A people united in common culture, spirituality, belief & values
A night at the Lowy Institute - 40 years of PNG Independence

Reflections on 40 years of PNG Independence


FORTY years on, we can look back and see that the peaceful transition of Papua New Guinea into Independence in 1975 reflected the power of Melanesian diplomacy.

The forefathers of modern Papua New Guinea truly applied all the skills of diplomacy in a challenging environment.

That was our past and there are some very important lessons all Papua New Guineans should draw as we sail into the future.

Today our population has reached almost eight million and our country’s infrastructure is struggling to cope with this growing population.

Many people are upset over state of the country and the manner in which it has lagged behind in development indexes.

Yes, there are many issues, but the fact of the matter is that we have reached 40 years of Independence as a united nation.

It is clear that, despite being a country of many tribes and diverse cultures and languages, we have successfully adapted to a modern, globalised western world.

It is true there are groups of our people still trying fine tuning their way into this new world while still trying to relate to the colonial influences that transformed us from the stone age into a modern society.

However, our society itself has come of age.

We go to the polls and exercise our democratic right to elect political leaders and parties to govern our country. In the last 40 years, we have seen the norms of democracy and the foundations of judiciary and parliamentary process challenged and at times abused and tested.

But the strength of our Constitution that guides our journey and enables our country to be united and democratic, although bruised by ambitious or confused political leaders, remains.

The one thing we can’t get in order – despite legislation, court decisions and public uprising – is governance.  The influence of effective governance still can’t reach out 20 kilometers from Port Moresby. Governance remains in Waigani with the politicians. It has become their tool of choice to control the masses.

No one has monopoly over knowledge and we have demonstrated that we have mastered the English language, science, medicine, engineering and information technology among many other things.

We are proud of our professionals working in Australia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, all over.  The pilots, doctors, businessmen and others as our world view has moved from the clan to the globe.

But we continue to struggle with governance and the rule of law. Our mechanisms are some of the best on paper but continue to struggle against the realities of political will and self-interest.

Today, we can look back and conclude that we need disciplined, honest and intelligent political leadership so we can drive our country forward.

The good thing is that we have not gone down the road of employing non-democratic means to correct issues of governance and rule of law. But one cannot say what the future holds for Papua New Guinea.

Independence Day is not the time to argue and fight over flaws, past mistakes or the current state of the country but to be thankful we have a country we call home and to know that, as a people, we can respect the historical efforts by our forefathers who worked together to shape and establish a unique and strong foundation.

Let’s not allow international opinion to judge us. Let’s allow our own court of public opinion to shape a country that can stand up and say no to the political garbage that tries to drag our country into a totalitarian religious regime.

My point is this, let’s return to the Melanesian norms of governance that we practiced for centuries before Europeans arrived. Let’s draw strength from these and arrive at some form of ideal position that can define and unite our people.

Our elders did that and they laid a Constitution that reflects our diversity. It’s now in our hands to decide what kind of future we want.

Happy Independence Day, Papua New Guinea.


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