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.