The first demonstration in Majuro in many years happened Monday at the Kili-Bikini-Ejit Town Hall in Uliga.
All demonstrations in the Marshall Islands, a country whose people are noted for “speaking under the waves,” are unprecedented in some ways.
They are also relatively few and far between. Hospital staff demonstrated and then went on strike in 1999, Majuro landowners protested the second Compact at the Nitijela in 2003, a large demonstration against domestic violence followed in the wake of the murder of Emson Markroro in 2010. There are annual marches for domestic violence prevention awareness and other similar demonstrations, but they are not precisely “protests.”
The KBE community protest on Monday concerned accountability over the use of millions of dollars in Bikini trust fund money by elected local government leaders. It was notable for at least two reasons:
- It is likely the first time-ever that citizens here have demonstrated for accountability and over concern about money management by government, national or local, in the Marshall Islands.
- Bikini is, together with Enewetak, one of RMI’s most homogenous communities, largely due to its geographical location and the isolation of Bikini, in decades gone by, and Kili since the relocation in 1948. Of course, like any community in RMI and elsewhere, there are differences of opinion among members of the community. But it is fair to say that for decades the Bikinians were one of the most unified communities based on their experience of relocations, isolation and privation. Monday’s demonstration with signs, speeches and the singing of the Bikini anthem underlined that the situation has changed dramatically since the current elected leadership gained control of the Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund in late 2017.
A number of Bikini community members spoke at the demonstration in front of the Town Hall.
“You’ve been saying tomorrow there will be money,” Simon Jamore, a grandson of King Juda who led the Bikinians during the initial resettlement in 1946, said at the protest. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. How many tomorrows you want us to wait?”
Another speaker, Tommy Leer, said: “We are tired of people playing with our money. We won’t stand and watch people waste away our benefits.”
There were many people standing or sitting around the periphery of the demonstration.
“If you guys want to listen, come closer,” said an elder lady talking to Mayor Anderson Jibas supporters listening from the sidelines. “If you want to stand there and be like statues then go home.’’
An elderly woman supporter of Mayor Anderson Jibas waited until the demonstration finished and screamed these words as she walked to the other side of the road and into a taxi: “You guys will keep talking and then nothing happens. Have those white people return to their homes in America.”
Mayor Jibas and a number of council members were at the Town Hall for an interview with the Journal at 1pm, but left prior to the start of the demonstration around 3pm. Mayor Jibas returned briefly to the Town Hall area, remaining in his vehicle, before driving off a few minutes later.