LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
IF WE WANT TO FAST-TRACK the peaceful settlement of the Bougainville issue once and for all, then we ought to do it in a manner that ordinary people see as right; not from the perspective of the big men of Bougainville, nor of international law.
Imposing upon the people what they just don’t like is the one and only catalyst of the setbacks we are familiar with in the pacification of the Bougainville conflict.
One of the three major pillars that will determine the execution of the Bougainville referendum on independence between 2015 and 2020 is the disposal of our weapons.
This is the design and liking of international law and PNG but not Bougainville.
If the Autonomous Government or our free-riders in the Meekamui all want independence, then they need to throw away the guns.
In the many negotiations held overseas as well as within PNG and Bougainville, PNG leaders are always screaming for a gun-free Bougainville. But what is the logic behind this demand? Does it meet the expectations of all Bougainvilleans?
Many educated Bougainvilleans, of course, will support the pillar of a weapon-free Bougainville; but the see-saw does not favour these few. One has to understand that, the educated and the illiterate majority do not share the same world view.
Thus, as decision makers, we have to remember that Bougainvilleans were treated as cheap prostitutes by colonialism. Their island was forcibly annexed (without their consent) by Germany in a self-glorification chat with Britain.
Since then, they have struggled against this evil in the form of exploitation of their resource rich island, cultural genocide and were laughed at as their old people wept under the sun demonstrating against PNG, Australia and BCL’s ruthlessness.
These things have become the chitchat of everyday Bougainvillean life and yet decision makers ignore it, upholding the imposed sting of international norms that have no place in Bougainville.
The majority has yet to be educated to understand how the globalised world’s political, economic and social mechanisms are operated.
From 1988 on, guns were their means of change. Without the employment of violence on the New Guinean squatter settlements around Bougainville and the attack on Bougainville Copper Limited, by now Bougainville would have being the land of Papua New Guineans.
Guns chased away the squatter settlers who were every day driving the natives further inland. Guns shut down Bougainville Copper Limited which brought them in.
But most Bougainvillean fighters noted that guns reached their hands not from a donor like Australia, but by personal sacrifice. That is, to own a gun you had to kill your enemy, the Papua New Guinean soldier, as he shamelessly pursued you to kill you and rob you in your own land.
But are political decision makers noting this? Leaders are worshipping imposed norms of conflict resolution listening to what the mind speaks and not what the heart speaks.
Politicians did not acknowledge this fact about Bougainville when, in 2001, they signed the terms of the future referendum on independence.
Bougainvilleans know the long struggle for self-determination before 1988 that was ignored by the Papua New Guineans who were using the wealth of Bougainville to build their own country. Yet our leaders gave in and sold us off once again to square an historical nightmare.
And here is where Bougainville is being divided into factions. There was a faction which wanted to end the war with the gun seeing the many successes the BRA was having against the Papua New Guinea army. And there was this other bunch that wanted a solution by peace.
All sides were working through different means to achieve nationhood for Bougainville.
But to many of us, weapons disposal is a problematic issue because it does not respect the Bougainville people.
The question is: If guns made PNG change its dirty attitude to Bougainville, why did PNG push for the eradication of guns without firstly seeing Bougainvilleans from the Melanesian perspective rather than continuing a psychological war from an international legal stage?
It is so silly to come to Bougainville calling, ‘Throw away your guns and I will give you freedom!’
Bougainville will never be fooled this time by such empty promises. PNG ordered Bougainville leaders to push for weapons disposal without giving them something.
That something is not autonomy because some of the very people who were involved in the protest marches of the 1970s for Bougainville independence are still around.
They share what they saw: we protested for nationhood, but PNG gave us a provincial government and now, when our 15,000 innocent people have died because of that past ignorance, they have given us autonomy.
That something is protectionism in trade and powers over people’s movement between PNG and Bougainville.
This tiny step, for example activating a vagrancy act in the NG parliament to control movement into or out of Bougainville, can be a catalyst to instigate a positive leap forward.
Many ex-combatants support the idea of preserving their guns in a museum-kind of arrangement where the children can always feel the pain their forefathers went through. But politicians see not this and now we are on the eve of the referendum.
But seeing non-Bougainvilleans flooding into Bougainville as teachers, preachers and in government offices stirs something different in the mountains.
The little heard voice is the voice political decision makers ought to be careful of in Bougainville.
A referendum on independence in the midst of division between leaders and the Bougainville people, and division between Port Moresby and Bougainville, wil not work.
I for one see that this can be sealed only with a review the Bougainville Peace Agreement which needs to be rewritten in a Bougainvillean way.
And since this agreement is multilateral, all stakeholders must put on Bougainville shoes because we are interested to solve a problem not in Fiji or Papua New Guinea, but in Bougainville.