” The very way that Ishmael Toroama lived was an act of leadership unto itself, whose impact resonates and calls to us today and delivered him a margin victory in the elections.
What we do know is that Toroama has been an independence fighter. He was instrumental in the Signing of the Peace Agreement in 2001 and through the reconciliation process. His leadership, unlike the last four presidency terms, comes in a time so fragile and critical to Bougainville’s future for independence. The majority of the Bougainville people want independence, but we know that the PNG government has shown no support for this.
His immediate problem as President will be managing relations with the PNG government, which I know is not at all inclined to grant Bougainvillea’s their clearly expressed wish for independence.”
Livingstone T Fontenu from MA Global Governance
Ishmael Toroama, a former secessionist military commander turned peacemaker and cocoa farmer, has been elected the president of PNG’s autonomous Bougainville region, in a further fillip for the province’s push for independence from Papua New Guinea.
“We conducted a clean campaign, we did not give money to the voters and we did not intimidate any voters: people have used their God-given wisdom to vote for the right candidate,” Toroama said after his victory was announced.
“I will stand up for independence in Bougainville… it is now time to work together.”
In his campaign, Toroama stressed the restoration of law and order was a priority, and said the province’s independence question needed to be resolved swiftly. He has proposed a timeline of two to three years.
Renowned for his role as a commander in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), Tororama was at the forefront of much of the BRA’s decade-long civil war against the PNG government.
The conflict and subsequent military blockade – provoked by the the environmental damage wrought by the Rio Tinto’s massive Panguna copper mine, as well as disputes over the limited share of mine profits going to the island’s inhabitants – led to the deaths up to 20,000 people between 1988 and 1998.
Wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in 1997, Toroama later laid down his arms to help broker the Bougainville Peace Agreement that was eventually signed in 2001, and was a key advocate in the disarmament process before returning to his land in central Bougainville to grow cocoa.
He will now lead the talks with the PNG government on the terms of the island’s independence.
The general election was the first since Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from PNG at the end of last year. More than 98% of voters supported independence in the non-binding referendum, but that independence now needs to be negotiated with a central PNG government reluctant to lose the resource-rich province.
Bougainville, a group of islands in PNG’s east that has close relations with neighbouring Solomon Islands, has been hampered post-conflict by years of poor economic progress, despite its abundance of natural resources.
On the election trail, the Bougainvillean newspaper reported Toroama’s campaign saying: “I am standing to be the change. The change people want, the change people can see and feel, the change people have been crying for, the change people expect to see and the change that has never happened during the course of the first three parliaments of Bougainville”.
Any re-opening of the Panguna mine – which would be intensely controversial in the province – was a decision for the owners of that land, Toroama has said.
PNG prime minister James Marape offered his congratulations on Toroama’s “conclusive” victory.
“I offer my support to work with you to deliver on my commitments to Bougainville,” he said. “[And] to the people of Bougainville, thank you for your peace and serenity as you decided on your government. Looking forward to work with your leaders including the president.”
But Marape’s government has been careful not to commit to granting Bougainville independence in the wake of the referendum.
Marape has said his government is willing to talk to Bougainville’s leaders, but has framed discussions around self-determination and “economic independence”, while carefully avoiding commitments to political independence.
Toroama defeated 24 other candidates for the presidency, seeking to replace the retiring John Momis who has dominated Bougainvillean politics, as governor and president, for decades.
Momis had sought a third term – in defiance of Bougainville’s constitution which limits presidents to two – but lost a challenge before the supreme court. Toroama ran second to Momis in the previous election.
Parliamentary elections parallel to the presidential poll marked a significant shift from the status quo in Bougainville politics. Many long-term members of the province’s house of representatives lost their seats to young, millennial generation leaders, such as Theonila Matbob, born during the civil war, and elected to the constituency of Ioro, home to the disused Panguna mine.
” Young people in the South Pacific islands of Bougainville are seizing the opportunity to help reshape the future of the autonomous region of Papua New Guinea as they head to the polls this month to elect a new leader.
The general election is the first since Bougainville voted overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea at the end of last year, and the winner will preside over negotiations on the terms of separation.
For Bougainville’s younger “lost generation”, who grew up either under or in the shadow of a bloody 10-year civil war, it gives them a chance to break from the past and elect a civilian president with no ties to the previous unrest. “
Polling Starts Wednesday 12 August 2020
Polling Ends Tuesday 1 September 2020
Counting Starts Wednesday 2 September 2020
Counting Ends Monday 14 September 2020
Return of Writs Tuesday 15 September 2020
Two decades after combatants snapped arrows to signal the end of hostilities, there is anger among the younger generation that there has been little economic progress for the resources rich region.
“It has been wasted on mere politics, and there’s nothing on the ground to show for it,” Pajomile Minaka, a 37-year-old law student, told Reuters by telephone.
“In terms of bringing sustainable economic development there is nothing. Young people like me believe the government has failed the people.”
Bougainville’s 250,000 strong population has a median age of just 20, a demographic that’s likely bad news for the ex-combatants among the open field of 25 candidates vying for the top political office.
Younger voters are likely to push for a fresh face, even though prominent figures from the conflict had the advantage of wide-spread name recognition, said Paul Barker, executive director of Port Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs.
“There is a strong element of the lost generation missing out and wanting change,” Barker told Reuters, ahead of two weeks of polling that begins on Wednesday for the five-yearly election.
Bougainville descended into a decade-long conflict in 1988, triggered by a dispute over how the profits from the lucrative Panguna gold and copper mine should be shared and the environmental damage it had caused. As many as 20,000 died during the fighting between the region’s rebel guerilla army and PNG forces, and Panguna was closed.
Last year’s non-binding independence poll was part of the peace process that ended the conflict, but competing claims over development rights to Panguna still hang over its future.
Bougainville Vice President Raymond Masono said Panguna should “play a major role in revitalising Bougainville’s economy.”
Younger voters, like Augustine Teboro, 30, said it was time to dispense with the “old view” that Bougainville’s future relied on re-opening Panguna when it should be making use of its physical and natural beauty by cultivating its tourism, agriculture and fisheries industries.
“Our hope is that this generation will transform our society and not be a generation that will make the same mistakes of the past,” said Teboro, who heads a Bougainville youth federation.
“We are looking for a civilian leader with integrity.”
With no formal political polling and a diverse list of candidates to replace long-serving president John Momis, the election is considered an open race.
Among the old guard candidates are former president and combatant James Tanis and government-backed candidate Thomas Raivet. Other candidates include Fidelis Semoso, who served in the national PNG parliament, lawyer Paul Nerau and businessman and former sports administrator Peter Tsiamalili Junior. There are also two female candidates, health care professional Ruby Mirinka and former Bougainville MP Magdalene Toroansi.
Polling is likely to be complicated by the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Bougainville, a 30-year-old man who returned from Port Moresby last week.
The coronavirus pandemic has also thrown a cloud over whether international observers will be able to attend. The United Nations said in a statement the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner had asked the PNG government to invite diplomatic missions in Port Moresby to observe the vote.
“This election will determine the future political status of this emerging nation,” Masono said. “The next government must consult with the national government on independence – nothing more, nothing less.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; editing by Jane Wardell)
” The Australian governor general John Kerr warned the Queen that a plan for Bougainville independence was not lawful, was opposed by Australia and Rio Tinto copper interests, and would increase regional instability and force Australia to hand more financial support to Papua New Guinea. ”
Picture above : Almost 100% of Bougainville voters backed independence in last year’s referendum but palace letters show Australia’s governor general John Kerr told the Queen that such a move ‘cannot be done legally
The so-called palace letters, a trove of previously secret royal correspondence, shows the Queen’s private secretary Martin Charteris responded by comparing Bougainville to Scotland and its hopes that oil reserves could fund independence.
The documents released by Australia’s national archives shed new light on the royal attitude to the secessionist movement in Bougainville.
Momentum for Bougainville to secede from Papua New Guinea grew as PNG itself declared independence from Australia in 1975, while retaining the Queen as its monarch.
The region is home to the vast Panguna mine, then the world’s biggest open-cut copper mine, owned by Bougainville Copper Limited, which then had Conzinc Rio Tinto as major shareholder.
On 19 August 1975, Kerr briefed Charteris on his “thinking” on the growing secessionist movement in Bougainville and a plan to secede unilaterally from PNG in September, the same month PNG secured its independence from Australia.
“This cannot be done legally,” Kerr wrote.
He said Rio Tinto was in favour of a “united Papua New Guinea”, though he said that may change if it deemed its long-term interests lay elsewhere.
Australia also had good reasons for opposing the secession, he said.
“There are good reasons from Australia’s point of view why a united Papua New Guinea would be desirable though achievement of this is probably not essential to Australia’s national interest,” he wrote.
“If Bougainville successfully secedes, Papua New Guinea would be weaker economically, and hence likely to be more pressing, so far as Australia is concerned, for economic support.”
“Bougainville secession would also increase the possibility of instability in Papua New Guinea in other areas.”
Kerr also lamented Australian aid cuts to PNG at the same time, saying they were “most unfortunate … on the very eve of independence”.
Every picture tells a story. Every story a picture tells may not be a perfect story but, as another saying goes, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.
There is a certain poignancy about this picture – and many other images connected with the multitude of matters surrounding Panguna.
Panguna is not merely a history of mining, minerals, money, maiming and the nastiness of the conflict. It is not only a story of lost lives, lost land and lost opportunities.
Panguna is a story of many individuals and groups; of men, women and children of the forest, the valleys, the ravines, the hills and mountains, the rivers and creeks, the sacred sites – all of which people called home, before mining arrived.
Perpetua Serero and Francis Ona both passed away relatively young. The effervescent Damien Dameng – the one with reading glasses studying his notes in this photo – lost his life under dubious circumstances only in recent times.
Francis Bitanuma with the white cap and overgrown beard in this photo, is still around, raising his voice and picking and choosing his fights but with fewer and fewer local allies in tow.
Perpetua Serero had remarkable poise and presence. Had her voice as Chairlady of a splinter Panguna Landowners Association (PLOA) been heeded when she spoke (either with or without the aid of a hand-held loud hailer), some of the fiasco and hurt amongst the landowners could well have been mitigated, if not largely avoided.
Instead, the very early feuds over Panguna over benefits accruing from the land under various leases to BCL were between landowners themselves. Only a dishonest landowner would deny this was the case.
Disputes and differences over land sharing, land use and land tenure preceded the arrival of mining in Panguna. But these were localized and tended to be confined within households, extended families and clans. Agreements were brokered to resolve issues or at least keep them to manageable levels. There were ways for everyone to move on, living and communally sharing the land, rivers, creeks, the environment and everything that more or less made life worth living and dying for.
Differences and feuds over the benefits accruing from the mine such as RMTL (Road Mining Tailings Lease) payments, invonvenience payments, and other payments added fuel to existing disputes between clans, families and relatives. Some of the disputes became vexatious with the advent of mining.
Mining catapulted Panguna women like Perpetua Serero, Cecilia Gemel and others to the forefront as they took on much more active and pronounced roles as mothers of the land in a society that is largely matrilineal.
This photograph shows a woman, leading her male counterparts in the early days of the dispute involving one group of Panguna landowners voicing, in a very public way, early warnings of what might follow.
The significance of her message was either lost to or not taken seriously by most leaders from central Bougainville, BCL, PLOA and relevant authorities in the national Government at the time.
That men are on the periphery in this photo – in stark contrast to the lead role being played by Serero at the front – wasn’t just symbolic. It was real. Her position at the front, with the support of men such as Francis Bitanuma, Francis Ona, Damien Dameng and others was neither incidental, coincidental nor accidental. Her role at the forefront of this dispute over land was natural and logical, because in most of Bougainville it is through the women that land is inherited and passed down the generations.
That more and more landowners became willing to front up in crowds such as this, emboldened by the willing maternal leadership of someone who stood up to carry the mantle of those that bore grievances against their own PLOA, led by men. Serero, and the landowners who stood with her, made a brave and significant statement.
As the differences grew, the younger Panguna generation – alongside women like Serero and Gemel and the emerging, vociferous Francis Ona – turned their attention to Rio and BCL.
Increasingly they saw BCL and the old PLOA as having all the control and influence over what happened in special mining lease (SML) area. The injustice felt in not having much say weighed heavily and became a rallying point as captured in this photo.
All of us observing, reading and writing about the upheavals over Panguna, the mounting dissatisfaction, the criticism of the Bougainville Copper Agreement (BCA) and the rebellious response that shut down the giant mining operations, may find some satisfaction in the common truism that hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The BCA was a document familiar mostly to lawyers, investors and bankers and, of course, to the mining fraternity. It was not until well after the first power pylons fell, after deployment of the security forces and after the mine was closed that interest increase in reading the fine print of the BCA.
Coming, as they did, from a paperless village life, many landowners and Bougainvilleans in the community at large found little compulsion to read, let alone understand and appreciate legal agreements.
When the going was good everything was hunky dory. The landowners were getting their lease payments, social inconvenience compensations, royalties etc. The provincial government was doing well and was financially better placed than others in the country. Employees couldn’t really complain about the job opportunities, good salaries and wages. Their disposable income was far better than the public servant who also had to cope with overheads.
The majority of the landowners the BCA was purported to serve turned against it, despised and rebelled against it.
It is a story new generation of Panguna landowners is born into. It is not a story restricted to past or the future. Rather, it is a story that evokes timeless lessons and has some relevance for all of us forever throughout our lifetime.
It is true, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I have heard a lot about Perpetua
Serero. I never met her. I will never meet her in person because she has passed on.
She served her calling with tremendous support from men and women of the land. She had faith in customs and traditions that gave equal opportunities to women. These customs and traditions gave her the mantle and legitimacy to lead protests against the male dominated RMTL executives in the Panguna Landowners Association.
She faced an awful amount of pressure because of intense feuding over control of PLOA and RMTL in Panguna. She took the baton and ran her lap hoping to influence and change some of the male dominated status quo in the old PLOA.
The Australian Liberal and Labor colonial governments clearly saw what was going on and regarded Panguna mine as a future investment to finance a future, independent PNG. It turned out that any mining, unless the traditional land tenure is understood would be the Achilles of mining investment in Panguna, and indeed as it has turned out, in the rest of the country.
Men like Ona, Bitanuma, Dameng and women like Serero, Gemel and others gradually realised that unless they stood up and were counted, taking a stand against the inequities they saw, they would be swamped and inundated by the complacency that was prevalent, accepted, and that supported a Panguna that seemed all normal driven by profits and benefits of mining.
There are lessons Rio and BCL learnt out of the land dispute. Some of these lessons are harsh. Some even the best legal agreements cannot address, avert or fix, for they are based in customs and culture, not common law.
Panguna may be most uncommon dispute or problem of its time that a foreign mining company has had to face and deal with. Its repercussions and reverberations spread through Bougainville and indeed around the world very quickly. It has unearthed lessons that go well beyond issues normally associated with mining.
The Bel Kol approach initiated by the landowners shows traditional societies also have ways, means and mechanisms by which to resolve seemingly intractable disputes. These ways are local, restorative and win-win in their approach, not adversarial, competitive and foreign.
Some of the continuing pain, ill effects and trauma over lost land and lost dignity over Panguna are more destabilizing and debilitating than the crisis and conflict that landowners and many other Bougainvilleans endured.
Everyone that has lived through the crisis on the Island or has been affected one way or another, directly or indirectly, has had to deal with the horrors of crisis, war and conflict. Rebuilding lives, normalcy and returning to a resilient society is a longer journey that will take many generations over many lifetimes.
Little wonder people are prepared to protect their rights and defend the land with their lives. It is true, isn’t it, that one cannot fully understand and appreciate peace and freedom unless you either lose it or you have been suppressed.
I hope looking back we can pass on to the next generation the genuine benefits of hindsight.
55Leonard Fong Roka, Lawrence Daveona and 53 others
2.THE Bougainville Electoral Commissioner, Mr George Manu has announced the appointment of returning officers (ROs) and assistant returning officers (AROs) for the 2020 Bougainville General Election
3 WORK on updating the electoral roll for the 2020 Bougainville General Election is currently underway in Bougainville.
Issue of Writs Wednesday 17 June 2020
Nominations Open Thursday 18 June 2020
Nominations Close Tuesday 23 June 2020
Polling Starts Wednesday 12 August 2020
Polling Ends Tuesday 1 September 2020
Counting Starts Wednesday 2 September 2020
Counting Ends Monday 14 September 2020
Return of Writs Tuesday 15 September 2020
2.THE Bougainville Electoral Commissioner, Mr George Manu has announced the appointment of returning officers (ROs) and assistant returning officers (AROs) for the 2020 Bougainville General Election.
“I am pleased to announce that the ROs and AROs for this election have already been appointed and gazetted. These officers now have the responsibility of ensuring that our preparations are going as planned before the commencement of upcoming electoral activities like the issue of writs, nominations, polling and counting.”
The ROs are Peter Wanga who will be responsible for the presidential seat, Marceline Kearei (north regional women and former combatant seats), Dennis Palipal (central regional women and former combatant seats) and Chris Toke (south regional women and former combatant seats).
The AROs for the fourteen constituencies in North Bougainville include Moses Kivaroy (Atolls constituency), Marceline Butu (Nissan constituency), Brian Kimana (Tsitalato and Hagogohe constituencies), Lawrence Sabin (Halia and Haku constituencies), Wency Saliib (Peit and Tonsu constituencies), George Geobun (Mahari and Teua constituencies), Benny Primus (Selau and Suir constituencies) and Daniel Tokapip (Taonita Teop and Taonita Tinputz constituencies).
The AROs for the eight constituencies in Central Bougainville are Martin Avoata (Rau and Terra constituencies), Wendell Tiotorau (Ioro and Eivo/Torau constituencies), Peter Onabui (Kongara and South Nasioi constituencies) and Gideon Taruna (North Nasioi and Kokoda constituencies).
The AROs responsible for the eleven constituencies in South Bougainville are Benjamin Sinala (Bolave constituency), Joe Nara (Lato and Baba constituencies), John Tsiaka (Motuna/Huyono/Tokunutui constituency), Peter Uniu (Kopii and Ramu constituencies), Michael Lobinau (Makis and Baubake constituencies), Joe Kinani (Lule constituency), Justin Kengkua (Konnou constituency) and Mark Sio (Torokina constituency).
Mr Manu said these officers have a great wealth of experience in the field of conducting elections, before adding that he has trust and confidence that they will play a pivotal role in conducting and delivering a peaceful and successful election this year.
“These are experienced officers and I have confidence in each of them. If you have any query or would like more information on the conduct of this year’s election, you can go and consult your respective RO or ARO.”
The first activity that these officers are currently supervising is the updating of the names of all eligible voters throughout the 33 constituencies in Bougainville.
“Right now they have a big responsibility to update the names of all eligible voters in their constituencies. This exercise is very important as it will determine who will be able to cast their votes during polling. However, I am confident that these officers together with the ward recorders of respective wards in Bougainville will do a good job.”
3. WORK on updating the electoral roll for the 2020 Bougainville General Election is currently underway in Bougainville.
According to the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner Mr George Manu, the roll display and registration of eligible voters has already been completed in most of the 33 constituencies in the region.
“As of today, most of the assistant returning officers have already returned their field work data to either our head office in Buka or through our regional offices in Arawa and Buin towns.”
The roll display and registration of new eligible voters was done by the ward recorders of respective ward assemblies in Bougainville.
The ward recorders had used the 2019 Bougainville Referendum Roll as the working roll to update the electoral roll that will be used in this year’s ABG election.
Upon receiving the field works, the assistant returning officers (AROs) of the respective constituencies will do quality checks on them to ensure that ward recorders have thoroughly done their tasks in registering and updating the list of voters.
The entering of these data will commence shortly after the completion of the quality checks.
“Once quality check is complete we will then proceed with the data entry exercise. This is the time where the data processing officers will be either entering the names of the new voters, deleting the names of those that are not supposed to be on the roll or editing the details of those that may have not been entered correctly on the working roll.”
“The entering of data from North Bougainville will be done in Buka while for Central it will be done in Arawa. For the constituencies in South Bougainville, their data entry will take place at our south regional office in Buin town.”
Once this exercise is complete, all data from south and central Bougainville will be transferred to Buka for collation and compilation of all data into one roll.
The final roll that will be used in the upcoming Bougainville election should be ready for gazettement shortly after the Issue of Writs on the 17th of June this year.
“This land must become holy again, Me’ekamui. We prayed to God and he gave us strength. This directed us to engage in clean battle. We were fighting for our rights, to get rid of all these bad companies and their effects. All BRA and all Bougainvilleans practiced this holiness… Our spirits had to be holy, so God would get rid of Satan [the mining companies} …And God helped us…”
Francis Ona, BRA Member
Interviewed by Anna-Karina Hermken, Author of “Marian Movements and Secessionist Warfare in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea” (November 22nd, 2005).
By: Yamin Kogoya from West Papua living in Australia
A staggering 98% of Bougainvilleans voted for independence from Papua New Guinea in the recent referendum held between 23rd of November to 7th of December.
Despite the overwhelming desire for autonomy, Bougainvilleans require political support and good faith from the PNG national government in Port Moresby before a new sovereign state can be established.
Recognizing these challenges, the Catholic Bishop Conference (CBC) of PNG and Solomon Islands General Secretary, Fr. Giorgio Licini, asked the PNG government to “listen carefully to the cries of the Bougainville people for independence.”
Former Bougainville Interim Government Leader, Martin Miriori, warned that the reluctance of the PNG national government to acknowledge the wishes of the Bougainvillean people for independence is dangerous. 
Bougainvilleans are still traumatized from the civil war that erupted in the late 1980’s, which resulted in the closure of the giant, Australian-owned Panguna mine. The mining investors are untouched by the generational pain that mining and civil war have caused in Bougainville.
Panguna copper mine, now closed, serves not only as a stark reminder of war, but the breakdown of social structure, cultural values, and the destruction of Bougainville’s ecosystem.
The giant void in the middle of the island, left behind by the Panguna copper mine, represents the tragic loss of 20,000 innocent lives – Bougainvillean mothers, fathers and children killed during the civil unrest. The scars of war and the immense loss of life will forever be carved into the hearts of families, clans and tribes. 
Tragically, crises such as those in Bougainville are typically reported on as “primitive tribes fighting”. The conflicts in Melanesian mining villages are far more complex: these are wars against industrial machines that uproot cultures and tear apart ecosystems; fighting for the survival of languages, values and land as the threat of extinction rears its head.
The Fight for Cultural Survival
Bougainville is one of the many Indigenous communities around the world fighting to protect and preserve their ancestral knowledge, language and culture. The enemy of the people are the industrial nations with the support of local governments who don’t understand the complex networks of indigenous social structures, value systems and their deep connection to their ancestral land.
Bougainvilleans have long been the target of violence – they have endured decades of exploitation and abuse from Germany and Britain in their colonization pursuits. In an attempt to control protesting against the mine operations, the PNG government used foreign-supplied mercenaries to massacre thousands of Bougainvilleans, with the support of the Australian government.
It is a matter of urgency for Bougainville and other Melanesian communities to ensure thousands of years of cultural knowledge is preserved for future generations.
The Impact of Mining and Politics in Bougainville
The civil war may be long buried by the media, but political leaders in Port Moresby, Canberra, Beijing and Washington are keeping a keen eye on Bougainville as they plan their next moves. Their claims of developing the Pacific Islands are a mere smokescreen for their true ambitions of a regional and global hegemony, as they strategies how to carve up the Pacific region pie.
We cannot forget that the leaders of the Bougainvillean Revolutionary Army (BRA) believed that they were waging a war against what they believed to be between purity and corruption.
Francis Ona, leader of BRA, told his followers that in order to purify Bougainville they must be the first ones to be purified. This meant eliminating “alien viruses” that come from the arrival of foreign nations such as France, Germany, Britain and Australia, as well as the mining companies and the PNG government. 
Damien Dameng – prominent leader of the Meekamui movement in the 1950’s, from the Iran-Pangka Valley in Panguna District – recognized the impact of these “alien invasions” and contamination of life on the islands. His movement believed that colonial administration, mining and churches were thieves full of trickeries, and that Bougainville must be restored. 
Critics will claim that the war was about demands for the mining royalties, but it was in fact predominately about eliminating deadly poisons that resulted from mining on the islands.
John Momis, a prominent Bougainvillean statesman, referred to the Panguna mine as a “cancer cell” in his letter to the company’s managing director. 
Bougainvilleans want to defend the earth while mining companies like Panguna mine are indifferent to the suffering of people and destruction their land, all in the name of progress and development. Those with their hands in the Panguna mine pocket are eagerly awaiting the future of mining on the Pacific Islands.
PNG government’s attempt at national unity involved inviting mercenaries to kill the Bougainville people. National unity for who? The myth of national unity serves only the interests of elites in Port Moresby parliament house and Canberra – those who could not care less about the Melanesian communities whose lives, language, cultures and land have been under severe attack by the project of modernity.
The slaughtering of Papuans every day by Indonesians on the other side of this imaginary colonial border (PNG and West Papua) is being undertaken in the name of “national unity and integrity.” There is no unity or integrity in killing your fellow beings.
Melanesia at stands at a crossroads, Which Way?
As co-founding father of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and Vanuatu’s first Prime Minister, Fr. Walter Lini once said, “Vanuatu will not be fully free until all Melanesians are free.”
Just because PNG and Fiji have their own parliament house, currency and armed law enforcement does not mean that they are more free or safer than those Papuans who are murdered every day in the hands of Indonesian control of West Papua. We are all facing the same existential threats under the current global world order.
The regional body such as the MSG and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) could be very powerful institutions that allow the leaders of the Pacific nations to unite and say NO to cheque book diplomacy coming from large foreign powers. The greed of the elite is causing great pain in the Pacific Islands in the name of development and those local elites (masters of modernity) whose day to day preoccupation is perhaps about what’s tonight dinner menu at a Chinese restaurant tonight.
Solutions to ensure as to whether Melanesia will survive or not require a collective effort. The MSG founding fathers such as PNG former prime minister Paias Wingti, Solomon Islands former prime minister Ezekiel Alebua, and Vanuatu’s first prime minister Walter Lini had visions backed by strong political desire to strive for the entire decolonization and freedom of the Melanesian people and territories under the colonial rule in the South Pacific. Are the current Melanesian leaders still holding onto this important vision?
The Pacific Region is fast becoming important for competing superpowers for geopolitical and economic strategy. Invisible capitalists, whose whole philosophy is based on Scottish Capitalist Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations”, are cashing their cheques amidst the slaughter of innocent Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indigenous Australian and other ancient people across the world. This is a war between industrial civilization versus the natural world.
The Road to Freedom for Bougainville
A collective solution cannot emerge from divided and fragmented nations wrapped in conflict. The PNG government must decide if it will continue to stand with the global capitalists or with the Bougainvilleans, West Papuans and many other resilient, grassroot communities across Oceania that say NO to colonialism, nuclear testing, climate change, corruptions that lead to mismanagement, and the gambling of their resources, history and future.
It is time for the leaders of the independent nations across Melanesia to look at their decisions, and ask whether they have been manipulated into giving up their equal share of the pie; fooled into believing that they are free and equal, when in fact, they are merely begging at the table for scraps.
Bougainville is a 21st century tragedy with the potential to be extinguished under the Western capitalist system or live as a spiritual-based, nature centric civilization. It seems that any significant decision about the fate of a single nation is no longer sustainable in the long run.
If humans are to survive as a species, we cannot continue our destructive, terror-reigning path. Ecosystems are being depleted, cultures annihilated, and the money is going into the greedy hands of international pirates and global capitalists.
The root of the problem is our worldview: this civilization is based on individual, materialistic desires and selfish actions. Our fragmented worldview has created a separation theology and our separated theology has divided our sociology. This worldview has destroyed millions of lives on this planet.
Such major change will require a fundamental shift in our consciousness to realize that the value and integrity of life in the indigenous cultures of Bougainville or Palestine is just as important as those in London or Beijing.
PNG playwright and poet, Nora Vagi Brash, in her five plays, “Which Way, Big man?”, reflect dramatic changes taking place in PNG and difficult decisions that Papuans must make about their history, lives and future as they struggle to juggle between the two worlds – the world of their ancestors colonised and the new modern world of coloniser. 
It is time to listen to the words of many great people who want to see these island nations thrive under autonomy and renewed freedom.
“Will we see ourselves in the long shadows of the dwindling light and the advanced darkness of the evening dusk, or will we see ourselves in the long and radiant rays of the rising sun? We can choose, if we will” The Melanesian Way (Bernard Narakobi). 
“It is time to purify and heal Bougainville” – Francis Ora
“It is time to not let the bird of paradise die in vain” – Airlie Ingram, Sorong Samarai. 
To me, the term Melanesia invokes the idea of an alien tree within Oceania that has not yet produced its own fruit. Visitors to the tree have attempted to graft buds from other plants in order to stimulate production, but with little success. Nevertheless, the tree is large and full of potential, and outside visitors are intrigued by its uniqueness. Even if the tree is not producing fruit on its own, visitors still want a souvenir of its exotic potential. They’ve taken the bark, the leaves and the branches, until the tree no longer resembles its former greatness. It is becoming a generic, wilted plant in a thriving forest.
The Bougainville and Melanesian are at a crossroads now, Prime Minister James Marape and your government in Moresby… Which Way, Big Man?
[i] Hermkens, A.-K. (2015). Marian Movements and Secessionist Warfare in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 18(4), pp.35–54.
” That’s my dream, to go and rebuild, We need the best policies, the best laws, to be the best country. We are reborn.”
Pajomile Minaka, from Bougainville’s southern region the 36-year old, who was a child during the conflict , told Reuters he was taking a law course to equip himself to help rebuild his homeland.
The people of Bougainville, an island group in Papua New Guinea, have voted overwhelmingly for independence.
Voters had two options – more autonomy, or full independence. Of the 181,000 ballots, almost 98% were in favour of independence.
The referendum was approved by the Papua New Guinea government, but the result is non-binding.
Nevertheless, the landslide victory will put pressure on PNG to grant Bougainville independence.
The islands have a population of around 300,000, and 206,731 people enrolled to vote in the referendum.
In total, 181,067 ballots were cast. Of those:
176,928 voted for independence
3,043 voted for greater autonomy
1,096 were classed as informal, or void.
“There’s tears, tears of joy, raw emotion – people have waited a long time, The pen is always mightier than the sword.”
The results were announced in the town of Buka by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the chairman of the Bougainville Referendum Commission.
“Now, at least psychologically, we feel liberated,” said John Momis, president of the regional autonomous government.
The ABG President, Chief DR JOHN MOMIS was lost for words after the results were declared by the Chair of the Bougainville Referendum Commission this afternoon.
In his address to the people who were present at the Hutjena Counting Centre, President Momis thanked the people for giving his ABG the clear mandate to consult with the National Government on the wishes of the people. He said that the people have spoken through the votes and the outcome will not be different.
President MOMIS also thanked the National Government for their commitment to complete the process and the end result must be a total and lasting peace for the people of Bougainville. He also thanked the Donor partners, International organizations that observed the polling and the count the UN team, High Commissioners of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and many who were part of the peace process on Bougainville.
The President Momis mentioned the people of Bougainville that despite so many problems they have faced in the past kept their faith for the future of Bougainville as clearly demonstrated by their vote. He said nearly 98 percent for Independence is a huge testimony of what the people of Bougainville want for their future.
One Bougainvillian, nursing graduate Alexia Baria, told news agency AFP that “happiness was an understatement”.
“You see my tears – this is the moment we have been waiting for,” she said.
Will this place become the world’s next country?
Why was there a referendum?
Bougainville had a nine-year separatist war that began in 1988, fuelled by economic grievance.
The end of the fighting led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, and the promise of a non-binding referendum on independence.
Even in colonial times, Bougainville was an outpost. The islands attempted to declare independence during the formation of Papua New Guinea in 1975 – but they were ignored.
What happens now?
The referendum was non-binding – meaning independence won’t happen automatically.
Discussions will take place with the Papua New Guinea government to decide when – or if – the transition to full independence can begin.
Although the PNG government was against independence, and does not have to accept the result, the huge mandate will make it hard to ignore.
The 98% result is above pre-referendum predictions – most experts expected the figure to be around 75% – 80%.
The PNG minister for Bougainville affairs, Puka Temu, said “the outcome is a credible one” – but asked that voters “allow the rest of Papua New Guinea sufficient time to absorb this result”.
Is Bougainville ready for independence?
The new country – should it happen – would be small, with a land mass of less than 10,000 sq km (slightly larger than Cyprus, and slightly smaller than Lebanon).
Likewise, its population would be one of the world’s smallest – slightly smaller than Pacific neighbour Vanuatu, and slightly bigger than Barbados.
But according to research by Australia’s Lowy Institute, Bougainville self-reliance would at best be years away.
The country is rich in natural resources – especially copper, which has been extracted on a large scale since the 1960s under Australian administration.
But mining has been crippled by the war – and the distribution of revenue was one of the factors behind the conflict.
One estimate cited by the Lowy Institute says Bougainville would only have 56% of the revenue needed to be self-reliant.
The Bougainville Referendum Commission today acknowledged the tireless effort of nearly 1,500 polling officials as regular polling for Bougainvilleans comes to an end across a record 829 locations in three countries.
Regular polling finished yesterday (Tuesday) at 6pm, with only the submission of postal votes to continue to Saturday 7 December, 6 pm.
They voted in highland villages and on remote atolls. Even 15 youth who live in the jungle and wear bright Upe hats as they undergo traditional training to become men had the chance to vote. ( See full story Part 2 )
All across the Pacific region of Bougainville, people have voted in a historic referendum to decide if they want to become the world’s newest nation by gaining independence from Papua New Guinea.
“Today is a momentous occasion for the people of Bougainville , we have waited years to finally exercise our right to determine our own political future.” Vice President of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Hon. Raymond Masono upon casting his vote during the polling at Bel Isi Park in Buka. Hon. Masono acknowledged the work of the BRC and thanked the ABG, GOPNG and donor partners for their support from the very first day up until now.
Regular voting ended on Tuesday while any remaining postal votes will be accepted through Saturday. The results will be announced in mid-December.
The referendum is nonbinding, and a vote for independence would then need to be negotiated by leaders from both Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. The final say would then go to lawmakers in the Papua New Guinea Parliament
Chief Referendum Officer Mauricio Claudio said there had been long queues and high enthusiasm at many of the 828 polling places.
“During polling we’ve witnessed a festive and joyous mood,” he said. “There have been dancing troupes and whole communities getting together.”
Claudio said that giving Upes a chance to vote at male-only polling stations was one of many referendum firsts. He said election officers hiked for two hours into the jungle to collect the votes.
The young Upe men can remain isolated from their communities for several years as they learn about culture, medicine, hunting and other skills. During this time, they wear the tall, woven Upe hats that hide their hair and are forbidden to be seen by women.
Election officers also traveled by overnight boat to get to some of the five offshore atolls and visited a police lockup to collect votes from prisoners.
Claudio said there was only one disruption, in the Konnou area, where a long-simmering dispute led police to advise referendum officers to close one polling station. The affected voters got a chance to cast their ballots elsewhere.
Complicating the voting process were the limited communications throughout the region and the traditional way many people live, including not owning any photo identification. Added to that, the Bougainville Referendum Commission only secured its funding in March.
But more than 40 U.N. staffers and over 100 international observers helped oversee a process that Claudio said had gone remarkably well.
The referendum is a key part of a 2001 peace agreement that ended a brutal civil war in which at least 15,000 people died in the cluster of islands to the east of the Papua New Guinea mainland.
The violence in Bougainville began in the late 1980s, triggered by conflict over an enormous opencast copper mine at Panguna. The mine was a huge export earner for Papua New Guinea, but many in Bougainville felt they got no benefit and resented the pollution and disruption to their traditional way of living.
The mine has remained shut since the conflict. Some believe it could provide a future revenue source for Bougainville should it become independent.
Experts believe people the 250,000 to 300,000 people of Bougainville will vote overwhelming in favor of independence ahead of the other option, which is greater autonomy.
But the process of becoming a separate nation could take years to achieve.
Part 2 Report and pictures from Ben Bohane
They appeared in a fringe of forest at the edge of Teuapaii village; hesitant, ghostly, looking awed and slightly bewildered at the scene in front of them after their years of seclusion in the bush.
People were chanting and danced in circles beneath a Bougainville flag nearby to welcome the handful of election monitors, and Upe initiates, as the village prepared to vote.
Blown conch shells and bamboo wind pipes reverberated in the air.
Boys as young as 10 and young men of voting age, all wearing the woven Upe hats of initiation that adorn the centre of Bougainville’s flag, made a fleeting appearance to cast their ballot.
In the many years I’ve covered Bougainville it was my first time to see them, and after those of age had voted they drifted silently back into the bush to complete their schooling in tribal law, medicine, building, fighting and love magic, amongst other life skills.
The Upe tradition used to be common across northern and central Bougainville, as well as Buka, but missionary influence stopped much of it over the past 100 years.
Yet in remains in pockets among the Wakunai peoples and some isolated villages we visited inland from the west coast.
They were proud to be continuing this tabu kastom that turns boys into men, and whose hats covering their uncut hair twisted in long dredlocks remains today the symbol of Bougainville.
” The United States and its Pacific allies have plugged a funding gap that endangered next month’s independence referendum in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) region of Bougainville, a strategic move that also sidelined China, two sources told Reuters.
Western nations are looking to rein in China’s influence in the increasingly contested Pacific, where it has recently drawn away two of Taiwan’s allies, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, triggering a strong rebuke from the United States.
The vote in PNG’s autonomous region of Bougainville, formerly the site of a bloody civil conflict, will run from Nov. 23 to Dec. 7, and could trigger separation negotiations to create a new nation in the strategic waters of the Pacific.”
Why is China on the move in the South Pacific? This Sunday, a special #60Mins investigation revealing the communist superpower’s soft invasion of Australia’s island neighbours. pic.twitter.com/mlOchQpiJ1
Main agenda was a link with China in the Pacific and Bougainville
Picture below Steven Tamiung with the 60 Minutes Crew
Part 1 U.S. edges China out of race to fund Bougainville independence vote
Sources with direct knowledge of the arrangements in Bougainville told Reuters that China was not blocked from helping fund the referendum, but neither was it invited to contribute when the shortfall emerged.
“It’s just that the invitation never arrived, or, rather, was never sent,” one source said.
The second source said the West wanted to limit China’s engagement with what could soon be the world’s newest nation, strategically located in waters separating Asia and the Americas.
China’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on whether it was involved in discussions to assist in the referendum.
“China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and respects the independent choices of people in all countries,” it said in a statement.
The funding shortfall emerged early this year amid preparations, overseen by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, to register the votes of 300,000 people, most of them spread over the main island of Bougainville, nearby Buka and other outlying islands.
The United States, along with Australia, New Zealand and Japan, helped plug the funding gap of 7.1 million kina ($2 million), according to a breakdown of funding arrangements provided to Reuters by the Bougainville Referendum Commission.
According to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, a referendum which includes the option of independence must be held at the latest by June 2020. The vote was originally scheduled for 15 June 2019, before being delayed to 17 October due to a row over funding. The referendum was delayed again to 23 November at the request of the Bougainville Referendum Commission to ensure the credibility of the referendum roll so more people can vote, most of the promised funding not having been sent by the national government. Both governments said this delay would be the last.Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Karl Claxton said there is a wide expectation Bougainville will vote to become independent. In October 2018, former Taoiseach of IrelandBertie Ahern was appointed to chair the Bougainville Referendum Commission, which is responsible for preparing the referendum.
In November the BRC completed the official ‘certified voter list’ to be used in polling for the Bougainville Referendum. The number of voters is 206,731.
” As we celebrate Independence Day for 2019, I want to reflect on the upcoming referendum and the future political path of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
As a Bougainvillean and a Papua New Guinean, I am less concerned about Greater Autonomy, Independence (or the ‘Third Choice’ whatever it might be). The simple fact is that two options are already guaranteed, and it is now for the people to make their choice.
My real concern is more about our insouciance and disregard for good governance that we must sternly guard against, whatever the political outcome of referendum will be. For, good governance is one of the major considerations that must be ticked off or crossed when it comes to ratification of the vote.
Here I say, take heed the soothsayers say, or forever hold your breath.”
Hon. Simon Pentanu MHR GCL : Speaker Bougainville House of Representatives
Picture Above : Prime Minister, JAMES MARAPE and ABG President, DR. JOHN MOMIS signed the joint resolution September 12 at the Presidential villa Buka in front of journalists and the Ministers and members from both the ABG and the National Government. See Part 2 for full details or Download Document Here
Whatever the choice is, and we know that Independence is the greater expectation of most Bougainvilleans, we have to make it work. This is the essence of my message today. Let us not tire of talking about good governance, honest and transparent leadership, common sense, and not being above or beyond reproach. Let us not forget the foundation stones and the building blocks of good government, regardless of what form that Government takes.
Adherence to good governance must be the message delivered in unison by the people to their representatives in the House of Representatives and to Leaders in Government. All Leaders, whether at the national, provincial or community government level, must be held to account.
Without regard for good governance the writing is on the wall. We know this from the countless examples of developing countries that have been turned into pariah states by their own Leaders in power.
Let us avoid the pitfalls of bad governance by making a conscious and conscientious choice for good governance without making compromises, taking short cuts or looking for quick fixes at the leadership level.
Nothing is more certain than the dire consequences that befall a people whose leaders turn a blind eye, a deaf ear and who play mute to the evils of corruption.
Conversely, nothing is more certain than the successes and gross national happiness and contentment that follows when elected leaders live up to the oaths and loyalties they swear by and the responsibilities they promise to live up to in office, leading the people from the front.
We can grab and take the opportunities to heart or we can squat and squander them. It is my sincere hope this Independence Day, that our leaders take the former rather than the latter path.
Hon. Simon Pentanu MHR GCL
Bougainville House of Representatives
Part 2 Editors note
Congratulations to Simon Pentanu, who has been named on the 2019 Independence Day Anniversary Honours List. Simon Pentanu
Mr. Pentanu will be awarded the Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu (GCL) Conerred with the title of “Chief” for distinguished public service in the senior roles of Clerk of the National Parliament, Chief Ombudsman, and currently as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Prime Minister, JAMES MARAPE and ABG President, DR. JOHN MOMIS signed the joint resolution in the afternoon at the Presidential villa in front of journalists and the Ministers and members from both the ABG and the National Government.
The first Agenda was concerning the request by the BRC to extend the Referendum date by six weeks from October 12th Polling to November 23rd Polling.
The BRC had sought for additional time for the referendum roll to be updated so that the outcome is credible and has integrity.
Agenda two was on weapons disposal, after the joint Weapons disposal secretariat briefed the JSB on the progress of the Me’ekamui Weapons disposal program, the JSB resolved and noted that the weapons disposal work must continue, and also touched on the National Reconciliation ceremony that must be held between the National Government and the ABG and also between the veterans.
Agenda three was on the Post Referendum Transition of which many discussions have been made and also looking at the legal issues going forward.
The JSB noted the progress made so far and resolved for the establishment of a Joint Ministerial Task Force on Post Referendum.
Approved for the Post Referendum Task Force to identify facilitators/moderators to assist in the Post referendum negotiation period.
And there must be one national moderator and one external moderator.
The fourth Agenda looked at the Restoration and Development Grants in which both governments have been at loggerheads over the calculations for the RDG.
The JSB resolved to accept the calculations made by an independent expert engaged by the UNDP and that officers work on these calculations and settle those outstanding through the RDG and SIF programs.
The JSB also resolved to approve a new arrangement for the National Government to provide 100 Million annually to the ABG for the next ten years starting next year.