BY LEONARD FONG ROKA
AS A YOUNGSTER, back in the 1980s, I knew that taking up arms to deal with Papua New Guinea and its financier, Bougainville Copper Limited, was the best thing for us to do since we had no other hope.
Our life—a Bougainvillean lifestyle—was fatally compromised. Shamelessly, non-Bougainvilleans flooded our land, whilst the Panguna mine meant the media painted us as the better-offs. But the copper and gold did nothing good for us Solomons’ Bougainvilleans.
But sadly, even after all we’ve been through, even after successfully showing the world we are human beings and need to be respected, we are still struggling with bad politics and lies.
Politicking and lies have for too long been our cornerstones. In the early 1990s, men waited for non-existent German or American submarines to deliver weapons at Marau beach in Banoni, South Bougainville.
Then Noah Musingku came in, with his UV-Stract scam that has affected our people so badly and saw him walking away with their hard-earned money.
These two examples are well-known to us but there have been numerous lesser known small-scale politicking and lies that deny us progress in economic and other forms of development.
In Bougainville, all people know that economic development is a must for the island. People need jobs to keep occupied and contribute responsibly to our common good. But our culture of politics is something I consider to be an impediment to progress.
BCL’s Peter Taylor told the Australia-PNG business meeting in Madang that:
There is a very wide consensus on Bougainville today that peace and continuing good order will be best achieved by economic means. That the normal aspirations of the people for a good life and a fulfilling future for their children will be delivered by employment, training, regular and income, infrastructure and business activity.
History tells us that the mine wasn’t opened in the best of circumstances. It was opened on the eve of Papua New Guinea becoming independent. There wasn't a province of Bougainville at the time, constitutionally at least, so neither the province nor the landowners were consulted to any great degree. And there was some resistance to the mine being opened.
Economic self-sufficiency is an important goal for Bougainville, particularly when its people are endeavouring to become highly autonomous within PNG, and also to address the question of independence, which requires revenue developed by major projects such as a re-opened Panguna.
Peter Taylor’s views are exactly what most Bougainvilleans have in mind. But the problem is that, in Bougainville today, just coming out of the 10-year crisis and recent (pre crisis) history of Panguna - still fresh in the hearts and minds of the people - we have a politically fluid atmosphere and liars take opportunity to lure people to their cause.
Some people are supporting a cause directed against the Autonomous Bougainville Government or a for the various Meekamui factions’ doctrines. It is quite hard to bring these tactics into the full light of day.
Also it takes time for people to change after seeing no good. People have been hardened by the recent past.
One group of people are just simple liars who see the problems of our people and fool them in the pretext of helping them. They have handicapped the people disastrously.
In addition, there is another group of Bougainvilleans who are now a problem. These groups climbed to the top of the political pyramid during the crisis, and today, as Bougainville moves into the sophisticated international jungle of politics, they see they have no know-how and will be kicked out of their prestige and power.
The numerous Meekamui groups fall into this band.
In the Kieta and Panguna Districts, the activities of people in this group are overwhelming.
In the town of Arawa, the traditional landowners are now in a position that even the ABG cannot easily move them aside. They are not willing to see themselves go out of business.
The re-opening of the Panguna mine is one development concern while this group retains its current position.
The issue now rests in a massive tangle of politicking. At hand, we have two Meekamui groups, genuine landowners and numerous people with personal interests who can take the law into their own hands.
But despite all this, Bougainvilleans are not extremely bad. What Bougainville lacks is charismatic leaders who at all cost protect and guide the people in accordance to their needs and dreams.
Once, Bougainvilleans see they are safe, then progress is assured.