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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bougainville Referendum to Right the Wrongs

Leonard Fong Roka

In the South Pacific context the imminent Bougainville Referendum for a lasting political settlement for the nearly 40 years struggle and loss of lives for the Bougainville people is a significant milestone for the democratic political processes and strategies in the region.

Bougainvilleans are geographically and culturally Solomon Islanders having dwelled for nearly 30 thousand years on the largest and the resource rich island of the Solomon archipelago
Unfortunately, The Anglo-German Declaration of 1886 and the Anglo-German Convention of 1899 dragged Bougainvilleans into the colonial German New Guinea administration. This was and is the source of the social, political and economic problems Bougainvilleans had faced over the years; and eventually culminating into a Bougainville Crisis since 1988.

With the armed struggle sprouting off from the dissatisfaction over Panguna mine exploits since 1988 and pouring over long years of political struggles Bougainville submerged into a civil conflict claiming the lives of some 10 to 15 thousand local people.

Peace was not that easy to achieve but after continuous attempts the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) was reached in 2001 between the Bougainville groups and Papua New Guinea. Bougainville’s peace gave the Bougainville people one significant offer and that is the referendum scheduled to be held between 2015 and 2020.

But the BPA and the PNG’s Organic Law of Peace Building in Bougainville prescribed two conditions are met for the referendum and they are: weapons disposal and international standards of good governance.

When PNG is infested with illegal weapons and crime and worst corruption index, under international standards, Bougainvilleans should not fear their say in the referendum. But their important decision is to put Bougainville on the right political track that should bring betterment for all.

Bougainvilleans are not reckless weapon users but their presence is disharmony to many; there is corruption on Bougainville, but it can be managed in a tiny island as Bougainville when people mandate right leaders to power and endow them with more anti-corruption powers and functions are given to them.

Understanding the Bougainville problem from the roots is the key for the best outcome for the Bougainville referendum. The coming referendum is to RIGHT the WRONGS done to the Bougainville society by colonization and the state of PNG.

The wrongs we should now know are well said by former leaders: Fr. John Momis said to BCL in 1987 that “The BCL mine has forever changed the perceptions, the hopes and fears of the people of Bougainville. You are invaders. You have invaded the soil and the places of our ancestors, but above all, your mine has invaded our minds” and Martin Miriori said in 1996 referring to the Panguna mine and PNG that “Bougainville and its people were a free independence gift by Australia to Papua New Guinea”.

Then the late Joseph Kabui separated Bougainville from PNG when he spelled it all out in 1991 by saying that “It is a feeling deep down in our hearts that Bougainville is totally different than PNG, geographically, culturally. It's been a separate place from time immemorial. Ever since God created the Universe, Bougainville has been separate, has been different”.

Thus the coming Bougainville referendum is to save Bougainville and Bougainvilleans from the disaster an African writer/academic Francis M. Deng wrote in his 1997 essay, Ethnicity: An African Predicament, as “Deprive a people of their ethnicity, their culture, and you deprive them of their sense of direction and purpose”.

This is a Bougainville problem and must be stopped through the referendum granted to the people of Bougainville by their unique BPA that allows no unilateral changes by way of been an arrangement with ‘double entrenchment’ and that is, PNG cannot influence the results of referendum without Bougainvillean input and vice versa.

For Bougainvilleans, there is now a need to really glean our purpose and reasons, to our political standings. Our little groupings are tiny Bougainvillean groupings trying to clash with a wider world order and its multilateral BPA expectations followed by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG).

Bougainvilleans need to leave their tiny shells and walk the wider world for the coming referendum was not created by a bilateral peace process (between PNG and Bougainville) but rather by a multilateral peace process (between Bougainville, PNG, and many other states and organizations).

Thus honouring a multilateral peace agreement is fundamental to our positive reputation to the international community.  

Bougainville leadership problems from the roots

Leonard Fong Roka

When gathering for Bougainville in the PNG political pig then the Solomon Island people of Bougainville should be always the tail that is always moving.  They are always unstable within the PNG state since the 1960s and this can be correlated again in the post crisis scene to the stability or instability in the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) of the day.

History should not be ignored by myopic thinkers of Bougainville since it has some joules to pacify the Bougainville problem once and for all that the current PNG and Bougainville leadership neglect as they pursue the path of a reconciliatory politics invented by religion and westernization to cover their 15th to 19th century brutality on the colonized world.

On this note Bougainville politics had been a reconciliatory one since the mid-1990s with the late Joseph Kabui, inaugural president of the ABG, and the PNG government-assassinated premier of the Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG), late Theodore Miriung.

Both deceased leaders succeeded not because PNG (PNG was running after Sandline Mercenaries to take Panguna mine back, then) was interested in peace with Bougainville but rather because Bougainvilleans in the political divide created by the leadership of late Francis Ona, the 1988 rebellion leader, since 1990 due to his lack of political power to bring about change across Bougainville as PNG fled the Solomons.  

Reasonably PNG had abandoned Bougainville in 1990 but Bougainville’s immature leadership had it having a fraction of influence over obvious areas and persons since the 1990 Kavieng Agreement signed by leaders from North Bougainville to get weeping PNG government back onto Bougainville through providing services on Buka Island (not Bougainville).

Bougainville was new in the field of western political culture of the ever changing 21st century where colonization came in with the three ‘Gs’ that are gold (money), glory (building empire) and god (religion) to take over the world and Bougainville.

Thus the nurturing process of leadership on Bougainville had no stable foundation but rather a hijacked and confused one where society was in disarray and taken over by a sudden and massive intrusion of the human minds in Bougainville by Eurocentrism.

The characteristics of most cargo cult movements across Bougainville should proof the awkward nature of complications; to the people, religion, politics, economy and society were mingled up to dismantle their reception and interpretation of the changes.

In today’s autonomy status Bougainville have powers in its own decision making processes but the sources of direction—to whom leadership ought to align more to—has cause much political, economic and social stagnation for the Solomon island people of Bougainville.

The ABG was created as a peace deal and thus has numerous stakeholders to be answerable to. Top on the list is the culprit PNG government, the UN, and so on. It is here that the internal Bougainville society turns to conflict over its own political passage.

Since the 1960s reasons for Bougainvillean protests were multi-headed. Bougainville had concerns over Rio Tinto destruction of environment, BCL royalty inequity, BCL and PNG social, economic and political exploitation of Bougainville resources and its people, independence to highlight a few.
The 1988 militancy move by late Francis Ona and his followers were an amalgamation of the said concerns thus Bougainville leadership was a multifaceted one; though broadly painted as a political one, it was a collection of issues compressed to look as one political struggle of freedom for the northern Solomons.

This problematic leadership minds had now entered the Bougainville government, the ABG. No matter how blessed with wisdom a leader is, the scar of historical basis of political thinking for Bougainville is prevalent.

Bougainville leaders have to choose who they are to uphold in their decision making. The many issues of concern for Bougainville leadership can aligned to root sources of the crisis, the ex-combatants, the dictates of the peace agreement, PNG interest, foreign investors, BCL, interest groups and so on. Which one of these will a leader have when making his decisions?

So far the ABG leadership have suffered to decide whom to listen to and follow suit.

The Bougainville government of the day had narrowed its approach sources often more to economic recovery and clashed with issues that nurtured the conflict on Bougainville. This is well evident with the Momis-Nisira government and their Asian engagements where so far had clashed with ordinary Bougainville people.

Momis-Nisira government had narrowly gone into partnership with Asian businesses and individuals to get the Bougainville economy up however all their deals are now ending in Asians taking over the cottage industry in Buka Town that conflicts with Section 24 of the Bougainville Constitution that talks about ABG would only support Bougainvillean initiatives in any development activities like business.

Such leadership problem on Bougainville is rooted in the notion of political nurturing under colonization. Bougainville and Bougainvilleans were not designed through religion, education and so on to grow and advance in the systems westernization had to enforce.

Change on Bougainville is possible if the leadership is aligned to the people and decide what path to follow for the good of the people and not the non-Bougainvillean influences and stakeholders. 

Inside the joy of travelling the Buka-Buin highway

Leonard Fong Roka

It could be the joy of going home and visiting families but rather at a little cost of highway cruelty I’d never felt before for there are a few vehicles that serve passengers of this road.

Most passenger vehicles leaving Kokopau in the northern tip of Bougainville for Buin in the southern most district of Bougainville generally depart between 12 PM and 2 PM (Bougainville Standard Time) and track south along the East Coast of Bougainville.

All Buin bound passengers in Buka prepare well for their journey home. Shopping for the family at home; getting enough money into the pocket for the little visits in the many road-side markets shelling fresh fruits and garden produce and shops and also stops in Arawa or Wakunai.

All vehicles leave Kokopau before passenger vehicles for central Bougainville; and closely at the same time with those travelling to Siwai District.

The journey takes us some areas of north Bougainville mainly Tinputz District through Central Bougainville.

After about 3 hours travellers reach Arawa, the former provincial capital of Bougainville, and spent a little amount of time here; mainly at the main Arawa Market.

More passengers join here the few from Buka in Arawa.

The passenger trend over the years is normal and known. Not all passengers that get on board Buin transports reach Buin. Some are Buin people living their lives in the many places along the Buka-Buin road, many in Arawa, but love to be on a Buin person’s vehicle.

On the road there are also Buin people or other persons with connections to Buin that wait for transports to Buin.

Thus from Arawa it is neither the vehicles get overloaded or gets empty as it moves on for Buin. When more passengers get on it is a nightmare for naturally on Bougainville the Buin people are said to be reckless and care little on how much passengers or cargo that the vehicle could sustain for safety reasons.

But the journey goes on.

Becoming from Oria, the passenger vehicles, begin their drop-offs and all Buin transport service providers seem to be the best service providers for all transport all passengers right to their door steps.

This is the most painful part of the Buka-Buin transport. The main feeder roads like the Oria Road, the Tabago Road, the Muguai Road, Laguai-Nakorei Road, Tokaino Road, Piano Road, Aku Road, and so on are long and under the current poor conditions vehicles and their passengers and cargo track them up and down to better serve their customers.

A Buka-Buin passenger pays K120 and earlier I thought this was a stealing of our hard-earned money by the service providers. But later I learned that this cost was worth the service they provide us. There is value to the K120 fare we pay.

All Buin vehicles generally depart Buin for Buka on Mondays and overnights in Buka and returns to Buin on Tuesdays. They make their journey to fit the days in a manner that on every Friday all vehicles must return from Buka to rest over the weekend at home.

On the return journey to Buka all passengers experience the same pattern of travelling the villages and their road and depart for Buka by around 12 midday and reach Buka by 4 PM.