FEATURE STORY

Voice of Conflict: Andrew Fioga's Story from Solomon Islands

November 1, 2016

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Between 1998 and 2003, the Solomon Islands experienced unprecedented civil unrest, known as The Tensions. This violent chapter of the country’s history began with a campaign of violence towards Malaitan settlers by militants from the island of Guadalcanal. Andrew Fioga's Malaitan family farmed the land shown in this image, in Tina on the outskirts of Honiara, for several decades. During the height of the conflict, Andrew's father was kidnapped while collecting food for his father to eat from this same piece of land. He was tortured and eventually killed by the militants from Guadacanal.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

Andrew Fioga remembers the good times as well as the bad in his homeland of the Solomon Islands.

Born on the island of Guadalcanal in 1965 to ethnic Malaitan parents, he describes an earlier life of “nothing to worry about” in Honiara, the capital, and the family farm that grew potatoes, yams, beans, tomatoes and other vegetables in Tina River, a village 30 kilometers beyond the capital.

“It was easy going,” he said. “The town was small and you knew everyone. We would go to church and people would go past and smile. We were one of them [the local Guadalcanal community].”

Then came The Tensions, an unprecedented five-year spate of violence between ethnic militants from Guadalcanal and Malaita that devastated lives and left the economy in tatters. Following repeated attempted attacks by Guadalcanal militants, Andrew’s family abandoned the farm for Honiara. They were the last Malaitans to leave the area.

“It was a nightmare,” Andrew said. “Things just changed.”

When his father went back to the farm to collect food for the family, he was captured by members of the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA).

“They took my father because he was a Malaitan,” Andrew explained. “They dragged him first, on the truck, towing him to their camp, then tortured him. He was still taking his breath and they just dumped him down. He was buried alive. That really burned in me – turned my whole mindset to revenge.”

Andrew became a founding members of the Malaita Eagle Force (MAF), commanding militants in four years of fighting against the GRA until international efforts restored peace to the Solomon Islands in 2003. He signed several peace agreements and served time in jail, along with other militants from both sides of the conflict.


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Andrew Fioga shows a photo of himself holding a machine gun during the ethnic conflict in Solomon Islands, when he was one of the key members of the Malaitan Eagle Force. Andrew has few photographs from his miltant days; many were destroyed in the 2014 Honiara flood, others were taken by researchers and lawyers after the conflict ended but never returned. Four or five remain on his cellphone.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

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Andrew Fioga in prayer at Easter Saturday mass at Lighthouse Chapel International, Honiara.  Close to 92% of Solomon Islanders follow one of several Christian churches introduced to the Pacific nation by missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

It took several more years for him to find an inner peace. In 2010, after multiple investigations and negotiations, Andrew was able to retrieve his father’s remains from a shallow grave near the home of those who killed him. He and his brother, son and nephews then traveled to his father’s birthplace on Malaita to bring home the remains for good.

“After all the fighting, signing peace wasn’t what gave me the honor,” Andrew said. “It was what I was able to do for my Dad. At least I got him back after 11 years. At least I made a decent burial for him. I had the courage. I thought, ‘I’ve done it, I’ve got my Dad’s body back. It’s a victory for me.’ ”

Today Andrew again lives a quiet life, sharing a two-room hut in Varacreek, Honiara, with his wife Cathy, their 13-year-old son and four children from Cathy’s first marriage. A devout Christian, he runs a church youth group — the Honiara Boys Brigade — and is passionate about mentoring young people.

“These kids, I want something best to be done for them. Always in life there is a vice versa,” he said. “What the country needs is good leaders who put education as priority. When education is not there, you see a lot of school drops. A massive part of our population, the young people, might do things that aren’t acceptable to society like gambling, alcohol and drugs. Then you have more problems like crime coming up.”

Mostly, he worries about opportunity for his son.

“If I could prepare ahead, so that he has something to do to earn money, something that he can start with, that would be great for him.”

The former militant warrior embraces a new path.

“I think everyone has realized what the country has gone through and for sure they wouldn’t want that again,” he said. “National reconciliation will give a clear picture for the country to move on.”



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