LEONARD FONG ROKA
IT WAS AN AGE OF SUPPRESSION, exploitation and indoctrination that led to rebellion on the Solomon island of Bougainville. It was brought about by sentiment against Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) and the Papua New Guinea government that reached a crescendo in late 1988.
There was violence to shut the Australian Panguna mine in the heart of Bougainville that was championing the exploitation of the land; there was violence to free Bougainville from the stinging political, economic and social claws of PNG and built a new nation in the heart of the Pacific.
It all unfolded in Panguna in Central Bougainville in 1988 when the late Francis Ona (pictured above) and his band of followers, known as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), executed a sabotage campaign against BCL property and threatened its employees in order to put an end to a mine that promised so much but gave very little to Bougainvilleans.
What a great organisation for the betterment fofor the exploited people of Bougainville was the Bougainville Revolutionary Army.
Bougainvilleans like James Singko, Sam Kauona and Francis Ona created a mood to put people first in every form of development in the South Pacific. That is, the state or the investor must involve the landowner as the primary stakeholder when forging any form of development on the land.
But the question for the Bougainville leaders is this: Did they ever appreciate the scale and scope of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army? Through the eye of history, the group and its leader Francis Ona could be said to have lacked any idea of the purpose of what they created.
When studying the Bougainville Revolutionary Army from an historical angle, the element ‘Revolutionary’ is the subject matter. Did the Bougainville leaders pursue the negative or positive side of this term, revolutionary?
Revolutionary, according to Oxford Dictionary, is involving or causing dramatic change or innovation. But did the late Francis Ona and his followers have this concept in regard to their island home and people?
From the historical backdrop, it’s crystal clear that Bougainville’s leaders in the jungles around the Panguna mine in the late 1980s were running a positive revolution.
After years of struggle against the mining company, the colonial administration and the PNG government they were now fixed in a fight for positive change in Bougainville. And that change had to come in the shortest period, certainly within the lifetime of those leaders.
History will not deny that the late Francis Ona had a vision for a better Bougainville but the problem was with his leadership. He was not capable of translating that vision and energy into effective political leadership of the Bougainville that was needed in the 1990s.
There was also the trap of personal glory. In a letter dating 20 December 1989 addressed to his sister Mrs Cecilia Camel - who was to be his spokeswoman at a PNG, landowners and Bougainville meeting the following week - Ona had four demands.
The first was ‘that the National Government recognise and declare that Francis Ona is the winner over the Bougainville crisis and the National Government the loser of the crisis’. The letter was signed by a Bruno Kobala for Francis Ona.
Ona did not recognise that personal interest and the people’s interest were two conflicting issues as he sought to lead the Bougainville people to freedom.
As the supreme commander of the BRA and leader of the Bougainville people, he lacked the political power to influence and instigate unity and order across Bougainville in a period when the population was psychologically shattered by the revolution and when Bougainville was controlled by young men with guns.
So when the political chasm created by the departure of the PNG state and the dissolving of the provincial government opened wide, the late Francis Ona was lost.
He was shocked and watched as his BRA plundered Bougainville into chaos. He watched as his BRA created division with their reckless pursuit of self-interest.
Francis Ona’s leadership lost control of Bougainville as Bougainvilleans turned against each other.
And his dream of a prosperous Republic of Bougainville faded away.
And so the supreme commander began his buck-passing game that someone else was causing harm on Bougainville.