Parking your wife, or 'marit antap long marit’
Our Chief has gone: The Michael Somare I knew

Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare dies at 84

Michael Somare and Gough Whitlam on Independence Day  1975 (Whitlam Institute)
Michael Somare and Gough Whitlam on Independence Day,  1975 (Whitlam Institute)

| DevPolicy Blog

CANBERRA – With the death of Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare – the man who led Papua New Guinea to independence in 1975 and became Papua New Guinea’s longest-serving member of parliament – the Pacific has lost one of its most prominent and respected leaders.

Somare was born in 1936 in Rabaul, where his father was serving as a policeman in the colonial administration, but returned to his father’s home province of East Sepik at an early age.

His schooling began in Wewak during the Japanese occupation of New Guinea and continued at Finschhafen High School and Teachers College at Sogeri.

During the 1950s and 1960s Somare taught in New Ireland, East Sepik and Madang, served as an interpreter for the Legislative Council and the first House of Assembly, and worked as a broadcast officer with the Department of Information and Extension Services.

He also became vice-president of the Public Service Association and an advocate for localisation and better working conditions for Papua New Guinean workers.

Somare went on to attend the Administrative College in Port Moresby, where he became a member of the Bully Beef Club, from which emerged Papua New Guinea’s first locally initiated political party, Pangu Pati.

In 1968 Somare was elected to the House of Assembly, becoming leader of the parliamentary Pangu Pati and pressing the party’s demand for independence.

He was re-elected in 1972 and became chief minister of a coalition government and a member of a Select Committee on Constitutional Development.

With the election of the Whitlam government in Australia in 1972, the pace of movement to independence accelerated; self-government was granted the following year.

Somare played a pivotal role in steering a course between Australia’s wish for a rapid transition to independence and resistance from people in the relatively recently contacted highlands provinces (supported by some expatriate planters), who feared they would be disadvantaged by an early move to independence.

At the same time he faced a unilateral declaration of independence by activists in the Papuan half of the country, who were concerned at the prospect of increasing migration to Port Moresby by highlanders, and opposition from Bougainvilleans dissatisfied with the terms of the Bougainville mining agreement.

Notwithstanding these challenges, Papua New Guinea made a smooth transition to independence in 1975, with Somare as prime minister, confounding those in Australia and elsewhere who had predicted political and economic collapse. It remains one of a fairly small number of post-colonial states that have maintained an unbroken record of democracy.

Somare was returned as prime minister in 1977 but was deposed by his deputy, Sir Julius Chan, in a vote of no confidence in 1980.

He was returned again after a national election in 1982 and deposed again by his then deputy, Paias Wingti, in 1985.

He subsequently served as foreign minister, as leader of the opposition, and (as the MP for the East Sepik Provincial electorate) as provincial governor.

Following some disagreements within Pangu Pati, Somare left the party in 1994 and founded the National Alliance. In 2002 he was re-elected to the prime ministership and retained the position until his controversial removal in 2011.

In that year, while Somare was hospitalised in Singapore, a group of renegade MPs, led by Peter O’Neill, successfully moved in parliament that the prime ministership was vacant, and elected O’Neill as prime minister.

The Supreme Court twice ruled against their action, but O’Neill held onto power until he was legitimately elected as prime minister following the national election of 2012. On several occasions earlier, Somare had talked about not standing for re-election, and prior to 2011 it was widely expected that he would not recontest in 2012.

But in defiance of the move against him he did stand, and promised that if re-elected to government he would see those responsible put behind bars.

East Sepik voters showed their displeasure at the disrespect shown to their leader by returning Somare to the East Sepik Provincial seat, but, surprisingly, after being re-elected Somare briefly aligned himself with the O’Neill government.

In the later years of his prime ministership, Somare came under growing criticism both through social media and within his own party.

Criticisms largely concerned an increasing executive dominance of parliament, specifically by an inner ‘kitchen cabinet’, which included Somare’s son Arthur, who was the elected member for Angoram.

There were also allegations of corruption, though he maintained a modest lifestyle. With his health failing, the man widely acknowledged as the ‘father of the nation’ decided not to contest in 2017, but he remained a critical commentator on the politics of the O’Neill government.

Apart from his political career, Sir Michael Somare was a strong advocate of Papua New Guinea’s rich culture. He underwent initiation and took the title of Sana from his father’s line.

At independence he secured Australia’s funding of a national museum and a creative arts centre and was for some time chair of the Board of Trustees of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery. He also aspired to create an East Sepik museum, though this never eventuated.

Sir Michael is survived by his lifelong companion, Lady Veronica Somare, and children Bertha, Sana, Arthur, Michael and Dulciana.


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Esron Tuvut Sete

With great respect, we Papua New Guineans salute you, late Grand Chief Sir Michael T Somare.

Sheila Petelo

A great leader with a great heart and vision for this beautiful nation of ours, we call Papua New Guinea.

Rest in peace grand chief, Sir Michael Thomas Somare. We salute you, and your legacy we hold dear to our hearts.

Philip Kai Morre

It is an honour to celebrate the life and death of a giant who has fallen.

Michael Somare lived life to the fullest and with enlightenment. The grand chief is one of the few great politicians and advocator of democracy in the likes of Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others.

No one question his mandated power and authority whom he has never misuse but use it for common good.

Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare was born and raised in a disciplined family when PNG was in a transition period experiencing the old traditional culture and the modern culture where he embraced both.

One thing unique about the grand chief is his deep affection of cultural values and norms and Christian principles.

His public life is deeply rooted in self affirmation meaning that he lived for the service of others. He accepts others are they are and threat them as equals regardless of who they are, poor or rich, educated or uneducated or status.

Sir Michael is a political icon who led the country into independence without any bloodshed. He applied his mediation skills in dealing with complex issues during the pre-independent era where regional conflicts was strong with Papuans want to separate with New Guinea and New Guinea Islands also want to separate.

Highlands don’t want to be independent too soon and were still confused. With diverse culture with many conflicting structural and underlining issues he was problem solver and a peace maker.

He listen carefully to every issues that comes across. He would ask for consensus rather than his own decision.
Another millstone Grand Chief have achieved is the PNG Constitution which is one of the best in the world according to expects.

He selected the right person to head the Constitution Planning Committee, John Momis who gathered the best brains of the country to draft the constitution.

I am privileged to experience and witness the independence in 1975 when I was in high school. The name Michael Somare was the household name in the 1970s. This is the name behind self governance and independence.

Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare is not only a politician but is a role model of a family life, he sticks to one wife and a faithful catholic who never lose sight on his spirituality.

He has done so much for this country and our appreciation can not be measured in monetary terms but priceless. He is a great nationalist who stand tall among others.
May God grand him eternal peace.

Steven Matthews

The late Grand Chief , Sir Michael Somare was everything that brought Papua New Guinea to be what it was from 1975 and to what is today. He started the fight without bloodshed and had Papua New Guinea declared an independent state in 1975. He portrayed a unique kind of leadership that suits the life of all Papua New Guineans. I recommend the qualities of his leadership be written in PNG Politics to be taught in schools , institutions and universities as an educational concept in leadership qualities to be remembered as great father of our nation.

My heart felt condolences to all families , relatives, people of East Sepik, and Papua New Guinea to remember our great father , late Grand Chief , Sir Thomas Michael Somare

May our good Lord lay rest his soul in eternal peace

Steven Matthews

A father figure in all aspects of founding the independence and development of the country, a figure no other leader in the country could perform.

God used him from the start in uniting the people, the country and the nation for the good.

A great legacy to be remembered for a long time.

My deepest condolences.

Chris Overland

Sir Michael Somare was indisputably an important figure in the history of PNG. He led the infant country in its formative years and, so far as I am aware, did so in an honest, measured and cautious way.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, he did not seek to enrich himself at the country's expense, unlike some of his successors.

Whether he is entitled to be described as the father of his country is debatable but he was certainly the public face of PNG nationalism in the run up to independence.

I think that history is likely to pass generally favourable judgement upon his leadership but his overall political legacy is a bit mixed.

On the one hand PNG has maintained the democratic institutions established prior to becoming independent.

Unlike so many other new countries created during the post colonial era, PNG has not fallen under the control of authoritarian rulers nor been riven by large scale inter tribal warfare.

On the other, it has suffered greatly from institutional corruption and incompetence at many levels and still lacks the robust accountability mechanisms needed to at least minimise both.

It has a transplanted the Westminster parliamentary system which has never produced the stable and disciplined party structues required to make such a system work efficiently.

Probably the greatest public policy failure in PNG's history was the catastrophe precipitated by the insistence upon allowing CRA to establish the Panguna mine on Bougainville in the face of consistent and vociferous local protests and resistance.

Somare must accept some responsibility for this grave misjudgement and for the ensuing civil war, although Australian politicians and CRA executives deserve the lion's share of blame for their insensitive and wilfully blind behaviour as detailed by Bill Brown in his magisterial 'Kiap's Chronicle'.

If Somare is truly the father of his country, then he must accept some responsibility for its failings as well as its successes. My guess is that he understood this pretty well, as most truly great men and women usually do.

So, vale Sir Michael Somare. A great man and mostly wise leader.

Philip Kai Morre

The grand chief Sir Michael Somare was a humble servant; a prime minister who had a heart for his people and lived a simple life.

Even though he was prime minister, his simplicity and humility spoke volumes of words.

Our children and beyond the generations will remember him as the founding father of our nation. May God grand him eternal peace.

Akso Moses

As a proud Papua New Guinean, and son of Moniyau Village were Pangu Party was born and all Moniyau Group
in Port Moresby and back Home are saddened to hear of the passing of Grand chief Sir Michael Somare Earlier this Morning,
Sir Michael was our father, our country's founding Prime Minister and an Icon figure in our history.
Thankyou Grand Chief sir Michael for your contribution to this country Papua New Guinea, you have done us proud.

We the People of Moniyau and country will truly miss you, Our Father, Our Founding Prime Minister,.

May You Rest in Peace

Akso Moses.

Yang Ingam

Rest in peace great grand chief, the long-lived father of PNG, we will miss you very much. I read a couple of your books, Sana was very interesting and I learned somethings from that book. Your place in the hearts of the generations of this nation shall always be occupied. Much respect late grand chief Sir, Micheal. T. Somare.

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