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Momis on Somare: It all started with barbecue & beer in Wewak

The young John MomisThe young Michael Somare 2JOHN L MOMIS*

MY personal relationship with Sir Michael Somare dates back to our younger days. Fate brought us together over barbecue and beer in Wewak.

Little did we know that soon we would be partners in forging a path for Papua New Guinea. I was full of idealism and he was brimming with pragmatism.

The combination of two different yet attuned minds resulted in greater efforts to blaze that path; one which not many at that time dared to tread.

Our minds were shaped by the events of the tumultuous 1960s when young men in America were sent to wage war in Vietnam and personalities like Martin Luther King and the Kennedys were taking the world by storm with their ideals and advocacy.

There was the impending domination of communism, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, civil rights protests amongst much more.

Shouts of freedom from colonialism, racism, inequality, communism and capitalism reverberated in all corners of the world. I must say the stage was set for the curtain to rise.

If there is anyone who knew him up close as a person, I consider myself honoured and privileged. Like all of us, he is not perfect. There will always be critics and dissenters from his style of leadership. But this I have to say, for over 49 years in public service that I have known him he gave his whole life to the people of Papua New Guinea.

He was true to his commitment to the people. He pursued relentlessly the right to be free and he pushed to unify a diverse country. He did much and he did it faithfully. This has been loyal service at its best, yet to be matched by and emulated by our current breed of politicians.

Sir Michael exercised his role as a true politician – guided by his faith and embracing his role as a vocation. He ventured into the unknown, responding to a call without fear. He was there always ready to listen and to implement results of choices and judgements.

Unknown to him perhaps, his biggest contribution was in politics in the tradition the philosopher Aristotle and the theologian St Thomas Aquinas who believed that politics is the noblest of sciences because it is through politics that one can do the most good by passing good laws and politics in the natural order.

He exercised and maximised his political strength systematically by not taking the shorter route of traditional politics, where the needs of a select few take precedence over the common good. 

Instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time, like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism, he literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for Papua New Guinea. It was a mark of a true leader that he took the bold step of making things happen and took ownership of major decisions, unpopular as they might have been.

I owe Sir Michael much. For a pragmatist to put his full trust and confidence in an ideologue like me is a rarity.

Here is a man whose vision was achieved because he trusted everyone, he encouraged camaraderie and he collaborated without any reservation to achieve results. Upon my election in 1972, he made me deputy and working chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee, paving the way for everything that we citizens are enjoying now.

Later he made me the Minister for Decentralisation and that again opened up opportunities for governance and development in every province of Papua New Guinea. Our professional relationship was never perfect. We had clashes and disagreements in many instances. There came even a point where I challenged and stood against him.

This, however, did not deter us from reconciling and collaborating to secure the best collective interests of Papua New Guinea. How can you turn against a man who all the way was a sincere and charismatic politician?

His reputation of calming things down where there were incongruities and to eventually convince everyone to move forward is an endearing trait that makes him a cut above the rest.

Sir Michael Somare, the man of the people clearly understood that parliament is the best venue where one can do the most good for the whole country; where his commitment to serve the people was unparalleled. Collegiality and first among equals (primus inter pares) took precedence in his leadership style. All these things clearly indicated the quality of a true leader who never assumed he was better than everybody else.

On behalf of the people of Bougainville I express our heartfelt gratitude to this man who together with Sir Paul Lapun stood up for the just rights of the landowners against CRA and the colonial government when many leaders opted to look the other way and keep quiet.

President Momis and Sir Michael SomareGrand Chief Sir Michael Somare understood and supported the people’s aspirations and grievances and rights. And Bougainville became the first provincial government to be recognised under his vision of decentralisation.

As the curtain falls, we give our applause and standing ovation. Thank you and may history be fair to you, acknowledge your contribution to this nation and the Pacific region and put you in its annals which you rightfully deserve.

So long my dear friend! We who share your dream stand ready to forge a new human solidarity necessary for the transformation of our society so that your legacy of always imagining inspiring future will be realized.

God bless Papua New Guinea! God bless Sir Michael Somare!

* Grand Chief Dr Momis is President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville


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Peter Sandery

You are dead right about the nexus between old age and cynicism, Paul

Paul Oates

An impartial observer might possibly suggest that while John Momis declares his sometimes sparing partner has 'given his all' to PNG it would appear he has chosen to overlook a number of reported real estate properties and personal opportunities enjoyed elsewhere and that apparently the PNG people don't seem to have a share in.

In response to Phil's conjecture, who knows what goes on behind the scenes?

I seem to remember Australia being let down a number of times by our US allies including undermining our stand against Indon aggression over West Papua and the later reported involvement of the ownership of the large mining assets at Freeport.

Ah! It's hard not to become cynical in one's senior years....ain't that right Phil?

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

I share your cynicism. Human motives are rarely pure and never simple. Paradoxically, many destabilisation processes use classic political and economic techniques reminiscent of Gramsci and Lukacs. These include faith based ideology and obscurantism.

Mussolini defined fascism as the union of corporate and governmental interests and much of this is prevalent in the resurgence of neoliberalism and concomitant increase in regulatory capture.

The following link provides access to an interesting article from the Idaho Observer:


Philip Fitzpatrick

It is interesting to see John Momis from Bougainville comment on Michael Somare’s political career and in particular their joint contributions to Papua New Guinea’s independence.

The nexus between the movement for independence and Bougainville is fascinating and deserves wider discussion and exposition.

Conventional wisdom has it that Australia had come under increasing pressure from the United Nations to decolonise Papua New Guinea in the 1960s. Russia and other regimes in the communist bloc were at the forefront of this push.

The communists had their own ideological reasons for backing this movement, much of it related to anti-capitalism whereby western powers were seen to be simply exploiting their colonial domains and the people there.

However, the more powerful impetus was related to ‘the winds of change’ that were sweeping the world in the 1960s.

These ‘winds’ were driven by the post-war generation intent upon usurping the old world order of their parents, which were seen to be socially conservative and repressive.

This new generation was intent upon liberating everything and anything in their line of fire. They were anti-war, anti-sexism, anti-racism and anti-capitalism.

A bumper sticker (remember them and what the hell was a bumper anyway?) summed it up in the succinct phrase ‘land rights for gay whales’.

Being a cynic with a devious mind I’ve always been suspicious about such simplistic and sweeping explanations.

Sometimes you have to dig a bit deeper to uncover the real motives. In most cases your arrival at the truth is often accompanied by the ring of a cash register.

Which brings us back to Bougainville and in particular to the extremely rich copper and gold mine that was being developed there just prior to independence.

The mine represented a potentially massive prize for a newly independent nation keen to support itself.

It was also a red flag to the rest of the world that here was a colonial estate with the potential to uncover even more untold riches.

In short, it was eminently exploitable, particularly if it became independent under an inexperienced, largely unprepared and financially naïve government.

This may sound fanciful but if you consider that other hot spot of anti-colonialism, Africa, the similarities become apparent. Those African colonies at the forefront of the movement were similarly endowed, if not in mineral wealth in other valuable resources.

So what I’m suggesting is that the real pressure to decolonise these places didn’t come from either the ideologically driven communist regimes or the plagues of hippies expounding love and freedom. Rather, the impetus came from hard-nosed capitalists alerted to new and vast areas of potential exploitation.

We all know the massive influence that business exerts on governments the world over and it is not a long bow to draw to extend this to organisations like the United Nations. If you doubt this for one moment think ‘globalisation’.

And, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Those African states and Papua New Guinea have been exploited mercilessly by capital.

Those gullible elites in these countries who were quick to jump on the gravy train have been complicit in the economic rape.

Were people like Michael Somare and John Momis dupes who were naively drawn into this maelstrom of exploitation?

I guess that’s up to them to decide.

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