Complex issues flow from Bougainville referendum says academic
A Kiap’s Chronicle: 15 – Around the Sepik

Discord marked the first struggle for a Bougainville referendum

LEONARD ROKA

Leonard Fong Roka  October 2014 H&SPANGUNA - The 1974 book, ‘Bougainville Nationalism: Aspects of Unity and Discord’, by Alexander Mamak and Richard Bedford, with support from the late Leo Hannet and the late Moses Havini, shows similar political trends 43 years later as we march into the window of next year’s referendum.

The book tells how Bougainville had its first taste of a referendum in 1969, the direct result of a 1968 meeting in Port Moresby of 23 Bougainvillean students attending tertiary institutions in Papua New Guinea.

After this meeting there were significant outcomes in Kieta. A meeting of some 2,000 people, chaired by the late Sir Paul Lapun, discussed the acquisition of land by Bougainville Copper Limited in the coastal areas around Kieta.

The meeting resulted in the threat of secession unless the PNG colonial administration revised its rules for obtaining traditional land for mining interests.

Negotiations were long and bitter. There were protest marches by Bougainvilleans and tear gassing and baton whipping by police personnel.

The few literate people-oriented leaders like Sir Paul Lapun, seeing the number of people involved established Napidakoe Navitu as the voice to push for the interests of the people of central Bougainville.

This group succeeded in uniting these Bougainvilleans and began to push for a referendum in 1970.

Napidakoe Navitu was also known to be pushing for secession and leaders of most Bougainville communities feared their influence, resulting in the referendum notion being attacked by leaders from north and south Bougainville. Central Bougainville stood firm.

In Buin, for example, 7,000 ballot papers were confiscated by the president of the local government council who argued that his council had not consented to any vote.

In the north, the president of the local government council also attacked the referendum sponsors.

It seemed that the north was concerned that secession would stop cheap labourers from New Guinea from working in the cocoa and copra plantations.

This discord helped trigger the 1988-89 crisis. Seeds were sown that resulted in the loss of 20,000 lives and property valued at many millions of kina.

Observing trends in our current political drive, I see loopholes garnered by mistrust and lack of faith in ourselves economically.

We are uncertain we can build a nation out of nothing as East Timor did in 1999.

From zero East Timor is now moving to a stable state from its few resources while PNG and Bougainville with scores of mining and petroleum projects are burdened by debt now spiralling into the billions.

You can email Leonard Fong Roka here or call him on +675 7289 3833

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