STAN STARYGIN | Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security | Conclusion
It does not take a sage or a seer to predict that what happened between 1969 and 2001 will continue being at the forefront of Bougainvilleans’ minds for many years to come.
Contrary to its name, the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 did not bring peace to Bougainville. It brought a disarmament and weapons containment process which failed by 2006, a weak autonomous government which has been on life support since its creation in 2005, and the entrenchment of the residue of civil war combatants in the form of street gangs that continue to control half the island.
With, perhaps, the exception of Buka town, Bougainville has frozen in time. It is no longer in 1969 or 2001, or anywhere in between. Nor is it in 2012. The disarmament and weapons containment process failed in 2005 and the ABG was created the same year; there has been no significant change since.
Rephrasing the words of an American playwright, in Bougainville, there is no present or future, it is year 2006 happening over and over again, now.
The existence of the gangs is a constant reminder to all Bougainvilleans and outsiders that, in the words of Uma, “we have a fight here and it is not over”.
Gang leaders like [Chris] Uma have spent their entire adult lives looking at the world through the barrel of the gun.
They have had numerous opportunities to go back to civilian life but they have consciously ignored them realizing that, in Bougainville, being a man with a gun bestows the status of power and money whereas the life of a civilian often gives neither.
Only a small portion of the gang members relate to the Panguna land under the traditional rules of land tenure in Bougainville.
This, however, does not mean that[ Ishmael] Toroama’s “now that a war has been fought over it the Panguna mine belongs to all Bougainvilleans” will not strike a chord with those who are dispossessed of the mine by the traditional rules of land tenure.
Only time will show with how many of the gang members this will resonate and how many will be willing to step aside out of respect for the traditional rules of land tenure.
A sizable portion of the gangs exercises varying measures of control over the Panguna mine. While there is some potential for events in the area to recalibrate these measures, it is unlikely that this recalibration will be of significant nature.
The gangs’ views on reopening of the Panguna mine are diverse, often inconsistent within the same gang, and often oscillating over fairly short spans of time. There has been one constant in these views; that constant is self-interest.
Despite what the gangs might say in public, self-interest is the best litmus test to gauge the truthfulness of these statements.
Reconciling these views is not as easy a task as they range from [the late Francis] Ona’s two decades old claim for 10 billion kinas to various other forms of compensation to Mungta’s admonition that reopening of the Panguna mine would be a disaster for Bougainville.
Reconciliation of these views, if at all possible, may not be of lasting nature136 and may have the effect of rupture on the production of the reopened mine.
It has been argued that indigenous cultures are a hindrance to development.
Whether this claim passes the test of time or not, is not relevant to the Bougainville gangs’ views on the Panguna mine for a very simple reason: by ‘development’ the gangs mean that someone will come and do all the work and they will get paid simply for being there.
Until conditions exist for that someone to come in and do all the work, the gangs will keep themselves and the people of Bougainville under permafrost and year 2006 will keep happening on Bougainville, year after year and again and again, now.
You can read the full journal article - a rare and fascinating account of the men and issues behind civil turbulence in Bougainville - here Download The Gangs of Bougainville
Stan Starygin has been involved with legal and judicial reform projects in early recovery and post-conflict countries across Africa and the South Pacific. The paper was almost entirely researched and written in Papua New Guinea, with intermittent critical input into the developing draft from Bougainvilleans and those others familiar with the Bougainville Crisis and its present state