LAE - Today Papua New Guinea celebrates 44 years of independence.
I’ve heard people ask questions about why we celebrate independence when our government systems are corrupt, when our service delivery is inefficient, when 80% of the people in rural areas still struggle with access to basic services, when our roads keep deteriorating, when there are so many other problems.
I’ve also asked these questions myself. What are we celebrating when our country seems to be moving back instead of forward?
Comparing the past with the present, hearing stories and seeing pictures from the past, make me wonder if independence was a good idea.
This year, PNG’s oldest political party, Pangu, turned 52. Pangu strongmen Sir Peter Lus, Sir Michael Somare and Sir Rabbie Namaliu were part of celebrations in Lae.
I had the opportunity to hear them speak about why they wanted independence 44 years ago, and much of it was because they were being treated with inferiority in our own land.
We don’t experience it now, but there were certain places and things that we black men and women could not do or go to, and this was in our own country.
I had the privilege of interviewing Sir Michael and he talked about how [ex kiap who became a Pangu organiser] Tony Voutas educated Papua New Guineans about politics and told them not to settle for being second class citizens in their own country.
Sir Michael said Voutas told them they would remain second persons all their lives if they didn’t motivate themselves to take the stand and be a Papua New Guineans.
“I thought, yeah, I think receiving certain amount of education I thought we should be treated better, but we were being treated like that,” Sir Michael said.
A young Rabbie Namaliu was a student at UPNG at the time when Somare and his team were spreading their ideas. Namaliu had his own experience of being treated with inferiority and jumped at these ideas. This was his step into politics.
We gained independence in 1975, and it wasn’t much of a struggle. In fact people now describe it as being handed independence on a golden plate.
Many countries fought blood, tooth and nail to gain independence from their colonizers. Papua New Guinea did not.
Sir Julius Chan said “this must be the smoothest transition from a colony to an independent nation, by any comparison in the world.”
Whilst the east of the island of New Guinea approaches 44 years of independence, the west still fights for the freedom they long to declare.
So as PNG marks 44 years of independence, ask me why we should celebrate independence despite our broken down systems and I’ll tell you this.
Celebrate independence because you are not suppressed in your country.
Celebrate it because we are not being brutalised in a country that is our home.
Celebrate it because we are not being held at gunpoint fighting for what we believe in.
Celebrate it because we are not being discriminated and tortured because of the colour of our skin.
Celebrate it because we have the right to raise our provincial flag and sing our provincial anthems.
Celebrate it because we are independent and we are free.
At 44 years of independence, I hope you listen to the words of our anthem as it is sung.
Sing it not only for Papua New Guinea, but sing it also for West Papua New Guinea, because we are one people.
Yumi Wan New Guinea, Yumi Wan Melanesia.