I’M NOT in the habit of commenting on Recent Comments because I believe commenters should be allowed a view – legalities permitting – without impediment.
But this afternoon saw a great outpouring of sentiment from a dozen or more Papuan readers, and I am moved to remark on this.
I don’t believe for a moment that this rush of commentary is not a coordinated effort. But, unlike many other write-in protests, most of these people have their own take on things, sparing readers the rent-a-letter sameness associated with most similar campaigns.
Given that there are eight pages of commentary in the right hand column, let me summarise what’s been said and give you my take on things.
The first thing you’ll notice about these letters is their fiery sense of Papuan nationalism.
The corruption and ineffectuality of the PNG government is beginning to have profound effects. These are starting to get people thinking about some form of autonomy.
“The current political system is corrupt, unfair and has failed to live up to Papua’s aspirations and expectations,” says one writer. And another, “Papua needs new honest political leaders.”
There are feelings of being besieged and preyed upon … “Papuans want fair distribution of its resources and equal opportunity in developing their region”… “Deliberate targeting and raping of Papuan womenfolk” … “tribal fights, pay-back killings, ridiculous massive compensation demands, spread of the HIV/AIDS” … “spreading non-Papuan squatter settlements on traditional lands in Port Moresby and Central province”.
And one commenter even goes deep into history: “The Papuan people were not given the opportunity by the Australian government to have a referendum of a 'free choice' whether they want to be part of New Guinea or remained independent from Australia.”
The letters indicate there has been a recent move to form a bloc of Papuan MPs at a meeting in Alotau. “Papuans are encouraged by this,” says one writer, “and there is a lot of talk to get MPs to not continue to support a very corrupt government under Somare”.
There are complaints about “deliberate manipulation of the electoral system”, about a loss confidence and respect in Michael Somare’s leadership and that it “is time the new generation push for a separate autonomy region for Papua”.
“Papuans want a new Papuan political order,” says one writer. “Papua demands full autonomy like Bougainville … The government must have a policy in place to seriously address the issue of autonomy.”
This letter-writing campaign is not much of a challenge to the PNG government, still less a force for change – but it is an indication of discontent.
It points to a serious stirring of forces and influences which may generate difficult times for the Somare government.
As one writer says, “Papuans are a proud and intelligent group of people who feel that they are being suppressed.” And if there's one thing we know about suppression, it is that it leads to reaction.
This movement appears as the new Papua Besena, but the background of government corruption, ineffectiveness and incompetence against which it is being played out, would seem to make it a far more formidable movement than its colonial predecessor.
I think we should all consider ourselves warned.