A Spanish explorer, Álvaro de Mendeña de Neira, was the first European to visit the islands (1568), but his colonizing efforts failed. European settlers and missionaries arrived throughout the 18th and 19th cent. In 1885 the German New Guinea Company established control over the N Solomons. The southern islands were placed under a British protectorate in 1893; the eastern islands were added to it in 1898. In 1900, Germany transferred its islands (except Bougainville and Buka) to Great Britain in return for British withdrawal from W Samoa. Bougainville and Buka were occupied by Australian forces during World War I and were placed under Australian mandate by the League of Nations in 1920. During World War II, Choiseul, New Georgia, Ysabel, and Guadalcanal were occupied by the Japanese (1942) but were liberated by U.S. forces (1943–44).
The Solomon Islands became self-governing in 1976 and independent in 1978. The government is parliamentary, with a governor-general representing the British crown, a prime minister and cabinet, and an elected unicameral parliament. In Aug., 1997, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu became prime minister after winning a leadership vote in parliament. Ethnic strife broke out on Guadalcanal in 1999, as island natives fought with immigrants from the island of Malaita. In 2000 the battling between ethnic-based militias intensified, and the Malaita militia took Ulufa'alu hostage in June. The prime minister resigned under duress; Mannasseh Sogavare, who was chosen to succeed him, pledged to seek a resolution to the violence.
After elections held in Dec., 2001, Sir Allan Kemakeza was elected prime minister. Despite efforts to negotiate an end to the violence, it continued, ruining the economy and bankrupting the country. In July, 2003, an Australian-led peacekeeping force, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), entered the Solomons at the government's request to restore order. RAMSI was largely successful, disarming rebels, arresting their leaders, and enabling people displaced by the violence to return home, and most troops were withdrawn before year's end. Police officers associated with RAMSI remain in the Solomons.
Corruption accusations against several government ministers led to large losses for Kemakeza's party in the Apr., 2006, elections. Former deputy prime minister Snyder Rini was elected to succeed Kemakeza as prime minister, but Rini's election sparked protests in Honiara by demonstrators upset with his ties to what they regarded as a corrupt administration. The protests turned into anti-Chinese riots because the corruption has been associated with the money and development brought by recent Chinese investors. Additional Australian and New Zealand forces were sent to the Solomons to help restore order, and Rini resigned when he lost parliamentary support. In May, Mannasseh Sogavare was elected prime minister with the support of the opposition parties.
The new government's relations with Australia subsequently became strained when Australia's ambassador criticized a Solomons investigation into the post-election riots as a potential whitewash and was expelled. The situation worsed when Sogavare appointed Julian Moti, an Australian lawyer of Fijian descent who was wanted in Australia on child sex charges, as the Solomons attorney general. Australia sought Moti's extradition from Papua New Guinea, where Moti was arrested (Sept., 2006) while in transit. Moti managed to flee with apparent help from Papua New Guinea and Solomons officials, and then entered the Solomons illegaly and was held there. (His appointment as attorney general was suspended as a result of his illegal entry.)
A Solomons police investigation into Moti's illegal entry resulted in a raid on the prime minister's office. Sogavare criticized the raid as an Australian violation of his nation's sovereignty because of the presence of Australians (hired by the Solomons government) throughout the police force; the Australian government denied having any involvement in Solomons police affairs. A Solomons court cleared Moti of all Solomons charges in December, the Australian-born police commissioner was subsequently declared an undesirable immigrant, and in July, 2007, Moti became attorney general. In Apr., 2007, an undersea earthquake and tsunami caused widespread significant destruction in the W Solomon Islands, devastating the nation's second largest city, Gizo.
Sogavare lost a confidence vote in Dec., 2007, and Derek Sikua, backed by the oppostion and some former Sogavare supporters, became prime minister. Moti subsequently was deported to Australia; in 2009 the indictment against him was stayed permanently by an Australian judge. After the Aug., 2010, parliamentary elections, Danny Philip cobbled together a disparate coalition to narrowly secure the prime ministership. Charges of misuse of funds led the coalition's erosion in Nov. 2011 and Philip resigned; Gordon Darcy Lilo succeeded him as prime minister.