THIS week’s uprising by Morobean villagers and settlers in Lae took many people by surprise. And it divided public opinion; some people for it and some against it.
So, as a nation of many tribes and ethnic groups, how does this uprising warn us?
Have we not learned anything from 10 years of civil war in Bougainville?
We seemed to have turned a blind eye to the cries from the Hela people and their threats of civil war over the benefits – or lack of them – from the liquefied natural gas project.
Have we learned nothing from the barbaric witch burning and killings mostly in certain parts of highlands Papua New Guinea?
And I could mention other ethnic clashes that have occurred in towns and villages across our nation.
In 2010, given the nature of such acts of violence, the United States state department raised the ethnic clash warning to a new level by calling it tribal or ethnic terrorism.
It didn’t take long for the blame game to begin in relation to the Lae uprising. I observed the slurs of laziness, violent people, parasites, criminals, thugs, pests…. all smears made in the ongoing social media debate.
We have just celebrated 40 years of independence and we have come a long way. We call ourselves Papua New Guineans but we know deep down in our hearts that we put our ethnic, tribal, regional and provincial loyalties first.
With a rapidly growing population of eight million, as our demands for better services increase so much pressure is put on the national and provincial governments.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that some people deflect responsibility to blame Asians for these negative social issues. They are blamed for anything that goes wrong in our country, even when it’s clearly our own doing.
Since the Somare government initiated the so-called DSIP and PSIP grants schemes for improvement and development in districts and provinces, you might expect to see progress in all the country’s 89 districts.
But sadly this is not the case.
Kokopo in East New Britain stands out in terms of progress and development with maybe Bulolo second. But what about the rest of the country?
The problem lies in poor governance and flaws in the political establishment. How can politicians run a satellite office in Port Moresby and expect their districts to develop?
That’s not leadership. And it is in a lack of real leadership where the entire issue of rural urban migration, lawlessness, ethnic violence and corruption prevail.
Papua New Guineans regardless of ethnicity are hard-working and intelligent people, but our government has forced us into a state where our own people corruptly steal money, meant for the benefit of the entire country, to satisfy their own interest and greed.
Meanwhile the rest of the people are left to suffer and issues of ethnic nationalism arise. The warnings are on the wall. We might hope the electoral process will correct the flaws but they are already systemic.
In the words of former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta, “corruption in Papua New Guinea is a pandemic”.
A leading international scientist who has studied PNG has stated that our tribal life is unable to adapt quickly into a state government system. We are a communal society, we put our tribe first, we honour our tribe first.
The national government system developed to pass and enforce laws, empower society and hopefully evolve a strong country arose from the experience of Europeans not Melanesians.
So it seems that issues of culture, mismanagement and greed will continue to combine to produce ethnic uprisings so long as the political establishment focuses on such issues as economy, business confidence and investment climate ahead of the condition of the people themselves.
How can an ordinary villager aim to succeed in a system that thrives on corruption? If you want a passport, you need to pay a bribe. If you want a PMV licence, find a wantok. If you vote, see which candidate gives you the most lamb flaps or beer. This is the society we have allowed to flourish.
If you noticed that it was the provincial flag of Morobe that was flown by Lae protesters, then you will know that our country seriously needs to get down to strengthening governance at district and local level. Penalise those politicians and local level government officials who reside and work from Port Moresby, Mt Hagen and Lae while their people suffer.
And maybe we need to revisit the current provincial government system and look at other means to empower people at local level.
So today it was Lae and tomorrow who knows: Mt Hagen, Goroka, Madang, the writing is one the wall and it’s our own doing.
Clear thinking Papua New Guineans should stop blaming each other about who is right or wrong and look at the cause of the issues we face.
Our politicians and public servants needs a good kick in the ass to reset themselves for the betterment of PNG.
Otherwise ethnic or regional nationalism will overtake nationalism – a very dangerous trend.
We must learn and we must especially learn to stop a culture of systemic corruption.
We can, we have the power of the people.
God bless PNG.