By Leonard Fong Roka
The late Joseph Cannsius Kabui was the last premier of the North Solomons Province in 1990 when the Bougainville crisis erupted and the first President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government in 2005 as the result of the Bougainville Peace Process that slowly began in 2004.
Late Joseph C. Kabui in navy shirt and short (Mekamui photos)
Joseph Kabui was born around 1954 in Sipuru Village (near Paruparu in the Evo-Torau constituency). His mother, Agatha Sipura (my great grandmother), was a widower and hails from the Tumpusiong Valley of Panguna. She had my two grandmothers, Anna Akonabo and Magareth Mirirua, with her first husband, Darii. After Darii died, she remarried into Evo (our neighbouring constituency) and then born and bred her next three children Martin Miriori, Joseph Kabui and a Theresia Pipino.
He was educated at Pirurari, Sipatako village schools, Tunuru, Saint Joseph’s Rigu mission schools and Ulapia (Channel College) in PNG. He took sometimes with the BCL civil works as a spotter handling the stop-go sign in the work places. From here, late Henry Moses (then head of BCL workers’ union) had him in the Panguna mining workers’ union and from here he spent a year or two at the University of PNG and back in BCL again. After sometime, the union had him in the United States in a program on labour laws.
After returning, he was into politics. He was with the community government for a while in the early 1980s and contested the provincial election in the mid-1980s and began the premier of North Solomons in 1987 to 1989 when the crisis came about to splash out the PNG people and government.
Has many, for example his NSP government secretary, late Peter Tsiamalili left the island he after being threatened by the BRA, he remained back and faced the consequences. Despite being harassed by the order less and unorganized BRA personnel of the 1990s, he remained steadfast a Bougainvillean leader.
In 1990, the late Francis Ona after shutting the mine and getting rid of non-Bougainvilleans had not much interest in the former NSP premier but, it was Ona’s military strategist, Sam Kauona, who actually invited Mr. Joseph Kabui in the BRA politics of that era. In one of the late months of 1990, Sam Kauona ordered his faction of the BRA to bring Mr Joseph Kabui and his elder brother, Mr Martin Miriori to his village in Tororei; there he officially asked them, especially Kabui to help the BRA in its political manoeuvring.
From here, the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) was born. Some peace efforts like the Endeavour Accord, a trip to the UN Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples hearing in Geneva, and the declaration of independence in 1991 (UDI). Also, there was this establishment of the Radio Free Bougainville that broadcasted from Arawa that drove a lot of BIG propaganda to the population.
Elder brother, Martin Miriori was in charge of the BRA-BIG office in Honiara.
In the years of BRA’s internal chaos and the Australia-backed PNG blockade (to the PNG government this is falsely said to be a selective embargo of goods and services) on the Solomon Island of Bougainville, Mr Kabui led faithfully. So keen he was, in giving words of encouragement to people to carry on.
Amidst this anarchy, the BIG leadership acted and talked as if all was fine. But in fact, the BRA was operating in the island at its own terms creating division on the island and the BIG played its own game of covering up and pointing fingers on external forces. Kabui, as the vice president was the captain and the president, Francis Ona was never seen in public where a leader ought to be, but he was in the safety of his cocoon doing nothing.
From this we pick out the qualities, my relative Joseph Kabui had. Despite being harassed by the BRA, still he carried on ‘finding the way out’ for the people. Without the help of Francis Ona (who lacked any political will to lead), he struggled forward often under fire from Francis Ona and who only was giving orders ‘do this and do that’ in 1990 to 1992. Often, from his tours he always returned to our hamlet Kavarongnau, exhausted to the core.
This, for me, shows four broad characteristics of my brother; Joseph Kabui had the ‘heart of love’, he ‘lacked the ability to say no and affect his relationship with others’ and had the nature of ‘silently and bravely pursuing his visions’; of all, he was a visionary for our relegated island.
His ‘love’ created the catch-phrase ‘peace by peaceful means’ for the Bougainville Peace Process. That is, finding normalcy for Bougainville through reconciliation and not retributive justice. In heart he thought God was the way since he was religious. But, in reality, the power play was not in favour of a solution through ‘peace’ because authority was still not recognized; everybody, as long as he had gun, lost a property or relative in the crisis, was ‘authority’.
But, what that made my relative thinking that his strategies were working is the ‘pouring money for peace’ from donors that captivated combatants to make peace everywhere.
His desire ‘for maintenance of cordial relationship with others’ brought upon his leadership the ‘Invincible Resources’ nightmare of in his political career. Then, the Bougainville Peoples’ Congress was cash strap and galloping with doubt towards the 2005 Autonomous Bougainville Government first general election. One of his cronies was responsible to tabling to Joseph Kabui the plate of gold!
The controversial Bougainville Resources Development Cooperation (BRDC) was created and the initiator of the Invincible Resources-ABG arrangement which is bad because it was a state-to-an-individual affair; when it should have being a state-to-state affairs, had no dirty stain to this very day in the public domain.
Joseph Kabui shouldered the burden of his ‘not being so sceptical’ to his death in 2008.
In his ‘bravery to pursue’ nature, he attained the Bougainville Peace Process. In 1992, I began hearing the words ‘round table’ solution to the conflict in my kindred’s tongue. Against, Francis Ona’s hardline stand to fight on; he pursued his will for peace.
Around 1994, there was already a line of division between Francis Ona and Joseph Kabui. Ona in that period was going public in his verbal attack on Kabui’s gestures for peace. He even left the safety of his Guava village and began to tour other villages in Kieta in Central Bougainville spreading his anti-peace messages. But, Kabui silently moved on with the people gaining majority support with him.
Across the Bougainville Strait he took the risk to find and talk for a peaceful solution to the crisis. In late 1997, he set his foot in the streets of Arawa and dwelled in my family’s Section 17 abode to talk peace in the areas where the PNGDF was in control of.
And his will and Bougainvilleans’ desire for a peaceful settlement was gained but the addressing of our cry for freedom is yet to be reached.
Great was he has a visionary. In our hamlet of Kavarongnau in the Panguna District, I was keen as a kid in 1992 (the peak years of the crisis) listening to his discourses. He would look up into the Onove Mountains (to our west) and the Deumori Boulder and suggest: ‘when we gain independence, we will have a cable-car operating in between’. Of course, Wikipedia notes that Joseph Kabui wanted to see Bougainville as the ‘Kuwait of the Pacific’.
Lest I Forget My Brother
(*In Kieta kinship system, my grandmother’s brother is my brother and my grandmother is my sister)