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It’s time: new day dawns for middle-class


THE WORD of Christ was brought to PNG in the nineteenth century. Evangelists came armed with an ideal, both institutional and individual, which meant commitment to their religious task above any other.

The task? To convert a society and its fundamental belief-systems to a radically-different view of mankind’s origin, of the human race’s place in the cosmos, and of individuals’ responsibilities, one to another.

Soon after the initial impact of the early missionaries, another foreign force devoted to the imposition of new ways of social management and interaction arrived.

But these men were not driven by a long-term philosophy or objective. The first colonial governors were driven by a simple imperative, primarily political, to claim sovereignty and to occupy.

This was followed by a secondary concern to trade and to manage what might follow.

The indigenous social-management systems which the foreigners, missionaries and governors alike, encountered, were geared to the daily survival - within a situation of competition - of hundreds of mutually-antagonistic micro-societies.

To that extent, the system worked well, but the level of enmity shown to outsiders did not permit of an assumption of sovereignty without recourse to force, or at least a demonstration of force.

This was often accomplished by the demonstrative deployment of the multi-chambered firearms which the newcomers possessed.

The existence of peace within society was thus procured. And within this altered system, new ideas grew and spread.

Nevertheless, more than a century later, in 2010, kastom tumbuna, or its remnant ideals and attitudes, are still manifestly present in all sorts of ways.

In particular in terms of continuing tribalism - with its echoes of racism - so deeply embedded that people often describe themselves as being, for example, “of mixed Madang/East Sepik parentage”.

For heavens sake! Are people so ashamed of their native country that they shy away from identifying as citizens of it, and instead cite the provinces in which their parents were born?

This feeling of being a member of a restricted ethnic group rather than a citizen of an independent constitutional national commonwealth has resulted in the confused, jealous and distrustful - and thus largely incoherent and weak society - which exists in PNG today.

Is this because PNG’s modern leaders have never been able to empower the nation, driving it to achieve great social development or beneficent living standards, that may have resulted in a sense of national pride?

Is this why rugby league football, the only international arena within which PNG has demonstrated any continuing level of talent and success, is almost a holy icon to the ordinary people of this nation?

Such an indecisive, weak society will never push PNG to be an exemplary peoples’ commonwealth, where honesty and positivism govern the life and the rights of the multitude.

But PNG does have a thriving, ambitious and largely-dissatisfied middle-class, consisting of wage and salary earners, professionals of all types, and big to small entrepreneurs.

These people, many of them in their fifties, remember the sort of education and medical attention they received as kids 40 years ago, and look at what is now available to their own children and grandchildren; paid for services often wanting in performance and result.

These people are potentially the source of the emergence of a loud, unified and informed voice in the electorate. A voice sounding from a great many throats across the nation. A voice which, by virtue of its education and its articulation from each family, clan and community, is one that will be respected and listened to.

A voice whose recommendations and evoked desires and principles will be taken up across the country among the villages, among the settlements, among the illiterate and the impoverished of each and every province as well as among the educated and aware.

As I’ve said before, it’s time for the re-emergence of the local level governments as an effective community-based control over district resources, planning and the restoration of basic health and education systems in the Provinces.

But it’s also now time for a leader to step up and adopt the middle-class of PNG as his or her own constituency.


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