BOUGAINVILLEANS narrow-mindedly celebrate 15 June as a day of some form of political establishment, which was achieved by the multilateral peace process since 1997.
The peace process paved the way for the return of vital services and goods Bougainville had missed under the Australia-backed PNG blockade of the island since 1990.
In Bougainville Manifesto 7 – Sources of conflict, published in September last year, I argued that the Bougainville crisis was the result of foreigners’ disrespect of the Bougainville nation:
Under the stinging colonial administration of British, Germans, Australians and Japanese, Bougainville faced ruthless exploitation. Oral history and written records highlights a wide range of subjection. Bougainvilleans were cheap labourers, sexual subjects, human commodities and isolated bystanders of their wealth.
They stood by as their plantations were servicing colonial masters and PNG labourers shipped in boatloads. They were forced to despise their traditions and swallow western religions and other secular ideologies without a chance to voice their epistemological views about their land. Bougainvilleans were used to destroy their own land and life.
The worst case was the Australian and PNG exploitation of Bougainville minerals in Panguna to fund the development of PNG and not Bougainville.
Parallel to exploitation, indoctrination is denying Bougainvilleans their right to progress for the better. In my PNG Attitude article, A mission to articulate what makes us Bougainvillean, I outlined my islanders’ fate as: “PNG’s seven million people do not acknowledge the distinctive qualities of Bougainville’s 200,000 people but rather indoctrinates them to pave the way for exploitation and eventual genocide.
The fate for Bougainvilleans starts from the PNG Constitution. The very first line in the Preamble, “We, the People of Papua New Guinea— united in one nation…” is the foundation of indoctrination of Bougainville people.”
This is the truth behind the Bougainville conflict (1988-1997) that most literature blames on the unequal distribution of BCL money and BCL’s environmental carnage. Most people today think that if only BCL was operating in an independent Bougainville or in the Solomon Islands, Bougainville would not have such long years of violence of disruption.
Francis M Deng wrote in Ethnicity: An African Predicament (1997):
Traditionally, African societies and even states functioned through an elaborate system based on the family, the lineage, the clan, the tribe, and ultimately a confederation of groups with ethnic, cultural, and linguistic characteristics in common. These were the units of social, economic, and political organizations and inter-communal relations’ saw long conflicting results and efforts in the struggle for self-determination and nationhood.
Bougainville has some 40 languages and each of these Bougainvillean societies had its own way of acting and thinking; each also had its own pace of transitioning to the Eurocentric changes that happened on Bougainville after July 1768 (see Bougainville Manifesto 2).
Each society had its own perception of each other as they watched development taking place. Two hundred years later, modernisation sped across Central Bougainville with the development of the Panguna mine; but the pace was not the same in, for example, Buin, which only watched as the Kieta people were advancing.
The same for the Nagovis people, who were receiving all the debris from the Panguna mine; they observed the Kieta people raising their standard of living with mine royalties.
This could be the reason why, when Kieta people created the Napidakoe Navitu as a body to create unity across Bougainville in 1969, so many local government councils saw it as a threat to their power.
Mamak & Bedford (1974) noted: “Moreover, Navitu’s growing strength was perceived by some council leaders outside the association’s immediate area of influence [especially Kieta] as a challenge to their authority.” Such attitudes led to the diminution of the group towards the end of the 1970s.
Such differences amongst Bougainvilleans did not exist only across language groups, but also in the midst of a single language group. In my PNG Attitude article, The Intertwined Roots of the Bougainville Conflict (2011), I wrote that “Bougainvilleans came to see each other differently; mountain people as ‘backwards’ and coastal people as ‘progressive’ in response to the developing mission, plantation and Panguna mine in Kieta.”
This was never reconciled by positive development or progress in terms of equity and equality in education and other services that could have fostered unity for the entire Bougainville population. BCL and PNG were exploiting and suppressing Bougainville, not developing the owners of the wealth.
In 1988, Bougainvilleans of the Kongara area attacked redskin plantation labourers who had raped and killed a local woman at Aropa Plantation. At about the same time, the Bougainvilleans in Panguna saw fit to rebel against BCL and the PNG government.
The young fighters had no central authority educating them for the cause they were to fight for; but a militant leader emerged, Francis Ona, who was gaining power and prestige from the way he behaved in combat against the government security forces.
Thus, when the 1990 ceasefire was reached, there were two forces that could repel each other. This led to chaos since both parties had conflicting interests as explained in my PNG Attitude article, BRA was the root of the bloody civil conflict on Bougainville, that said:
To the late Francis Ona and his followers, closing down the Panguna mine was the bliss that blinded them. Keeping order and governing Bougainville was neglected. Thus the BRA recklessness grew and spread.
The BRA men, most of them illiterate, went astray grabbing private and ex-BCL property, looting shops and exploiting women often with the gun.
These unorganized BRA bands falsely accused innocent people of being PNG spies and tortured them. Others were accused of sorcery and killed.
The politically incompetent Francis Ona was nowhere to be seen or heard in this anarchy created under his name.
I was hearing that the BRA’s ill treatment of innocent Bougainvilleans was executed under the ‘standing orders’ of Ona. But this was a lie as I heard later that Ona was not aware of any ‘standing orders’ and he was not responsible for the suffering endured by Bougainvilleans.
The BRA posed as a body with a central command fighting for Bougainville freedom when in fact it hosted dozens of independent individuals or bands [that] operated at will across Bougainville.
Since all Bougainvillean societies had own characteristics and views of modernisation, the BRA impact was perceived in their own ways of thinking, resulting in the revival of old problems that had resulted in the loss of 20,000 lives from Buka to Buin.
For Bougainville to attain lasting peace for their island home, they have to concentrate on the domestic peace effort and not try to reconcile wounds with any non-Bougainvillean entities.
Unity and peace should be established on home soil first, then Bougainville can look elsewhere for peace making opportunities.
The Bougainville peace process that began in 1997 was commercialised by the leaders of the peace effort. Only big issues concerning big people were looked into and the little people were ignored. The resulting outcomes are the continuous negative problems faced by Bougainville.
Bougainville needs a peace process that comes from the heart of a Bougainvillean to a fellow Bougainville he has harmed.
The peace effort in Bougainville should begin from the Panguna area for the crimes against Bougainvilleans and each other from 1988 to 1990.
Leaders associated with the creation of the Bougainvillean Revolutionary Army (BRA) and their soldiers should admit to the people of Kieta, and later Bougainville as a whole, their failure of strategic leadership, the crimes committed with self interest and pride, and so on.
The former BRA men are in denial of all the rot they did to us by also putting blame on the pro-PNG resistance, the Bougainville Resistant Force (BRF), but the BRF were responding to the cruelty and injustice the BRA did to us. The BRA created its own enemy, the BRF, during the crisis.
The Panguna leaders and the Kieta BRA have to expose to the people why they created the BRA and where they went wrong. Why they stole from people; why they raped Bougainville mothers; why they disobeyed the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG); why they committed extrajudicial killings and torture; why they used propaganda on people and so on.
The Panguna rebel politicians and the Kieta BRA should apologise to the Kieta people from village to village and family to family. From Kieta they should be going from district to district, again from village to village until all Bougainville is covered.
This process is not simple since the Panguna leaders and their Kieta BRA inflicted pain on individuals, families, villages, clans and districts that even the peace process has ignored.
Once the Panguna leaders and the Kieta BRA admit all their wrongs, then all others - BRAs and leaders from other districts of Bougainville and the BRF - can follow the same process of reconciliation.
This peace exercise needs a powerful leader and a Bougainville government that educates and holds all Bougainvilleans under its wings for a free independent Bougainville.