Solomon Islands Country Facts - Tips

Solomon Islands Country Facts Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2007

Background Note: Solomon Islands Country Facts

Men in traditional costume
participate in welcoming ceremony,
Honiara, Solomon Islands, July 20,
2004. [© AP Images]

Solomon Islands flag is divided diagonally by a thin yellow stripe from lower
hoist-side corner; upper triangle is blue with 5 white 5-pointed stars
arranged in an X pattern; lower triangle is green.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Solomon Islands

Geography
Area: Land--27,556 sq. km. (11,599 sq. mi.). Archipelago--725,197 sq. km.
(280,000 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Honiara (on the island of Guadalcanal), pop. 54,600. Other
towns--Gizo, Auki, Kirakira.
Terrain: Mountainous islands.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Solomon Islander(s).
Population (2006): 552,438.
Annual growth rate: 2.8%.
Ethnic groups (2002): Melanesian 93%, Polynesian 4%, Micronesian 1.5%, other
1.5%.
Religions: Christian 95%--more than one-third Anglican (Archdiocese of
Melanesia), Roman Catholic 19%, South Sea Evangelical 17%, United Church
(Methodist) 11%, Seventh-day Adventist 10%.
Languages: English (official); about 120 vernaculars, including Solomon
Islands pidgin.
Education (2003): Years compulsory--none. Attendance--79.6% primary school;
14% secondary school. Adult literacy--76.6%.
Health (2003): Infant mortality rate--19/1,000. Life expectancy--62.3 yrs.
Work force (264,900, 2002): Agriculture--75%. Industry and commerce--5%.
Services--20%.

Government
Type: Parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth.
Constitution: May 1978.
Independence: July 7, 1978.
Branches: Executive--British monarch represented by a governor general (head
of state); prime minister (head of government). Legislative--50-member
Parliament elected every 4 years. Judicial--high court plus magistrates
court; system of custom land courts throughout islands.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces and Honiara town.
Political parties: Association of Independent Members (AIM), People's
Alliance Party (PAP), Socred, Rural Advancement Party (RAP), Lafari Party,
Christian Alliance Party, Democratic Party, National Party, Liberal Party,
Labour Party.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
National holiday: July 7.

Economy
GDP (2005): $262 million.
Annual growth rate (2005): 4.7%.
Per capita income (2005): $474.
Avg. inflation rate (2005): 7.4%.
Natural resources: Forests, fish, agricultural land, marine products, gold.
Agriculture: Products--copra, cocoa, palm oil, palm kernels and subsistence
crops of yams, taro, bananas, pineapple.
Industry: Types--fish canning, sawmilling, boats, rattan and wood furniture,
fiberglass products, shell jewelry, tobacco, beer, clothing, soap, nails,
handicrafts.
Trade (2004): Exports--$95.8 million: timber, fish, cocoa, copra, palm oil.
Major markets--China 28.2%, South Korea 15.7%, Thailand 15.7%, Japan 9.7%,
Philippines 5.1%, Vietnam 3.1%. Imports--$84 million: mineral fuels, food,
machinery & transport equipment, and basic manufactures. Major suppliers
--Australia 25.3%, Singapore 23.8%, New Zealand 5.3%, India 4.8%, Japan 3.9%.
Exchange rate (2005 average): Solomon Islands $1=about U.S.$0.13.

GEOGRAPHY
The Solomon Islands form an archipelago in the Southwest Pacific about 1,900
kilometers (1,200 mi.) northeast of Australia. With terrain ranging from
ruggedly mountainous islands to low-lying coral atolls, the Solomon Islands
stretch in a 1,450-kilometer (900 mi.) chain southeast from Papua New Guinea
across the Coral Sea to Vanuatu.

The main islands of Choiseul, New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Guadalcanal,
Malaita, and Makira have rainforested mountain ranges of mainly volcanic
origin, deep narrow valleys, and coastal belts lined with coconut palms and
ringed by reefs. The smaller islands are atolls and raised coral reefs, often
spectacularly beautiful. The Solomon Islands region is geologically active,
and earth tremors are frequent.

The islands' ocean-equatorial climate is extremely humid throughout the year,
with a mean temperature of 27° C (80° F) and few extremes of temperature or
weather. June through August is the cooler period. Though seasons are not
pronounced, the northwesterly winds of November through April bring more
frequent rainfall and occasional squalls or cyclones. The annual rainfall is
about 305 centimeters (120 in.).

More than 90% of the islands traditionally were forested, but this has come
under severe pressure from current logging operations. The coastal strips are
sheltered by mangrove and coconut trees. Luxuriant rainforest covers the
interiors of the large islands. Soil quality ranges from extremely rich
volcanic to relatively infertile limestone. More than 230 varieties of
orchids and other tropical flowers brighten the landscape.

PEOPLE
The Solomon Islanders comprise diverse cultures, languages, and customs.
Ninety-three percent are Melanesian, 4% Polynesian, and 1.5% Micronesian. In
addition, small numbers of Europeans and Chinese are registered. About 120
vernacular languages are spoken.

Most people reside in small, widely dispersed settlements along the coasts.
Sixty percent live in localities with fewer than 200 persons, and only 17%
reside in urban areas.

The capital city of Honiara, situated on Guadalcanal, the largest island, has
54,600 inhabitants. The other principal towns are Gizo, Auki, and Kirakira.

Most Solomon Islanders are Christian, with the Anglican, Roman Catholic,
South Seas Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist faiths predominating. About
5% of the population maintains traditional beliefs.

The chief characteristics of the traditional Melanesian social structure are:


*The practice of subsistence economy;

*The recognition of bonds of kinship, with important obligations extending
beyond the immediate family group; local and clan loyalties far outweigh
regional or national affiliations.

*Generally egalitarian relationships, emphasizing acquired rather than
inherited status; and

*A strong attachment of the people to the land.

Most Solomon Islanders maintain this traditional social structure and find
their roots in village life.

HISTORY
Although little prehistory of the Solomon Islands is known, material
excavated on Santa Ana, Guadalcanal, and Gawa indicates that a
hunter-gatherer people lived on the larger islands as early as 1000 B.C. Some
Solomon Islanders are descendants of Neolithic Austronesian-speaking peoples
who migrated from Southeast Asia.

The European discoverer of the Solomons was the Spanish explorer Alvaro de
Mendana Y Neyra, who set out from Peru in 1567 to seek the legendary Isles of
Solomon. British mariner Philip Carteret entered Solomon waters in 1767. In
the years that followed, visits by explorers were more frequent.

Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-1800s. They made little
progress at first, because "blackbirding"--the often brutal recruitment of
laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji--led to a series of
reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted the United
Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in 1893. In 1898
and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate; in 1900 the
remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German jurisdiction,
was transferred to British administration. Under the protectorate,
missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population to
Christianity.

In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began
large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the
islanders benefited little. With the outbreak of World War II, most planters
and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased.

From May 1942, when the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought, until December
1943, the Solomons were almost constantly a scene of combat. Although U.S.
forces landed on Guadalcanal virtually unopposed in August 1942, they were
soon engaged in a bloody fight for control of the islands' airstrip, which
the U.S. forces named Henderson Field. One of the most furious sea battles
ever fought took place off Savo Island, near Guadalcanal, also in August
1942. Before the Japanese completely withdrew from Guadalcanal in February
1943, over 7,000 Americans and 21,000 Japanese died. By December 1943, the
Allies were in command of the entire Solomon chain. The large-scale American
presence toward the end of the war, which dwarfed anything seen before in the
islands, triggered various millennial movements and left a lasting legacy of
friendship.

Postwar Developments
Following the end of World War II, the British colonial government returned.
The capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara to take advantage of the
infrastructure left behind by the U.S. military. A native movement known as
the Marching Rule defied government authority. There was much disorder until
some of the leaders were jailed in late 1948. Throughout the 1950s, other
indigenous dissident groups appeared and disappeared without gaining
strength.

In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by a
legislative council, and an executive council was created as the
protectorate's policymaking body. The council was given progressively more
authority.

In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary
democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon
Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate. On
January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence
followed on July 7, 1978.

GOVERNMENT
The Solomon Islands is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth,
with a unicameral Parliament and a ministerial system of government. The
British monarch is represented by a governor general, chosen by the
Parliament for a 5-year term. The national Parliament has 50 members, elected
for 4-year terms. However, Parliament may be dissolved by majority vote of
its members before the completion of its term. Parliamentary representation
is based on single-member constituencies. Suffrage is universal for citizens
over age 18. The prime minister, elected by Parliament, chooses the other
members of the cabinet. Each ministry is headed by a cabinet member, who is
assisted by a permanent secretary, a career public servant, who directs the
staff of the ministry.

For local government, the country is divided into 10 administrative areas, of
which nine are provinces administered by elected provincial assemblies, and
the 10th is the town of Honiara, administered by the Honiara Town Council.

Land ownership is reserved for Solomon Islanders. At the time of
independence, citizenship was granted to all persons whose parents are or
were both British protected persons and members of a group, tribe, or line
indigenous to the Solomon Islands. The law provides that resident
expatriates, such as the Chinese and Kiribati, may obtain citizenship through
naturalization. Land generally is still held on a family or village basis and
may be handed down from mother or father according to local custom. The
islanders are reluctant to provide land for nontraditional economic
undertakings, and this has resulted in continual disputes over land
ownership.

No military forces are maintained by the Solomon Islands, although the police
force of nearly 500 includes a border protection element. The police also
have responsibility for fire service, disaster relief, and maritime
surveillance. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the
Governor General and responsible to the prime minister. A new acting
commissioner, Walter Kola (a Solomon Islands citizen), was appointed in March
2007. The Solomon Islands Government declared the prior commissioner, Shane
Castles (an Australian citizen), an undesirable immigrant in December 2006.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Solomon Islands governments are characterized by weak political parties and
highly unstable parliamentary coalitions. They are subject to frequent votes
of no confidence, and government leadership changes frequently as a result.
Cabinet changes are common.

The first post-independence government was elected in August 1980. Prime
Minister Peter Kenilorea was head of government until September 1981, when he
was succeeded by Solomon Mamaloni as the result of a realignment within the
parliamentary coalitions. Following the November 1984 elections, Kenilorea
was again elected Prime Minister, to be replaced in 1986 by his former deputy
Ezekiel Alebua following shifts within the parliamentary coalitions. The next
election, held in early 1989, returned Solomon Mamaloni as Prime Minister.
Francis Billy Hilly was elected Prime Minister following the national
elections in June 1993, and headed the government until November 1994 when a
shift in parliamentary loyalties brought Solomon Mamaloni back to power.

The national election of August 6, 1997 resulted in Bartholomew Ulufa'alu's
election as Prime Minister, heading a coalition government, which christened
itself the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change.

However, governance was slipping as the performance of the police and other
government agencies deteriorated due to ethnic rivalries. The capital of
Honiara on Guadalcanal was increasingly populated by migrants from the island
of Malaita. In June 2000, an insurrection mounted by militants from the
island of Malaita resulted in the brief detention of Ulufa'alu and his
subsequent forced resignation. Manasseh Sogavare, leader of the People's
Progressive Party, was chosen Prime Minister by a loose coalition of parties.
Guadalcanal militants retaliated and sought to drive Malaitan settlers from
Guadalcanal, resulting in the closure of a large oil-palm estate and gold
mine which were vital to exports but whose workforce was largely Malaitan.

New elections in December 2001 brought Sir Allan Kemakeza into the Prime
Minister's chair with the support of a coalition of parties.

Kemakeza attempted to address the deteriorating law and order situation in
the country, but the prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread
extortion, and ineffective police, prompted a formal request by the Solomon
Islands Government for outside help. With the country bankrupt and the
capital in chaos, the request was unanimously supported in Parliament. In
July 2003, Australian and Pacific Island police and troops arrived in the
Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance
Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

RAMSI is largely a policing effort with an important development component.
It has restored order to virtually all parts of the nation and is now
embarked on rebuilding government institutions, particularly the police, and
reviving the economy, which fell by at least a third during the troubles. The
effort promises to take many years and Solomon Islands will continue to
require substantial donor support. Moreover, as militants, former police, and
political leaders are brought to trial for their crimes during the unrest,
some local resentment is likely to cut somewhat into the now-widespread
support for the intervention.

The peace has proven to be fragile. Fierce rioting occurred soon after the
April 2006 general election and the election of Snyder Rini as Prime Minister
in mid-April. Most of the violence was directed against businesses owned by
ethnic Chinese in Honiara, with the almost complete destruction of the
Chinatown commercial district. Mr. Rini resigned shortly after the riots, and
a parliamentary vote saw Manasseh Sogavare elected as the new Prime Minister
in May 2006.

Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Sir Nathaniel Waena
Prime Minister--Manasseh Sogavare
Minister for Foreign Affairs--Patterson Oti

The Solomon Islands mission to the United Nations is located at 800 Second
Avenue, Suite 400L, New York, NY 10017 (tel: 212-599-6192/93; fax:
212-661-8925).

ECONOMY
Its per capita GDP of $474 ranks Solomon Islands as a lesser developed
nation, and more than 75% of its labor force is engaged in subsistence
farming and fishing. Until 1998, when world prices for tropical timber fell
steeply, timber was Solomon Islands main export product, and, in recent
years, Solomon Islands forests were dangerously overexploited. Other
important cash crops and exports include copra and palm oil. In 1998 Ross
Mining of Australia began producing gold at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal.
Minerals exploration in other areas continued. However in the wake of the
ethnic violence in June 2000, exports of palm oil and gold ceased while
exports of timber fell. Exports are just now beginning to recover.

Exploitation of Solomon Islands' rich fisheries offers the best prospect for
further export and domestic economic expansion. However, a Japanese joint
venture, Solomon Taiyo Ltd., which operated the only fish cannery in the
country, closed in mid-2000 as a result of the ethnic disturbances. Though
the plant has reopened under local management, the export of tuna has not
resumed. Negotiations are underway which may lead to the eventual reopening
of the Gold Ridge mine and the major oil-palm plantation.

Tourism, particularly diving, is an important service industry for Solomon
Islands. Growth in that industry is hampered, however, by political
instability, security issues, lack of infrastructure, and transportation
limitations.

Solomon Islands was particularly hard hit by the Asian economic crisis even
before the ethnic violence of June 2000. The Asian Development Bank estimates
that the crash of the market for tropical timber reduced Solomon Island's GDP
by between 15%-25%. About one-half of all jobs in the timber industry were
lost. The government has said it will reform timber harvesting policies with
the aim of resuming logging on a more sustainable basis.

The Solomon Islands Government was insolvent by 2002. Since the RAMSI
intervention in 2003, the government has recast its budget, and has taken a
hard look at priorities. It has consolidated and renegotiated its domestic
debt and with Australian backing, is now seeking to renegotiate its foreign
obligations. Much work remains to be done. Ongoing political instability
continues to negatively impact economic development.

Principal aid donors are Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan,
and the Republic of China.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Countries with diplomatic missions in the Solomon Islands are Australia,
United Kingdom, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Japan. The Solomon Islands
also has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, which has a
resident representative in Honiara.

The U.S. Ambassador resident in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is accredited
to the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands' Permanent Representative to the
United Nations also is accredited as its ambassador to the United States and
Canada.

Relations with Papua New Guinea, which had become strained because of an
influx of refugees from the Bougainville rebellion and attacks on the
northern islands of the Solomon Islands by elements pursuing Bougainvillean
rebels, have been repaired. A peace accord on Bougainville confirmed in 1998
has removed the armed threat, and the two nations regularized border
operations in a 2004 agreement.

Relations with Australia, which plays a major role in the RAMSI mission, have
been strained. The Solomon Islands Government declared the former Australian
High Commissioner persona non grata, and delayed the credentialing of his
replacement for several weeks.

Membership in International Organizations
Solomon Islands is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, Pacific
Community, Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG),
International Monetary Fund, and the European Economic Community/African,
Caribbean, Pacific Group (EEC/ACP)/(Lome Convention).

U.S.-SOLOMON ISLANDS RELATIONS
The United States and Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations
following its independence on July 7, 1978. U.S. representation is handled by
the United States Embassy at Port Moresby where the Ambassador is resident.
In recognition of the close ties forged between the United States and the
people of the Solomon Islands during World War II, the U.S. Congress financed
the construction of the Solomon Islands Parliament building. There are
approximately 95 American citizens residing permanently in Solomon Islands.

The two nations belong to a variety of regional organizations, including the
Pacific Community and the Pacific Regional Environmental Program. The United
States and Solomon Islands also cooperate under the U.S.-Pacific Islands
multilateral Tuna Fisheries Treaty, under which the U.S. grants $18 million
per year to Pacific island parties and the latter provide access to U.S.
fishing vessels.

The U.S. coast guard provides training to Solomon Islands border protection
officers, and the U.S. military also provides appropriate military education
and training courses to national security officials.

The U.S. Peace Corps suspended its program in June 2000 due to the ethnic
violence and breakdown in governance. More than 70 volunteers, serving
throughout the country in rural community development, education,
environmental management, and youth programs, were evacuated.

U.S. trade with Solomon Islands is very limited. In 2001 U.S. exports to
Solomon Islands were less than 5% of all exports, while Solomon Islands
exports to the United States in that year were negligible.

Following the April 2, 2007 earthquake and tsunami, the United States
provided $250,000 in humanitarian assistance grants and deployed the USNS
Stockham with helicopter support to the affected area.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Leslie Rowe (resident in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea)
Consular Agent--Ms. Keithie Saunders (office phone 677 24123/23426 or mobile
677 94731)

American Embassy Port Moresby is located on Douglas Street, Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea, P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby (tel: (675) 321-1455; fax:
(675) 321-3423). The Embassy maintains a web site dedicated to Solomon
Islands at http://www.usvpp-solomonislands.org/

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/
Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security
conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
************************************************************
To change your subscription, go to http://www.state.gov/misc/echannels/66822.htm Solomon Islands Country Facts

Comments

to Leave a Comment or