By John Roughan

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Oct. 10) - What lessons did Solomon Islanders learn from its Social Unrest years that almost destroyed the country during the 1998 to 2003 period?

Certainly one lesson should be about the absolute need for people and their leaders to carefully listen and positively respond to early warning danger signals.

In 1998, unfortunately, our elected leaders as well as others - church pastors, business people, village chiefs, women’s groups, you and I - completely misread the early warning signals.

In fact, a national leader of the time claimed that the troubles happening out on the Guale plains and on the Weather Coast were simply a case of a "tempest in a tea pot."

And because of the blindness to the things happening under our very noses, the nation traveled down the slippery slope to near destruction.

What then are today’s early warning signals? Certainly last week’s youth’s double housebreak in, theft of goods and the physical attack on householders is a wake up call for all of us. Such crimes are not simply police matters!

When mobs of young people break into houses, steal property, trash homes and then go out of their way to hurt innocent people, something more than a simple break and entry crime has taken place.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the police to identify, capture and then jail those who seemed to be at fault. As these lines are read, these same individuals await a court appearance to determine their guilt or otherwise.

Yet, as good as it is that these criminals have been brought down; still all this young-mob crime is an early warning signal of trouble ahead. A disturbing element in the above mentioned crimes is the overwhelming presence of young people, some teens and younger.

What are these facts telling us? Only the blind would not see a connection between our Social Unrest years and what is currently happening in today’s Solomons. Our unrest years severely weakened the country’s youth’s vision for a worthwhile future.

Not only has youth’s legitimate claim to a decent paying job been ripped from their hands but they feel as if they have no future. In reality only the nightmare of deepening poverty looks them in the face.

Those graced with higher education credentials find it difficult to secure jobs that challenge them. Even those with secondary school training who had been lead to believe that a worthwhile future awaited them in the business world are finding out quite the opposite.

Young women with minimum education levels and boasting basic training are doubly disadvantaged. Is it any wonder that some of them are turning to their young bodies as the only way of making a few dollars!

Yet, only a few years previous, militant leaders during the Social Unrest years had little difficult recruiting youths to man armed bunkers east and west of Honiara.

These commanders merely made vague promises of wealth to young people, little of which ever appeared. Why did it prove so easy to lure our young people to a dubious enterprise?

Bored, unemployed but idealistic young people flocked to a cause that they believed appreciated them and made them seem important. Of course their assumptions proved wrong and they found out only in the last days that they had been duped into following someone else’s twisted agenda.

Our Social Unrest days are in danger of repeating themselves at the present moment unless the youth issue is confronted immediately and in depth.

Youth represent our best and brightest and the nation’s future. How we handle this delicate issue will dictate whether anyone indeed has a future!

Engaging youth means all levels of society-government, business, church, the village sector-must respond to our youth’s vision for a better future for all of us.

Dr. John Roughan, a former Catholic priest, has lived in the Solomon Islands since 1958. He is founder of the Solomon Islands Development Trust and a longtime political advocate and commentator in the Solomons.

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