by empowering a widening pool of educators including rural teachers and TVET trainers through OER approaches and tools like the Wikieducator, young people in the rural areas will be able to access more opportunities to build livelihoods and continue life-long education.

Need for Peace Building

With the country recovering from the severe ethnic conflict, it is now firmly engaged in confidence and peace building measures. Agricultural, health, education, communication services and infrastructure are being restored and improved. More children are going to school and more people are engaged in learning and capacity building activities.

However, as of April 2009, there remain concerns over governance issues and the future stability of the Government. The major issues facing the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) are addressing the root causes of the ethnic conflict, capacity building in government and the private sector (including non-state actors), commitment to the reform process, the urgent need to improve living standards in rural areas and addressing the issue of federalisation, which as has been seen was launched on the national agenda at the Buala Premiers Conference.

Regarding the prospects for national building, Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, prominent commentator and history/politics lecturer at the University of the South Pacific, wrote of the difficulties of forging a national consciousness, referring to the late Solomon Mamaloni who during the 10th independence anniversary commemorations stated that the Solomon Islands "has never been a nation and will never become one."

Others acknowledge that national-consciousness is a new phenomenon, wrote Dr Kabataulaka. For instance, anthropologist Christian Jourdan perceived that “an urban-based elite, in government and administrative circles, is trying to promote a nationalist sentiment in the country. This projection of identity creates tensions between the so-called nation builders - those who want to promote the ideology of the nation - and the nation buildees - those who will be caught up in the nation-building process, willingly or not, but whose participation in, acceptance of, and, ideally, identification with the values of the budding nation will be essential to the legitimacy of the national enterprise."

Despite this, Jourdan argues that amongst the younger generation of Solomon Islanders, especially in the urban areas, there is a new sense of national consciousness in the making. She identifies three factors - (i) the education system, (ii) pijin (pidgin) as a common language, and (iii) popular culture.

It is therefore clear that young people are at the heart of the issue, they are the victims, the unwitting protagonists and the solution. We may there conclude that a strategy of intervention to address the underlying social tensions and the causes of the ethnic conflict must involve the participation of Youth.

Role of Communications in Peace Building

Good communications and better community networking are a vital part of rebuilding peace and promoting development and capacity building. ICT offers great potential in many areas such as in improving government service delivery, citizen participation, programme implementation, support for economic development in rural areas, and in monitoring, accountability and transparency in all of these areas.

This was affirmed most recently at the Pacific ICT Ministerial Forum "Connecting the Unconnected", Nukuálofa, Tonga, 17 - 20 February 2009, where the communiqué noted that ICT can be a key enabler for the socio-economic development through various applications from e-Education, e-Health, e-Environment, e-Commerce to e-Governance.

It is precisely in deprived and remote areas that basic telecommunication has the most value and impact. For such locations, telecommunication is the only and vital link with the outside world, either to ensure health security, public services such as education, or essential contacts with family and professional peers.

Yet, currently, the only two means of communication with the outside world for most remote locations in the Solomon Islands are short-wave radios and satellite telephones. Telecommunication in Solomon Islands suffers from small scale, scattered population with logistical challenges and lack of opportunity to aggregate demand, resulting in extremely high costs. When short-wave radios are used for voice communication, they often require hours of patient queuing and retrials, at a cost still very high for rural folks living in a non-cash subsistence economy. In turn, satellite telephones, when available, are far beyond the reach of most of the population. Mobile coverage via the national provider Our Telekom, which holds a 15-year exclusive license, is making some inroads into rural areas and will be an increasingly important component of national communication infrastructure. In Isabel province, only the headquarters Buala and the village of Kia have mobile coverage, possibly with 10% of the island’s population having access. However, the small scale and lack of competition translates into very high cost. It can be calculated that a rural teacher’s monthly salary would be almost completely used up in making just 20 minutes of mobile calls per day at current rates (April 2009).

The Isabel Province Development Programme

Focusing on Isabel Province, the UNDP[2] Isabel Province Development Planning Project (IPDP, 2003-2007) noted in a situation analysis in 2006 that studies of media and communication systems in Solomon Islands indicate that most people, and in particular the 85% living in rural locations, are information poor, and that this is manifest in different ways, such as lack of access to market information for rural producers; lack of access to information to assert human rights; lack of information to empower and enhance the role of women in society and the absence of an information environment to complement and reinforce the education system.

With IPDP assistance, Isabel Province, the government began a program of touring to rural areas in 2004 in recognition of the need for better communication with rural communities, and highlighted this need in the Isabel Province Development Plan 2004-2007.

The IPDP noted that communication infrastructure remained a critical limiting factor in linking improved local governance processes to rural populations, particularly those in the most isolated Highlands areas. Small improvements in access to technology have been promising, but communities have remained isolated from their representatives and planning processes for too many decades for equipment alone to establish improved governance.

The IPDP attempted to support Isabel Province in effectively support the growing governance institutions by creating a linkage between the modes of communication in order to allow two-way information flows, extending the reach of two-way communication to Highlands areas, adding programming initiatives to build local capacity and address identified communications needs, and a communication system that can widely distribute local content and information “since access to HF radios is limited and the province and communities do not have easy access to national programming avenues”.

The IPDP strategy built on an established network of PFNet email stations (described below) by augmenting them with community FM radio systems at the remote locations, allowing for information sharing and local content development by the host communities. In addition to disseminating information to the remote village communities, the system would carry information into the offices of government agencies, commercial establishments and civil society including the media, and even linked to the planning cycle.

The components of the system are described below.

Use of HF radio

HF (shortwave) radio transceiver coverage is very high in Solomon Islands, and the health, education and religious sectors rely heavily on their own HF networks to coordinate activities. One-way communication via shortwave broadcasts from Honiara is provided by the national radio station, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC). This service is heavily relied on in remote areas, particularly for “service messages” that convey news about job postings, scholarships, family information or other topics. HF radio communication is not without limitations. Users within each network group share a common frequency, with limited privacy. Reaching the intended recipient of the message to pass on important data is difficult and risky, especially when intermediaries are relied on to “pass on” the messages. Rural people also have difficulty in accessing message services, and for this reason and other communications often rely on hand carried messages, including official communications with the provincial headquarters. Radio owners often charge a relatively high fee to send messages.


From 2001, the UNDP-initiated People First Network (PFnet) added a new dimension to the already well-established, robust, and sustainable HF technology through the provision of Pactor modems enabling them to connect with the World Wide Web for email.

PFnet is a rural connectivity project, which aims to promote and facilitate equitable and sustainable rural development and peace building by enabling better information sharing and knowledge building among and across communities forming the Solomon Islands.

PFnet’s email system permits remote locations on islands across thousands of square kilometres to have access to Internet emails using a simple computer, short-wave radio, and solar power, at a fraction of the cost of satellite-based connectivity. PFnet augments this by working with partners to develop applications of the network in many sectors.

The PFnet system, offering basic email services, seeks to improve connectivity while dramatically reducing the prices of communication, making it affordable for low-income users and sustainable over time. As a basic utility to all other activities, the network will assist the country, particularly low-income groups, in taking in charge their own development through improved logistics, information and knowledge. Since 2001, PFnet has been an important player in bridging the digital divide in Solomon Islands.

The objectives of the PFnet are to facilitate:

  1. Point-to-point communications to and from the remote provinces of the Solomon Islands;
  2. Rural development and peace-related information flows among all social groups;
  3. The exchange of information between communities and development programmes, NGOs, government offices, the media, businesses and other stakeholders.

The main component of PFnet is the network of community-based and managed email stations located in remote islands across the country. The stations are usually hosted in provincial clinics, community schools, or other accessible and secure public facilities. Email operators act as “infomediaries”, assisting customers with sending and receiving emails at a nominal cost.

The network is now being used to facilitate the rural networking needs of sectors such as education, health, women, sustainable livelihood programs, finance and agriculture. The operator-assisted facilities are able to directly access web sites using web for mail services, but this aspect is limited by the narrowband. The stations operate sustainably by charging small affordable fees for services.

PFnet also opened the country’s first Internet Café in Honiara in 2001, a facility that also serves as the base station and gateway for the email network and as a training facility for a number of rural development stakeholders and the broader public. PFnet also provides substantial information resources and news on its web site and is active in facilitating the flow of trusted news between communities. This is an important part of peace building in a nation torn by ethnic conflict.

One example of the value of the network came with the tsunami disaster of April 2, 2007. One of the first warnings came from the Simbo email station, situated close to the epicentre, which announced the arrival of a huge wave that had washed away several houses and come inland about 200m. This information was passed on by telephone to the Hawaii-based NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre who then upgraded their warning to an "expanding regional alert". This was achieved before the 35-minute arrival time of the wave for the capital Honiara, which in the event proved non-destructive. Information was received from several email stations reporting on damages, needs and assessment information for several days after the tsunami, notably from badly-affected Korovou in Shortland Islands, resulting from training that had been given to the operators on disaster assessment.

PFnet has also worked with stakeholders to help the government develop a national ICT strategy.

In order to better understand these needs and be more effective, PFnet has conducted a research program into the social impacts and factors affecting the appropriation of the rural ICT by the communities, in partnership with University of the South Pacific and UNDP (funded by JICA).

The People First Network is a project of Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA), an NGO partner of the Ministry of Rural Development. It has received funding and technical support from the UNDP, New Zealand Aid, the governments of Britain, Japan and the Republic of China, the EU and AusAid.


The Distance Learning Centres Project (DLCP), is an EU-funded component of the Education Sector Investment and Reform Programme (ESIRP,2003-2009). It is being implemented for the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development by the People First Network (PFnet) of the Rural Development Volunteers Association (RDVA). It is now extended until September 2009, after which time it will be integrated into the Ministry and further developed following a strategy that is currently under development.

The project has established nine distance learning centres located in rural community high schools in each province, equipped with broadband Internet through a newly established VSAT network. The project has worked with education providers building capacity to deliver distance education in support of the curriculum, for in-school teacher training, technical and vocational training (TVET), open and flexible learning.

The centres are run as multipurpose community telecentres, building on PFnet's sustainable rural networking experience, and are equipped with broadband Internet access, 24hr solar power, seven laptop computers, projector, scanner, microphones, and other diverse equipment and resources, and a highly trained full time supervisor.

The project is also running pilots for the One Laptop Per Child programme (OLPC), and to demonstrate how the distance learning network could be extended using Wi-Fi.

FM Radio

There has been increasing interest in Community Media in Solomon Islands. Community radio has the potential to reach a wider audience than other modes, and if the stations are genuinely founded with community ownership and participatory programming, can be a powerful means of disseminating and sharing information with strong local content. Content can be produced locally in local languages, and can be accessed by people who are illiterate.

The IPDP worked with rural communities in Isabel to establish eight community radio sites by 2007. The stations use the equipment of Wantok Enterprises of Canada with locally constructed masts.

Elsewhere in Solomon Islands, The Don Bosco technical school situated east of the capital Honiara, has also assisted Tetere community in running a community station named Radio Bosco, and the Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT) have established a Community Media centre to build local capacity, with the assistance of Commonwealth of Learning. SIDT hope to create a focus for Community Media development in the country, possibly with the creation of a technical working group and a national association.

Integrated and intermodal communications in Isabel Province

In the national context, Isabel Province presents a unique opportunity to combine these various communication modes and build an integrated, inter-modal communication system that will serve community and rural development, peace building and economic advancement.

The locations of the various facilities are indicated in the diagram below. Isabel Province enjoys some degree of Internet connectivity in nine locations around the province, including via Our Telekom in Buala and the DLC at Guguha (the only location with broadband), and seven PFnet email stations. All the email stations have been paired with FM radio stations. Telephone access in Buala is augmented by mobile coverage in Buala and Kia.

ICT Isabel.jpg

Facilitating Intermodal Communication

Pairing the email and FM stations greatly expands the opportunity for sharing and accessing content and for collaborative content development.

FM radio media is very accessible as the content can be broadcast in local languages. Incoming text-based content via email can therefore be translated and broadcast. Likewise, feedback from the community can be typed up and emailed to where it is needed.

It is hoped that it will be possible to coordinate networking and collaborative content development, by channelling information, feedback from discussions, scripts and storyboards and digests of online forums through the PFnet email system. Owing to the limitations of narrowband, and the limited technical capacity available, the process will rely heavily on human intermediaries – one might call them “infomediaries”.

The email and FM operators serve as technical intermediaries, but as PFnet’s experience has shown, for effective information sharing involving a significant group in the village, enthusiastic and motivated “champions” are required. For instance, an agriculture officer, a teacher, a local member of Mother’s Union – or a Youth leader. These people need to be trained to understand how the communications work – they do not need to be able to use the technology itself as that service is assisted by the operator. Committees also serve an essential purpose, underpinning the community ownership. A community can really be seen to have appropriated the facility when it mobilises the committee to solve problems that emerge from time to time.

Owing to the broadband connection, Guguha DLC can play an important role. The broadband makes possible downloading and burning on CD, to be distributed to the FM stations by hand via the round-island ship. Correspondingly, locally recorded content can be uploaded for rebroadcasting nationally, to provide inputs to participatory projects and processes, and to widen collaboration to an expanded community of practice.

Guguha also has a well trained and supported full-time Supervisor, who can help support information exchange through the different modes.

Thus, it can be seen that intermodal communication on Isabel relies on a coordination between the human and the technology networks. The diagram below illustrates these processes.

ICT Isabel roles.jpg

Accessing external content

Audio material is available locally from a variety of sources, including SIDT and other NGOs, SI Chamber of Commerce, Civil Society Network, government information offices providing market and commodity information, and any number of development projects with outreach programmes, many of whom already produce audio content for the national broadcaster SIBC. We can also find content from educational institutions such as Solomon Islands College of Higher Education (SICHE), and overseas, the University of the South Pacific (USP), Queensland University’s Centre for Communication for Development and Social Change and East West Centre-Pacific Islands Development Programme. Development agencies are also useful sources, such as UNESCO, Forum Secretariat’s Pacific Islands Trade Commissioner (and diplomatic offices in country and overseas) and the Secretariat for the Pacific Community’s Regional Media Centre.

Participatory e-Governance application

As intended by the IPDP, the intermodal communications provide the infrastructure to link participatory planning processes in the communities to the provincial planning cycle, and to provide for improved monitoring and transparency. For instance, during the programme, communities established “local government structures ..... (to) focus community energies and resources, implement local initiatives and direct community priorities to elected representatives. In the past, people in remote locations usually only understood government and its processes through the distribution of cash grants or services in their proximity.

The intermodal communications including community programming to generate local debate and feedback, are central to this process of local e-governance.

Likewise, many planners and managers in the national and provincial centres in some sectors have worked at a physical and socially distant level from the rural communities and may therefore be unaware of the impact, or lack of impact, of their plans, policies and decisions. Due to the two-way communication allowed by the network envisioned, communities will be able to assume a responsible position in the difficult budgeting and planning decisions being made in local government. A greater understanding of the budgeting and planning processes will empower the elected leaders to focus on core responsibilities”.

In the context of the Youth networking example described later in this chapter, the Isabel Provincial Government has seen low the intermodal communications can assist them in implementing their youth programmes, whilst creating efficiency gains as against the alternative: costly manpower-intensive tours by motor canoe..

Access to Information via ICT via intermodal communications

Through the development of strong linkages with programmes and providers, the integrated network can deliver information for different interest groups in the rural communities. The email access can be “amplified” through broadcasting in community radio format, including in the local languages, and thereby reach even the most vulnerable, illiterate and the elderly, many of whom do not speak English or Pidgin.

Categories of information that can meet local demand include:

  • Education services; access to distance and flexible learning, vocational and technical training
  • Health services; case referrals (and even telemedicine), emergency care, remote training, research and monitoring;
  • Disaster preparedness and warning;
  • Agriculture information; access to the national digital library and technical and market advice for farmers; commodity and market bulletins;
  • Access to legal and financial advice, lands advice and services;
  • Participation in civic education, accountability programmes, election programmes, etc;
  • Two-way news flows, with national and local community news.

Building networked communities

The intermodal communications also have great potential for empowerment of pan-Isabel interest groups through building supportive networked communities and peer-support networks, who can then collaborate on various developments and programming options.

There is a very strong foundation for this, as there are some very strong human networks on Isabel; in particular youth, women and the Church have ubiquitous networks.

Youth development is organised by the province through its Ministry of Community Affairs (MCA). Youth Coordinators are appointed in each of the 16 wards, with an official Isabel Province Youth Coordinator working in the MCA office in Buala. The ward based coordinators work with Youth Leaders in the villages in communities of that ward. Furthermore, an Isabel Youth Council has been launched.

Very importantly, the Isabel Province with national youth stakeholders developed, and in February 2009 launched, the Isabel Province Youth Policy and Action Plan. This is a first for all the provinces in the Solomon Islands and an example for them to follow. The Province was widely congratulated for the achievement.

The Youth Policy and Action Plan “recognises young males and females as the basis of the community and seeks to develop their optimum potential and promote their active partnership in the socio-economic and cultural sphere in Isabel”. It affirms the principles of the international Convention of the Rights of the Child, and develops a set of principles, key strategies, priority target groups and implementation mechanisms, and then charts out a detailed action plan.

These structures and policies provide a very solid foundation to build on for Youth collaboration, and ensure a common approach with all stakeholders working together.

Women are also well unified in Isabel Province. The main organisation, with members in all villages, is the Mother’s Union. They have a large office with rest house, often used for workshops, in Buala.

The Church of Melanesia, represented by The Diocese of Ysabel (DOY) with headquarters in Buala, with 96% membership. DOY has good facilities in Buala with offices, conference room and accommodation. They also have a dedicated Youth and communications officer.

Governance on Isabel has been developed using the “Tripod system”, which recognises a partnership between the traditional system of the Council of Chiefs (COC), the Church and the Isabel Provincial Government. This partnership is reflected right down to the village based governance structures and mechanisms.

How well is the system working

The key word here is “participatory”. To what extents have the communities appropriated the facilities and are participating in programming, and are accessing relevant information corresponding to local demand?

The appropriation process

The degree to which the rural email facilities are utilised, and the degree of participation in the FM radio broadcasting, depends on a process of “appropriation”. New PFnet email stations are normally added to the network only after the host communities demonstrate that the demand exists and that they are sufficiently mobilised to have approached PFnet with a proposal. The USP-JICA research of 2004 showed quite clearly that uptake of the email service was strongly related to the sense of ownership of the facility by the host community.

However, in the case of the Isabel stations, only one site (Sigana) was genuinely driven by the community. The remaining stations and all the FM stations were provided in locations selected through the IPDP. The process was undoubtedly with strong participation of, and in consultation with, rural communities. However, this has meant that some additional intervention might be needed to assist with the appropriation process.

Feedback from the Isabel FM stations

Feedback from the FM stations during a workshop held in March 2009 has underlined this conclusion. The stations reported on the types of programming and the degree to which the community is providing inputs and feedback. Most stations were broadcasting national and local news, weather reports, local messages (known as “service messages”) and some health awareness with involvement of the local clinic, but the predominant content was popular music – with very little locally recorded music. They reported only limited feedback from the community, and some signs of misunderstandings of the ownership of the stations were apparent. It is clear from the feedback that the concept of participatory programming is still not sufficiently understood by the host communities. There is an attempt to respond to local demand, but this is largely based on assumption rather than consultation and participation.

Role of human intermediaries in the communications

There is also a limit to which the “private good” services generated directly by local (village) demand can drive the utilisation of the email stations. Firstly, communications alone are not sufficient to advance people’s business needs and to support livelihoods. Sources of credit, affordable and effective transportation and above all, awareness of what information and communication services are available are all essential. The importance of the email station operator’s role as an “info-mediary” have been demonstrated by PFnet research. Because the operators are not highly trained, normally being selected for their aptitude and reliability, they cannot be expected to perform as strong advocates beyond simply helping people to use the service. However, in some cases the operators have been very effective in raising awareness. The third email station to be launched (Kati, Temotu Province, 2002) has an excellent young woman, Tina Vaonelva, who although not highly qualified was able to popularise the email service very effectively through simple advocacy and demonstration of it’s relevance and usefulness. PFnet Kati became the most successful station, with very high throughput, and has now been upgraded to a distance learning centre with VSAT under the DLCP. At times during the “tension” when the very remote Temotu Province was effectively cut off with fuel shortages and very infrequent shipping and air services, the email station with its solar power became a lifeline for the community. Hard times did not affect peoples’ interest in popular culture either; one occasion during the football World Cup of 2002 when the main telecom link was down, the PFnet Kati station had a run on printed match reports emailed from Honiara almost beyond what they could cope with!

Need for coordination of ICT in policy and programming

Uptake of email services also depends on central programming. There would appear to be great potential in connecting government and NGO services and programmes with rural communities via PFnet, but the system does not happen through ICT alone. It has been mentioned earlier that the PFnet model depends on human intermediation – strong champions are required at each end of the information “supply chain”. The PFnet village committees can champion the “cause” at large, but one also needs to have champions associated with each application, for instance an agriculture officer in the village and his counterpart in the provincial headquarters and the manager of the digital library at the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. All need to be aware how the email service works, the limitations of the mode and so on, and sufficiently trained.

For these central programming linkages to be effective, coordination is needed at the development planning level. PFnet’s experience shows that ad-hoc applications do not last unless they are embedded at programming or policy level. This has been the hardest challenge for PFnet. Although offering a unique rural service to 30-40 locations across the country, PFnet is often not considered by development programmes or there is insufficient awareness or understanding of the potential at policy level. For this reason, PFnet is advocating for a national ICT strategy that would bring all the stakeholders together and agree on an overarching ICT plan, with policies that create an enabling environment for ICT4D. This would guide programme developers to make effective use of the rural ICT in their development programmes.

The way forward

Despite the limitations noted above, for eight years (and two years on Isabel) the PFnet email services have been sustained. The Isabel FM stations have also been sustained and their host communities are used to, and place value in the regular evening broadcasts (mostly 2-3 hours per day).

What might help now is to link all the components together – to join the dots – with an interesting and highly participatory project that can demonstrate to all parties the potentials and in doing so, build the capacity of all the key intermediaries to effectively use the inter-modal communications. This could provide a model for a provincial ICT strategy that would inform the national process. The project can also help the communities to take further ownership (appropriation) of their email and FM facilities and to learn about, and then embrace participatory programming.

The Youth networking application described in this chapter is an example of one such intervention.

Learning4Peace in Solomon Islands

In Solomon Islands, Isabel Province has been identified for a Learning4Peace pilot project that will initially focus on Youth (but involve women, too), because of the strong youth and women networks, and province-wide network of rural ICT (information and communication) facilities as described previously.

As has been mentioned, the Province has launched their Youth Policy and Action Plan in February 2009, and through the provincial Ministry of Community Affairs, is implementing the plan working with Youth Coordinators in each Ward, the Youth Council, NGOs and other Youth stakeholders.

The project is building capacity to use the existing ICT networks to allow Youth groups in many parts of Isabel to join together and to discuss and discuss important issues and develop learning materials for their communities.  As the focus is on youth, and the means of dissemination will feature the community FM stations, it is hoped that audio materials will be a feature. This will be exciting to the young participants and can involve much creativity, for instance songs and debates related to the topic areas.

The focused application with its participatory activities will also guide communities into taking stronger ownership of the FM stations, which might thereby be more justly referred to as “Community Radio”. As the IPG is a lead partner, they will also build their capacity for use of the inter-modal communications in the implementation of all of their programmes.

National and provincial (and even international) organisations will be invited to join the community and provide mentoring and guidance via the online discussions. There will be strong linkage to the Provincial Youth Policy, and participation of the Youth Council, area Youth Forums and Youth Parliament. In particular, Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT), a long established community development NGO, will collaborate closely with the project, having established their own community media programme with assistance from COL in recent years. In this way, the role of SIDT as a national technical centre for Community Media can be strengthened.

The intended long term outcomes of the project are:

  • Widespread access in the Province to effective learning programmes via local community media services
  • Increased national capacity to support community media, especially as part of larger open and distance learning programmes
  • Stronger provincial Youth and Women's networks linking to development through media
  • Effective, integrated communications linked to provincial government and sustained by a coherent communications policy

In March 2009, the first workshop of the project was held in Buala in March to plan how Youth networks in Isabel Province can collaborate to develop community learning programmes related to priority issues affecting young people in the province.

The workshop was held at the Diocese of Ysabel over four days, with Youth Coordinators from nine Wards. The workshop was held to bring together the key actors to develop ideas and action plans for the second phase of the project, which will develop community learning materials for the FM radio stations, and other media including the COL’s Wikieducator website.

On two days the participants travelled to Guguha distance learning centre and experienced a range of networking and content development technologies, including email lists, forums and the Wikieducator. A highlight was the role-playing session on digital recording using the open source Audacity software, where the Youth Coordinators practiced recording interviews about key subjects. This was enjoyed by all, and was followed by the introduction of some techniques for involving the communities in the FM broadcasts, such as the use of listening groups and on-air discussion groups.

The Youth Coordinator’s experience was focused on the use of the technology, not the technology itself. In fact, only two or three of the fifteen participants had any previous computing experience, even the Minister for Community Affairs, Rhoda Sikilabu (hon), who attended the full workshop. However, in the two days they were all able to set up Gmail accounts, sign up to a Google Group, send each other test messages and to even use Chat and Forums on the Solomon Islands SchoolNet (DLCP) Moodle. As strategic thinkers and coordinators for their communities and wards, it was important that they fully appreciated the concepts.

The sessions on Audacity were very successful as Solomon Island youth people are natural orators and story tellers, and they easily thought of ideas to use in the role playing. It is clear that the participatory content development, whereby the Youth Coordinators will involve the community in programming about ideas which are of evident interest to those communities, will not be difficult. Our experience with the FM Operators and a wider group of media stakeholders at a subsequent workshop organised by COL and SIDT, a week later in the capital Honiara, was very similar. In this second workshop, the participants took the idea further and developed storyboards for their ideas, and presented their content in varied and dynamic ways, mixing interviews, debates, drama and music.

In the youth context, drama and music seem to be very popular formats. Isabel Province has its own special brands of traditional and modern popular music. The former tradition utilises bamboo panpipes and drum sticks, and the latter stems from the prominent role of singing in their society, where from early age childhood, young people learn to sing with exuberant harmony in school, church, for welcoming, at official functions and celebrations. Isabel has a few musicians who are popular regionally, and the project has approached some of these artists who have agreed to participate in content development – for instance to record music using lyrics concerning the themes developed through the Youth collaboration.

The most challenging aspect will be to support the networking using the Google Group email list. The Youth Coordinators need to actively engage in the discussions. However, (a) they are unused to this mode of communication, and (b) the HF radio email is only narrowband with one shared email account for the community; although it would be possible also to set up a separate account where the list mail is collected. For both of these reasons it is only practicable for the list mail to be received at the stations in daily digest format. It will take some training of the email operators to make sure these digests are printed and given to the local Youth Coordinator, who will need to understand how to interpret the flow of discussion represented in the printed digest.

The system then requires the Youth Coordinators to meet with the Youth leaders and members and discuss the contents and to respond, and give their own feedback and ideas.

This system heavily depends on coordination, with the technical intermediaries (Email Operators) and information intermediaries (Youth Coordinators), and the active participation of their community. The latter aspect would be facilitated through meetings, but also the use of the FM stations to broadcast the debate to the community and seek their views. One can imagine them recording programmes using the participatory techniques learned from the COL workshops.

Another challenge will be in sharing content. Text-based content such as song lyrics, written scripts and dramatisations, and content for the Wikieducator pages that will be also a feature, can be emailed to Guguha DLC. Audio content, which may be contributions to a larger content objective, or finished product, will be burned on CDs locally and sent on the round-island ship.

Guguha DLC has a broadband connection and that will be where the sharing of multimedia content can be made to the expanded community, via dedicated venues such as the Wikieducator, a Ning social platform, and so on. The DLC Supervisor has attended Learning4Content Wikieducator training and has advanced further,

Final production and editing of audio content can also be managed at Guguha.

The Isabel Province in Buala will participate via their own FM radio facility at Buala.

The scheme described above seems practicable, but will depend on further training inputs. These are planned for Phase 2 of the project. This will involve actively helping at least a few of the stations to engage in content production related to four specific themes. The workshop that took place in March 2009 identified four themes for educational content to be developed in phase 2 of the project. These ranged from “reviving and protecting our culture”, to “urban drift”, problems associated with substance abuse and the effects of environmental pressures and natural resource extraction on Youth and women. These were current themes, which will be interesting and relevant to the young people and their communities.

From the experience at the SIDT workshop, it would seem that the task of designing content ideas, writing storyboards and doing recording and editing will be the easier part of the project. The networking opens up some possibilities to share skills. For instance SIDT has specialists in “community drama” and script writing who attended the workshop and will be willing to work with the remote Isabel Youth Coordinators to build on and improve storyboards and add value through their specialist areas.

The networking also means that ideas and storyboards developed in any particular location can be shared, and then multiply the outputs of each community, with local relevance and even in local language.

An expanded community of practice will be built, with government and NGO national Youth stakeholders invited to join in with the online networking.

Isabel Province Minister for Community Affairs, Hon. Rhoda Sikilabu, who participated throughout the workshop, said that the project was very important for Isabel and especially the Youth of Isabel, because it would strengthen the Province’s ability to deliver its programmes under the Isabel Youth Policy and Action plan. She said that the Youth networking would demonstrate how the ICT facilities can be used effectively to bring sustainable development to rural areas, and noted the potential for efficiency gains.

This last point was quickly picked up by the IPG Youth Coordinator Ellison Gito, who noted that he could use the FM stations for awareness programmes, reaching more people and saving on the costly round-island canoe trips.

Joining the dots with community ICT and community media holds a lot of promise. This exciting project will test the practicalities and develop best practices, which can then be replicated on a national scale.


  1. Pacific Forum Secretariat website, http://www.forumsec.org.fj/pages.cfm/about-us/
  2. People First Network website provincial profile, Isabel Province http://www.peoplefirst.net.sb/general/Isabel_select.asp
  3. Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997, Judith A. Bennett, Cambridge and Leiden, White Horse Press and Brill, 2000
  4. The Manipulation of Custom: From Uprising to Intervention in the Solomon Islands, Dr. Jon Fraenkel, Victoria University Press , 2004
  5. John Roughan: More Questions Than Answers!, Article in Scoop Independent News (New Zealand) http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0605/S00046.htm
  6. Commission of Enquiry (into 2006 civil unrest) website, http://www.comofinquiry.gov.sb
  7. Pacific Voices, Teacher Education on the Move, The PRIDE Project, Pacific Education Series 3, USP, 2007, ISBN 978-982-01-0810-3
  8. Beyond Ethnicity: Understanding the crisis in the Solomon Islands, Dr. Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka, Pacific News Bulletin, May, 2000
  9. Stepping Stones to National Consciousness: The Solomon Islands case, Christine Jourdan.1995 (published in Nation Making, Emergent Identities in Postcolonial Melanesia, Robert J. Foster, Editor, 1997)
  10. Communiqué of the Pacific ICT Ministerial Forum "Connecting the Unconnected", Nukuálofa, Tonga, 17 - 20 February 2009. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/asp/CMS/Events/2009/PacMinForum/PacMinForum.asp
  11. Informing Citizens 2005 Pacific Media and Communications Facility (PMCF), AusAID
  12. About PFnet, web pages of the People First Network, http://www.peoplefirst.net.sb
  13. The Impact of ICT on Rural Development in Solomon Islands: the PFnet Case, University of the South Pacific (USP) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), "ICT Capacity Building at USP" Project http://www.usp.ac.fj/jica/ict_research/pfnet_case_study/pfnet_intro.html
  14. The Islands Of Wisdom (And Learning); The Role Of ICT And Distance Mode In Education Reform In Solomon Islands: The Case Of The Distance Learning Centres Project, David Leeming, for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Forum Education Minister’s Meeting, Wellington, NZ, Nov 2007. http://www.forumsec.org/UserFiles/File/PIFS_07_FEDMA.08_ICT.pdf
  15. Web pages of the DLCP, http://www.schoolnet.net.sb
  16. One Laptop Per Child programme (Solomon Islands), Solomon Islands Ministry of Education, Secretariat of the Pacific Community and The OLPC Foundation, http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Solomon_Islands
  17. Marovo Learning Network, http://www.peoplefirst.net.sb/DLCP/Marovo.htm
  18. Wantok Enterperises, http://www.wantokent.com/
  19. Isabel Province Youth Policy and Action Plan, February 2009, can be downloaded from http://ww.wikieducator.org/Learning4Peace/Solomon_Islands
  20. Learning4Peace, Solomon Islands, http://wikieducator.org/Learning4Peace/Solomon_Islands

  1. Almost exclusively within different branches of Christianity, although there are also Muslim, Baha’i and Pagan minorities and Buddhism within the Chinese community
  2. United Nations Development Programme