Keeping up with Pacific politics – a review of 2018
“It’s better out than in, I always say," said Shrek

As June referendum nears, Bougainville's people are confused

Momis and O'Neill
John Momis and Peter O'Neill negotiate the Bougainville independence referendum - but the people remain divided and confused


ARAWA - Between March and May this year, the referendum directorate of the Department of Bougainville Peace Agreement and Implementation left the autonomous province to consult with Bougainvilleans outside Bougainville.

Meanwhile, back at their island home, the people were confused even though June 2019, the time of the referendum to decide their political future, was only about a year away.

Thousands of kina were spent for this team to visit Bougainvilleans in Port Moresby, Madang, Mt Hagen, Lae, Goroka, Rabaul and Kimbe to ask what the diaspora thought about the many aspects of the dawning referendum.

But here in Bougainville, where the majority of the people reside, little was progressed.

I live amongst the ordinary people of central and south Bougainville and I am appalled by what I come across in the villages.

While government leaders in Buka talk confidently from their comfortable offices, our people are laughing at them and saying and doing things beyond the imagination of the leadership.

In Bougainville today there are a number of groups claiming to be the real government of Bougainville. Many readers would be familiar with Meekamui and the Royal Kingdom of Papala.

Meekamui has a number of groups spread across Bougainville with their own agendas and associated conflicts.

Apart from these groups there are others keen to see Bougainville to kneel before them. These people could be tagged as warlords.

And there are also religious groups and individuals offering their own teachings on Bougainville politics: Catholics, Protestants, traditional belief systems and a mixture of the three.

Furthermore, each of these persons or groups have followers. They have their own spheres of influence in business and politics. All our legitimate politicians in Bougainville and in the national government in Port Moresby approach them with caution and not with the power entrusted in them by the ballot box.

Many of these rogue groups or individuals are importing guns and ammunition. A number claim they are arming for the referendum. They say the current leadership of Bougainville is controlled by the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments.

“During the [civil war], Australia aided the PNG military and killed us,” one of these people said to me. “Now they are here giving us peace and taking control of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

“Should we trust ABG? No. The ABG is now a government of the consultants from Australia. In the Buka ABG administration compound there are more consultants’ vehicles than ABG personnel.”

Another told me, “I know when we vote in the referendum, PNG will not grant us independence with all sort of reasoning. Then I know which leaders I will kill.”

Travelling along the highway to Arawa from Buin I listened to my fellow travellers arguing. One of them, an old man, said he was not going to enrol with his community to be listed on the referendum voting roll.

“I and my community are set, we will not enrol in that referendum roll since the leaders are really bad,” he said.

“They only talk in Buka and never come to visit us. The late Joseph Kabui was a good leader who was with us all through the crisis.

“Who is this Momis? He is selling Bougainville to the Asians. Asians are now in control of our business. So why did we fight? To sit and watch Asians raping us?’

Amongst the travellers many supported him. “What he is saying is real,” a man commented. “The ABG has gone off track and the peace agreement is the thing holding them from sinking us.

“Australian consultants are in charge and they have placed little kids in the ABG administration.

“Our peace process was achieved by people without much education but who had deep understanding of Bougainville’s problems. These leaders have been removed.”

What the world must now know is that, in this post crisis, pre referendum period, every individual Bougainvillean is pursuing their own survival.

Politics is not in the heart as it was at the peak of the crisis and under the reign of leaders who moved along with the people on both sides of the unrest.

The confusion amongst our people as the hour of referendum moves closer is the result of poor leadership.

In Bougainville today, a little news of a leader’s misconduct distracts the hearts and minds of the people.

Developing better leaders is a task all should be thinking about. Although it has a referendum, Bougainville still has a long road to freedom.


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