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Reflections on Bougainville’s 7 years of autonomy


FROM THE SUPPRESSIVE and exploitative claws of Papua New Guinea, violent protests gave Bougainville a provincial government. Ten years of bloodletting gave us autonomy. And what will give us nationhood?

The government of PNG under the leadership of prime minister Sir Michael Somare approved the Constitution Bill in December 2004.

After this, the constitution was adopted by the Bougainville Constituent Assembly on 12 November 2004 in Buin, South Bougainville.

The constitution was presented to people of Bougainville by then Minister for Inter-Government Relations, Sir Peter Barter, at a ceremony in Arawa on 14 January 2005.

On the 16 June 2005, we gathered on the lawns of Hahela Primary School to witness the birth of an infant, the Bougainville Autonomous Government that was and is a wedlock child of Bougainville’s 10 years of conflict.

As Bougainvilleans, we did not nurture or purchase this crisis, rather it was our island’s fate as it attempted to skedaddle out of the noisome way of suppression and exploitation.

This new government was founded on a society of haunting nonconformists that continue to affectd us economically and politically. I refer to the two conflicting want-to-lead setups, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) and the Meekamui.

To most Bougainvilleans, the ABG fitted the American concept of ‘a government by the people; of the people and for the people’. 

Thus, it functioned well with the people and external forces like the PNG government, aid donors and especially the government of Australia, where most of our development aid is sourced.

But, I am yet to identify where to slot in the Meekamui when considering the sovereignty of PNG and the United Nations-enforced international laws.

Nonetheless, our ABG has survived the nightmare so far, as the Meekamui exposed internal divisions and fragmentation.

In the first ABG parliament (2005-08), led initially by the late Joseph Kabui and continued by James Tanis (2008-10), there were several significant issues for Bougainville that had far reaching impacts on our island.

This first house, in my observation, in terms of decision making was more focussed on creating cordial relationships for our financially zero-balanced government.

This included practical manifestations such as the K95 million Japanese Bakanovi to Rawa bridging project.

However, the stunt of the regime was the Invincible Resources affair with Lindsay Semple, an Australian based in Canada. In this project, Sam Kauona went from rebel army commander to President Kabui's key financial adviser - and was not even on the government payroll.

Kauona, to many, was the man who engineered the Semple project and then coerced his old crony, the late President Kabui (see who as leader was struggling to make ends meet for his government and people.

The deal, according to the ABC’s Steve Marshall, gave Semple 70% of Bougainville’s untapped mineral resources, fishing rights and forestry rights.

This was just one example of a leadership running in a politically conflicted environment in its desperation to provide goods and services for post-conflict Bougainville.

Many leaders, and even ordinary people, condemned the ABG - Invincible Resource ‘deal’. But we were all visionaries without knowledge of what practical steps might clear the then politically hostile air of Bougainville. The leadership then was the most pressured I had ever seen as it sought to find means and ways to empower government.

After Joseph Kabui died from a heart attack, the presidential election of November and December 2008 saw James Tanis win easily over Sam Akoitai. He was sworn in on 6 January 2009.

To James Tanis, his leadership style was to be a pathfinder of peace. As stated by the University of Queensland’s Institute of Social Science Research (

‘He stressed that he saw his role as President as one of building bridges to connect all the stakeholders involved in the conflict over the mine and to facilitate an all-encompassing inclusive dialogue. Moreover, building bridges among the communities on Bougainville, between Bougainvilleans and the government and the people of Papua New Guinea as well as building bridges to the outside world is the President’s key concern’.

The Tanis leadership, which ended when President John Momis was elected in 2010, had successes and controversies; but it tried its best for a post-conflict Bougainville.

So far, Bougainville’s struggle has involved the difficulty in changing the political and social status quo. The question has been: ‘How do we get the people to think like the Autonomous Bougainville Government?’ This line of thought is difficult for leaders to deal.

President Momis is seeking to implement strategies tilted towards an economic drive for Bougainville. This can be seen in proposals like the Special Economic Zone ( ) and the Torokina Oil Palm Project.

This is a leadership, despite the difficult environment, working around the clock to bring change to our island and people.

I admire President Momis for his determination to pursue his goals. The resistance, as far as it goes, is opportunistic but is assisted by the lack of a cordial ABG-people relationship.

But, in my perception, dear President Momis is a leader concerned with strengthening Bougainville’s economic muscle as we move to defining the terms of the independence referendum. It is a critical hour and time is running out.

How do we as Bougainvilleans, who lost loved ones in the name of freedom for our relegated island, help?

Nothing will come without a cost.


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