Conflict in the Pacific

There is growing concern about increasing instability and tensions in the Pacific. In Melanesian societies, particularly Papua New Guinea/Bougainville, Solomon Islands and Fiji, instability is characterised by ethnic or tribal clashes, soaring crime rates and a deterioration in government control and accountability.

The circumstances and causes of conflict in each country are unique, but there are some common and interrelated causes.

Lack of economic opportunities for young people

The unequal distribution of benefits from rich natural resources creates a perception of injustice. Young people face a shortage of employment and lack of economic opportunities whilst others profit from export revenues. Often the expectations of young people in rural areas don’t fit with the subsistence lifestyle and they drift towards urban areas where competition is high for limited employment opportunities. It’s all too easy for these disappointed, frustrated young people to be drawn into criminal and conflict activities.

Ethnic belonging vs national identity

Ethnic differences alone are not a cause for conflict. But ethnic groups can provide social security whilst the state fails to provide such basic services as law enforcement, water, education and health-care. This increases a sense of belonging to a group whilst at the same time destroying a sense of national identity.

A weak state

Traditional values and customs are being replaced with modern government and state institutions. But these modern institutions don’t necessarily fit with the Pacific understanding of decision-making and rule. This gap between society and the state adds to instability by weakening the state’s ability to manage and further fuelling people’s sense of belonging to a group or community rather than any sense of national belonging.

Availability of firearms

The availability of firearms is widespread and accelerates and aggravates instability and conflicts. Where firearms are available, minor disputes become shootings, making it easier for young people to become killers.

Natural resource exploitation

Finally, resource exploitation by international corporations can also accelerate the outbreak of conflict because of the devastation they often cause to the local environment and local livelihoods.

Working to reduce the deadly impact of armed violence in the Pacific

Oxfam New Zealand is an active member of the Pacific Small Arms Action Group (PSAAG), a group dedicated to reducing the deadly impact of armed violence in the Pacific region.

Peacebuilding work in the Pacific

Oxfam’s approach to building ‘human security’ in the Pacific is through community-based development. Some of our current work includes:

  • Oxfam's partners Kup Women for Peace recently joined 17 other civil society groups in PNG to form the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Read more...  
  • Oxfam and Kup Women for Peace formed a partnership with the Peace Foundation Melanesia in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The partnership is reducing conflict and improving the quality of life in the Kup district by training community members in skills to resolve tensions in a non-violent way. Participants from conflicting clans are working together and using conflict-reduction techniques based on traditional Melanesian mediation, which will allow peacebuilding to be sustained in the long-term.
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  • Oxfam supports people in communities at risk of violence to earn a living. Providing a means of earning a living can often remove the underlying cause of violence. Our partner in the Highlands of PNG, Community Based Health Care, supports livelihood opportunities for communities that subscribe to peaceful coexistence. Read more…
  • Recent research by Oxfam has found that the newly elected government of the Solomon Islands will need to find more ways to support ordinary people to have their say in shaping the future of the country if they are to dampen simmering public dissatisfaction. Read more…

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