An actor seeks the primitive
Our own worst enemies

Complex path to nationhood

Marape
James Marape - "Both of our flags must fly until we reach the conclusion of this process" (Natalie Whiting, ABC)

NATALIE WHITING
| Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extract

Link here to the complete version of Natalie’s analysis of the Bougainville referendum

BUKA - A ceremony to announce the results of Bougainville's historic referendum opened with a chorus of the Bougainville anthem.

When the overwhelming result for independence was handed down, people spontaneously started singing it again.

It was a clear sign of the separate identity that Bougainvilleans have long maintained. The thumping result for splitting from PNG was an even clearer sign.

But the path to potential nationhood remains complex and far from guaranteed, despite the mandate from an almost 98% vote of support offers.

The end of the referendum not only starts another political process, but it will also turn eyes back to a massive open-cut mine that has been sitting, waiting in the mountains since the 1980s.

As Bougainville looks for a way forward politically, it also needs to look at economic options.

That's something Papua New Guinea is keen for it to focus on as it grapples with how to respond to the vote.

PNG is known as the land of a thousand tribes and many in the government are worried about keeping the rest of the country united if Bougainville leaves.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has offered economic control but stopped well short of committing to independence for Bougainville.

Economically, the most obvious income stream for the resource-rich area is mining, but that would involve revisiting the issues that started the bloody conflict in the region.

Landowners at the site of the Panguna gold and copper mine, where the violence first broke out, say they are ready to see it reopen in the wake of the referendum.

Up to 20,000 people died in the secessionist conflict that followed, before the peace agreement which guaranteed the vote brought it to an end.

Several companies are already circling, keen to make a move now that the vote is over.

Whether they have the capital and the ability to reopen it peacefully remains to be seen.

As the referendum ballots were being counted in Bougainville's capital Buka, speculation about the movements of Mr Marape were swirling.

Initial indications that Mr Marape would be coming to Buka for the announcement were replaced by rumours of him instead going to Panguna in the days after the result.

In the end his visit was moved to the town of Arawa, near the mine. But Panguna and building Bougainville's economy featured throughout his speech.

Thousands of people gathered in the middle of town to hear him speak. The people even wanted to carry him to the stage on a specially built chair, an offer he graciously refused.

Mr Marape has been seen as being more supportive of the referendum than previous leaders, but PNG has nevertheless made no secret of the fact it wants Bougainville to remain a part of the country.

The independence vote is non-binding, and amid the celebrations of the result, PNG has been quick to remind people that years of discussions between the two parties will follow and a negotiated outcome will then be presented to PNG's parliament.

In the lead-up to the referendum, Mr Marape had been discussing a "third option" beyond independence and greater autonomy which the people were asked to choose between — what he called "economic independence".

His speech was in a similar vein, focussing on economic development and self-determination, but avoiding mention of independence.

He presented a cheque worth K50 million, promised another K100 million next year and control over income generated in Bougainville, including tax powers.

"The only thing I will ask you, is that I will look after the border and both of our flags must fly until we reach the conclusion of this process," he told the crowd.

Certainly, Bougainville is currently in no position to support itself and the call to focus on building the economy is warranted. But Mr Marape wouldn't be drawn on whether he could envisage independence for Bougainville.

"That's something for the future. I can't pre-empt the outcome of the consultations that will take place," he told the ABC.

After such a comprehensive vote, there may be little appetite in Bougainville to accept something less than full independence.

But for the moment his speech was well received by the crowd, and Bougainville's President is confident of productive discussions going forward.

The greatest expectation from Bougainvilleans after the referendum is for change — people want improved services and infrastructure. Both governments will need to make that a priority and it will require funding.

Comments

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Philip Kai Morre

Bougainville, is now going to be nation despite refusal from PNG government.

The people of Bougainville have spoken and we should respect their aspiration, insights, and consciousness of a separate race and colour skin which is unique.

Their culture, identity, and ideology is quite different from rest of PNG. They are self determined, and we can not change their mentality which is at their sub-conscious level.

If Bougainville is independent PNG government will not carry much burden economically because they already have contacts with other foreign countries to assist them.

Bougainville people are much smarter and creative so we should not underestimate their potential of getting independence.

Philip Fitzpatrick

The discussion about the future of Bougainville seems to be coalescing around its economic viability. This seems to be the lever that will be used by PNG in its attempt to retain the province as part of the nation.

What seems to be missing from the debate so far is the issue of identity. Bougainvilleans have always seen themselves as different from Papua New Guineans and I suspect that was what drove the high vote for independence.

Granting Bougainville economic independence but keeping it as part of PNG, as James Marape suggests, will not address the identity issue.

In terms of being a small Pacific Island nation economic viability is not something that will come easily, even if the Panguna mine is re-opened.

Most of the smaller Pacific Island nations, like Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu etc are not independently economically viable and rely on overseas aid.

So too does Timor Leste, which launched into independence in much worse condition than Bougainville. It also achieved independence very rapidly once the long drawn out opposition to Indonesia came to its bloody end.

I think what those arguing for the need for economic independence fail to recognise is the geo-political strategic value of the small Pacific island nations.

This is a less tangible but valuable commodity of much interest to the super and middle powers of the world.

That the USA, China and Australia among others are prepared to supply aid in pursuit of favour with those nations is, in fact, a transactional arrangement.

The small nations are in fact trading their strategic significance for financial gain which comes in the form of aid. Aid for influence is a legitimate deal.

There's no reason why Bougainville can't join those other small nations. It is strategically located, especially from Australia's point of view, and that locational advantage can be traded for financial gain.

In the heightened geo-political situation caused by China's rise that strategic advantage is a valuable commodity. Add a bit of agricultural and mining revenue and Bougainville will have a sustainable economic future in the short to long term.

Regarding foreign aid as a legitimate source of revenue rather than as simple charity shifts the economic independence argument to a much more realistic platform and is well worth considering.

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