An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
PAPUA New Guinea‘s road to independence, although often said to be offered on a golden platter, was actually achieved after overcoming many internal challenges.
We have been told of the mixed reactions among our people when news of PNG’s imminent independence began to spread throughout the land.
Many people were not sure what independence was or what it would bring to them. In such a fragile environment, where anxiety, confusion and hope reigned, the idea of independence disturbed the populous.
The fact that this did not result in social melt-down is a real victory of PNG’s independence’ a victory orchestrated by our nation’s founding fathers.
It was achieved by unifying diversity under one flag and constitution. Gaining independence from Australia was a great victory but I think PNG’s enduring legacy will be its ability to unify a land characterised by diversity.
I am sure most of us know the great challenge our founding fathers faced trying to unify a people divided by uncompromising terrain and unique traditions.
Even today our biggest challenge is reaching out to the unreached. PNG was and is very much a nation of many nations. In a nation so diverse it was inevitable that the subject of autonomy was going to be hotly debated.
Bougainville led the way in pushing for autonomy and now it is – perhaps - at the cusp of gaining independence from PNG. Other provinces are now joining the autonomy bandwagon. If this is an early indication of a domino effect at play, I certainly hope it will not be realised/
We have come so far and it is not in anyone’s interest to see PNG fragment and divide. As our nation embarks on reaching new heights of development, two key words - unity and autonomy - will be crucial in shaping the next 40 years.
Viewed from where we are now, progress and development has taken place with unprecedented speed. So much is at stake and so much rides on our ability to keep the fire of unity alive. This is where we must be very careful in treading the future.
If we are not vigilant and wise, PNG could become just another remnant of history. History is littered with accounts of nations rising and falling, unifying and defragmenting. What has happened in Europe and the former USSR is a lesson.
There are increasing signs that indicate PNG’s unity is on shaky ground. Democracy in this country has been deformed and reformed so many times in parliament that the democratic idea is vague to many Papua New Guineans.
When asked what is democracy, many Papua New Guineans identify the term with a parliamentary system of government which allows constituents to exercise their rights every five years and choose their representatives.
Not bad but not enough.
Parliament should conduct itself in a manner that preserves democracy and the rule of law. But already people are beginning to develop a mentality that there are two sets of laws, one for “big men” and the other for the rest of us.
While this is not the case, there are certainly loopholes that will need tightening. Furthermore, while the constitution has embedded the idea of unity, it has recently come under great duress due to upheavals at the political level.
The O’Neill versus Somare tussle for PNG’s leadership is a case in point. PNG was clearly divided at this time from the peak of government right down to ordinary Papua New Guineans.
Now we have passed 40 years of independence we are called to once again preserve our unity. It is the single most important factor in our survival as a nation.
We must go beyond regionalism and wantokism and instead bleed red, black and gold. Parliament and its custodians must take the lead. Much awe and respect is placed on the parliament and it should be at the forefront of transforming this country for the better.
To this end I am suggesting a national course of action to drive and preserve unity. Every school in PNG must have in its possession a Bible, a copy of the Constitution and new PNG flag. These are the three important symbols of our unity and our nationhood.
We should send more of our bright students to overseas universities and colleges to build their experience. The government should explore the idea of engaging youths in a peace corps for character building before they go on to pursue their respective careers.
Every provincial government buildings and materials and equipment must have imprinted the provincial and national flags. Furthermore, during the Independence Day, it should be made compulsory across the nation that no provincial flags will be hoisted or promoted.
This is not the time to entertain the idea of a divided PNG but a unified PNG. When we aspire to be a regional and global player we cannot allow this nation to be divided by internal factionalism.
So what does the future hold for PNG? As a nationalist I want to be optimistic because there is no better country than our own. But as a realist I can’t help being a bit pessimistic about its future.
There are worrying signs that our people are becoming disenfranchised by the lack of opportunity and poor delivery of services. In PNG it is known that the country operates on the principle of who you know rather than what you know.
If this continues to be the trend for the next 10 years, more Papua New Guineans will demand the right to self-determination as a way to break out from this systematic and systemic form of corruption. This is a recipe for disunity.
The wealth of this great nation has benefitted only a minority giving rise to a bourgeoning ruling class. Below it are the majority which wallows below the poverty line making PNG a country with one of the worst poverty levels in the world.
PNG at its very core remains an impoverished nation clutching its heels due to massive corruption. The gravest concern is that corruption in the last decade or so it has permeated into the very heart of service delivery and made itself impossible to detect or remedy.
I agree with the slogan “PNG Em yu ya”. Change as we know it must begin with each and every one of us.
When we do change it is important that we inspire people around us to change. If we allow ourselves to be beaten down by our acts of corruption, sooner or later the PNG that we know today will not exist.
The buck stops with our present generation of leaders to usher in a new era for this nation.
The past is past. We cannot change it and we cannot expect change if we who are empowered to be agents of change do nothing.
Change will take effect when we who have some power use it to bring about change. Let’s keep the fire of unity alive so that it becomes PNG’s enduring legacy.