Our moments of triumph on the Olympic stage have not been many, so full marks to our Toea Wisil for her recent triumph on track and field. We have had our moments over the last 37 years in the regional sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, the Arafura Games, the South Pacific and the Mini South Pacific Games, but Wisil’s qualifying run was something special. Its significance will be held in our collective memories for a long time, as her personal triumph is part of our history as a nation.
In an Olympic year, we are once again contemplating playing host to the next South Pacific Games and the government (especially the previous ONeill-Namah political Leadership) has not been serious about what is and what ought to have been a matter of priority and pride to prepare necessary infrastructure for the event. The nation is about to face its moment of truth on the regional and international stage but we are way behind in our preparations, and so far treated this event as a political afterthought. Our lack of preparations must necessarily be viewed as a measure of our own awareness and pride in ourselves. It is a measure of the way we have gone off-course in terms of focussing our people and our leaders on matters other than that of national interest and national importance. It is a measure of the way we have lost our way as a nation, preoccupied with politics, the demands of enclave type developments like the LNG, and forgotten about being a country, about nationhood, and about what the national interest requires of us. It is a measure of the way we have lost our own sovereignty in favour of serving others’ interests, including personal interests.
We are about to reveal once again for all to see what we have been about for the last 37 years, at least since the last time we hosted the Games here. At least we had a Sir Anthony Siaguru to lead us out with a committee of equally talented people, showcased and acquitted well of the nation they represented. Oh how the red gold and black fluttered in the steady South-Westerly, and our hearts were instantaneously lifted to greater heights of exuberance, as our athletes triumphed. We could believe once again in ourselves, and the social contract we signed in 1975 to be one nation, one people and one country. And oh how we triumphed then, hauling in more gold silver and bronze than ever before, or since! Every Kiwai, Tolai, Highlander, Wopa, Siwai, Orokaiva, Orokolo, Sol and Tasi walked out of that stadium, proud, and rightfully so. We savoured those precious few shared moments of triumph with tears streaming down our faces. We looked at each other wide eyed and teary faced, and we laughed tears of joy and elation, and gently swayed to the fading strands of John Wong’s voice “Papua New Guinea… one people, one country…”as we walked out, confident and sure of ourselves.
We knew we will always be one people, a people cast together by history, a people held together by our ancient agrarian ways, thrust almost prematurely into the limelight of 21st Century to sink or swim, live or die. Together we chose life. And but whilst the odds were always staked against us, and some called us stone aged primitives, while others whispered,”… they won’t make it…”, it is in rare moments of sporting triumph like this, pitted against their best, on a clear sky blue days and on level playing fields, we have come together and asserted resoundingly that we have arrived on the world’s centre stage!
We have asserted that we are an ancient people, a strong people, the largest nation in the Pacific Islands and the land link between the tiger economies of Asia and the Pacific. We are the pre-historic home of Melanesia. We are a serious people, and we shall be taken seriously by our other Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian neighbours. Whether they like it or not, whether they like our way of doing things or not, we are here and we will assert ourselves, and assert we did at that and every other SP Game since.
Who would have predicted how we would turn out as a nation and a people in 1973 when we were granted Self Government so hurriedly by the Gorton/Whitlam Governments of Canberra?
In the early 70s on the occasion of a South Pacific Commission Meeting held in the capital of one of our Polynesian countries, the Paramount Chief of the Chimbu people, and he may as well have been the Paramount Chief of all the Highlanders, because he was a tall towering and imposing Simbu, who stood as tall as the mountains, and firm as his native rock of Elimbari, stood up and spoke. Whenever he spoke in his native setting, his dozen wives and multitudes upon multitudes of tribes men far and near came and drank of his words in utter silence, words that echoed like a thousand waterfalls and flowed seamlessly like the Waghi, giving life to a deeply farrowed land. But this time, his solemn maiden Chiefly address to the South Pacific Commission in tok pisin was openly mocked. Perhaps it was because of his earnest but equally farrowed facial features. Perhaps it was because he didn’t understand a word of English and could not speak any. Even perhaps it was because they couldn’t understand him at all with his typical highlands big-manly animations. He did look like someone out of the stone-age, but his heart was earnest and his composure sure and demeanour true. Notwithstanding, he felt the mocking laughter deeply, like the bitter stings of a thousand wasps buzzing around his head. He couldn’t speak English. Realizing, from the laughter and the polite nods that he had just become the laughing stock of the Pacific, and realizing he carried with him not only the pride of the Narengu tribe of Chimbu, but also the pride of history of his fathers and that of the then Territories of Papua and New Guinea he represented, Kondom Agaunduo slowly raised his hand as if to brush the wafting wasps away, allowed the laughter to subside, and spoke in slow deliberate pisin and uttered those famous lines… ” yupela harim ah! Nau mi kam long hia na toktok na yupela lap long mi. Em I orait. Tomoro bai mi salim ol pikinini bilong mi i kam. Taim ol I kam, bai yupela ino nap lap long ol! “ With that he sat down, and never spoke again.
Paramount Chief Kondom Agaunduo now lies in silent repose in his village on the side of the Highway named after an equally imposing political force of the Simbu people. Kondom was a man before his time. He was a Chief and Luluai, a cultural hero who brought progress to Chimbu in the early colonial period. He was the first Simbu coffee grower, father of the Chimbu Coffee Cooperative, Member of the District Advisory Council, Observer to the First Legislative Council in Port Moresby. Before his premature death from a car accident, he was truly a pioneer who craved education and progress for his people so that they could meet or match the whiteman, a man without pigs, on his own terms, and triumph. He was resolute and uncompromising in this cause. His leadership, punctuated by long eloquent speeches, was impeccable. There was no ounce of self interest in his cause. His cause was that of every Chimbu to advance.
Our few moments of triumph on the sporting fields have been shared together, as highlanders, Momases, NGIs and Papuans- groupings that came as we tried to define ourselves along our natural geographic regions. Yet these groupings sit very un-comfortably with our own assertion and notion as one people and one nation. Today we have indeed become one people and one nation naturally in a way we could never have openly predicted-with complex intermarriages. Even when corporate greed threatened to blow us apart, and it did for many years for thousands on Bougainville, one man, a soldier and a national hero from Karkar Island, stood up and defied all odds to put a stop to the blood bath that was about to unfold, and held us together. He underwent a period of self-examination and self-assessment for some time, and after all that was done, he stood up, and he stood by the oath he took before God and man to protect the Constitution, his nation, his people in Bougainville and on the mainland. He realized in time that if he didn’t stand up, he would by his conduct have revoked the Constitutional framework that held us together as a people, and cut adrift the people of Bougainville. He defied vulgar political direction and greedy corporate puppetry from outside. When Jerry Singirok triumphed personally over the evil that was about to be served, a chalice of blood, a slaughter that appeared inevitable, the whole nation triumphed. We all exhaled in great shared relief! Whew!
Many a child who was born in the 1980s, educated to feel equally eloquent and masters of their own destiny, deserving of a great future in this country, find themselves having to invariably come to terms with political legacies and historical events like Bougainville, constantly nagging at them with them having to ask themselves this question- what was all that about? The mothers of Bougainville, who survived, who suffered through loss of their own sons, daughters and husbands, are still asking that very question to this day.
While the fallen soldiers were draped in the red black and gold, the fallen in Bougainville lie scattered all over those islands of sorrow, and their spirits still wander unrequited. Deep down, every mother in Bougainville still ask, why did the nation turn its guns on our sons? Why did Bougainville become the Islands of sorrow? Can we as a nation triumph together in sporting fields like the coming SP Games and in other spheres if we do not deal with Bougainville, look at our brother in the eye and honestly feel the same blood pulsating through our veins?
How can we explain Bougainville to our children that they, as intelligent human beings with inquisitive minds, can make sense of it? How can the fatherless and the motherless children of Bougainville who also struggle daily with their permanent condition be consoled? And how do they further explain it to their children?
We cannot explain Bougainville, the shedding of innocent blood, the birthing of an Island of orphans and widows, in any other way than the sense of corporate greed, and blatant disregard for human lives and the rights of human beings by so called civilized nations, acting secretively through off-balance sheet black ops operatives. No one has gone behind the scenes to expose the people behind the people in Sandline. Faceless men in glass steel and concrete towers in faraway lands, powerful governments and their operatives, use money and influence and do deals and sign papers that instantaneously spill the blood innocent people all over the world. It was the South Americas yesterday, and today it is the Middle-East, with Africa the ongoing playground of those who want to pawn off the lives of the starving innocent using contentions of old tribal rifts and religious differences as convenient divisive tools. The death of the cold war has spawned new wars, wars that relate directly to control and exploitation of scarce resources and energy fields that will see the rise and re-ordering of civilisation as we know.
While those who conceived Sandline have long melted into the shadows, governments involved quickly cut off connections, wiped the paper trail and electronic footprints leading to their doorsteps, shredded the papers and claimed both ignorance and innocence; the Queen sits with a solemn smile on her throne in England, while the Kangaroos still graze peacefully on the brown meadows of Australia. Long gone are the sounds of machine guns and echoes of the cries of children looking for their mothers. Today, they come with bundles of Aid money to “help” the people of Bougainville. It’s the re-building and restoration program that they in their magnanimous generosity bestow on Bougainville that comes, but not necessarily without strings. How wonderfully generous the help is to us with roads that may one day carry our copper and gold out again, and ports that may see ships bearing all manner of colours once more berth, but let us not even contemplate that for now.
For now, having put up his hand for Sumkar and lost to an Australian Naturalized citizen, Jerry Singirok, sits back on his Island home to contemplate and take stock of his gains and losses, his friends and his foes, especially those who pretended to be friends but were really against him. He savours the sting of deception, like that of a thousand urchins. No war would have prepared him for this public admonition and rejection. In the 2012 elections, more so than ever before, the Australian Defence and intelligence played a very heavy hand, and made no secret about the fact of who Canberra wants installed as the new Prime Minister. Jerry Singirok of all people was in a better position to know and understand what was really at stake. He also knows how during the Commission of Inquiry into Sandline, he, along with several other public servants, were made public scapegoats by powerful people and powerful governments behind Sandline, to wipe their own footprints, as they melted into the dark.
On the 2nd of August 2011, Australia engineered the disposal of Somare while he was in Hospital. They used ONeill’s ambition, Nape’s greed and Namah’s stupidity to bludgeon Somare. Then when the courts were called upon to intervene by a Supreme Court Reference, Julia Gillard used a political bulldozer to smash down the gates of our Judicial system and our Constitution, by openly recognizing Peter ONeill as Prime Minister! She pre-empted the Supreme Court, the sole arbiter under the Constitution to deal with the then pending question of legitimacy of Peter ONeill as Prime Minister.
Australia has always advocated the importance of the rule of law, and the importance of having an independent judiciary as the backstop of our democracy in Papua New Guinea. Except on this occasion Australia threw all that out the window. When it suited Australia’s strategic economic and political purposes, even the ideals of rule of law, governance, transparency, accountability and principles of democratic government were readily flushed down the toilet by Australia. Gillard used her High Commissioner, Ian Kemish, tons of money, and the full swag of intelligence tools at her disposal, including the complicity of the Post Courier, to push for Peter ONeill, however constitutionally illegitimate that was.
Australia was instrumental in the smashing of the Constitution and the judiciary of Papua New Guinea, the two most important institutions that birthed this nation and gave it its soul, its sacred sanctity and sovereignty, and its separate identity as a separate people and a separate nation in the South Pacific. The judiciary is the watchdog that guards the Constitution. The Constitution is like a vial that contains the essential DNA of Papua New Guinea, the largest nation of Melanesian people on God’s earth. If you destroy the Constitution and its watch dog, you destroy a nation, and the rest becomes history.
Prior to and during the elections, Australia moved its people into key positions within the Electoral Commission, and even brought in its military and SAS veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to run a separate communications and operations capability parallel to the PNG security forces. All this was done to ensure one result- Peter ONeill to form the next government. Immediately after ONeill was declared winner of the Ialibu-Pangia seat by beating his nearest rival by 45,000 votes, Ian Kemish moved a whole company of Australian Army specialists into the Airways Hotel where ONeill team was holed up, as a show of alliance, and as a Personal VIP Protective Unit in full combat gear, against anything that ONeill’s brother Belden Namah would throw. It was an open show of strength. The Australian Army under Gillard moved huge amounts of firearms into PNG and into the Airways Hotel on secret Australian Airforce Fights. They made sure ONeill knew he was under the Australian army protection, and that he owed his rather “unusual landslide election win” to them.
It was a job well done for Ian Kemish, who unlike any other High Commissioner before him, was prepared to get his hands dirty, and do some of the work himself. As a diplomat, he has trod where even angels wouldn’t dare. What a brave man this Ian Kemish is, for he has successfully and almost singlehandedly displayed the full length and breadth of the power of Australia over Papua New Guinea politics. He has shown other diplomats in almost resounding terms, who owns this country! And for this he would have earned a long and well deserved holiday somewhere in Europe, and for sure almost endless career possibilities with the Commonwealth. It was a job well done in any one’s language.
Somare and other elder statesmen have played the only card they could play under the circumstances. But their card no longer carries any personal ambitions. They have been there and done that. There is no anger or resentment left in Chan, Somare or even Wingti. They have measured ambitions, which involve issues of what form or shape of legacy will they all and each leave for this nation. How will they be remembered after they pass? Each one of them has had a by-pass operation. Each is living on time that has been graciously extended to them. And each of them has known what it is like to have and hold power, exercise power, and what a heady thing that is!
The real issue for Somare Chan and Wingti, and others of the elder Statesmen around ONeill , is how much of the love for the RED GOLD & BLACK can they impart to Peter ONeill and get him away from the charms of money, wealth, fame and more fortune promised to him by those who now like cicadas whisper incessantly into his ears. To be sure, Papua New Guineans know the deals O’Neill has done over the years. We also know his various businesses that are run openly and under other people’s names. We also know of his associations with the likes of young George Constantinou, Rod Mitchell and the Cragnolinis. We know the straight and the crooked deals he made over the years, just as we know the deeds of others around him. We also know of the political deals he has done with Australia in return for political recognition after the 2nd of August 2011 bludgeoning of Somare.
The real question is, does he have what it takes, and can he stand up for the RED GOLD & BLACK? Or will he be just another good native?
The signs are already fairly ominous of a sell-out job done by Peter ONeill. It already appears he has sold his soul to Julia Gillard. He needs these next 18 months to prove to the rest of us that he is a true nationalist, that the genes of his native mother will always outweigh those of his Irish Father, that he will rise to be a better Prime Minister, and better at negotiating competing interests and triumphing over those who want to turn him and his office into their own Post Office Box. He has 18 months to show us that he is the Prime Minister of PNG and not Julia Gillard’s rubber stamp of Australian cross-interests in this country. He will have to do better than he has done so far to show us that our lives and our resources are safe from the marauding corporate raiders who are crowding his social calendar even now.
He has to demonstrate that the mothers of Bougainville who lost their sons fighting for their land and resources have not died in vain. He has to show us that the blood of the innocent spilled on Bougainville was for a cause of equal worth, and that indeed he will use this term of Prime Minister-ship to initiate a ministry of healing of the nation., to reconcile us as brother to brother, that our blood can flow through our veins once again from one heartbeat. He has to, like Jerry Singirok did, honour the oath he took before God and man under our Constitution to protect our people and the national interest. Peter ONeill must know what the national interest calls for in every case, and must summon the courage like Singirok did, and honour the national interest in everything confronting the nation today, not just in respect of Bougainville, although Bougainville ought to be high priority on our nation’s list of “unfinished business”.
ONeill has the challenge to define our separate path as a people and as a nation, not to allow us to disintegrate into a dependant economic basket case. He has to ensure we do not become an enclave of resource extraction, leaving behind polluted oceans and scarred landscapes, of an equally scarred and soul-less people, helpless, confused and poverty stricken, devoid of any real idea of who we are and where we are headed.
For Somare, who signed the First Project Agreement for Bougainville and for Chan who signed to spill blood, the healing of Bougainville will be a fitting closure, for the past to be properly buried, and for the future to be welcomed together. For without properly dealing with these matters, this matter of “unfinished business”, we can never wipe the sorrow from the Islands of Bougainville; we will not have served the national interest, and we cannot go on the world stage as a complete whole.
Is Peter ONeill one of the sons that the great Simbu Chief Kondom Agaunduo spoke of in his maiden speech to the SPC, or is he just another ‘yes’ man for the Australians, doing their bidding so that he can increase his own barns, while the rest of the country starve? Does Peter ONeill have the smarts of a modern education and business acumen to really serve the national interest, or will be just another drunken politician, pandering to his mates, and the sharks and vultures already circling around and above the nation looking to extract our resources and leave us bare?
Toea Wisil’s triumph was really our triumph indeed as a people. The idea that this Highlands lass could dare to burst through all manner of human impediments, the chains of time and history, the insurmountable social religious and cultural prejudices, to stamp her mark on a premier world qualifying event is remarkable when you consider that in the early 1930s as Sydney Harbour Bridge was being opened, the world didn’t even know then that highlanders like the people of Ialibu-Pangia ever existed in the interior of this country. With every TV stations bearing down on her, Wisil gave the world a rare insight into what we as a people, this ancient Melanesian primordial odyssey have birthed, and what is to come! While the nation prepares to host the next South Pacific Games, one wonders whether we will be proud to cheer our red black and gold, or will we die of complacency, indifference, and simply fizzle into nothingness? The real question again is, does Peter ONeill – the man from Ialibu-Pangia, another young highlander like Wisil, possess the skill, courage, mental, intellectual and moral fortitude to rise to the call of the nation, to lift the pride of this nation high and assert our position as a Melanesian people. Does he have what it takes to not only give us cause to celebrate and showcase our nation in the coming games, but show those sharks and vultures that circle him; that he is a nationalist, that this is the land of an ancient and free people, a people of pride, strength and culture and he will serve the national interest above all else? That we will not be bought or sold for political or economic convenience? That the birth place of the Melanesian nations- the heart and soul of Melanesia is not for sale?
These questions are only for Peter O’Neill to answer, and prove his personal mettle. If he fails and sells us cheap to the Australian and other interests, (as there are many signs already that he will fail us), then that will be his legacy, and his only. If he becomes the convenient conduit to allow Australians to crush our heart and soul as a people, then this nation will never forgive him, future generations will not forgive him, and all the labour of our forefathers and the fathers of our Constitution have laboured in vain.
This alone remains Peter O’Neill’s greatest challenge as Prime Minister today, as the wolves are no longer at the gates huffing and puffing, they are in his living room, in and under his bed, and at his table.
It is therefore incumbent on other leaders to also stand up for this nation, just as the former Governor for Morobe did, to rule a line in the sand, and tell the hordes that prey on our people and their Leaders, to stay outside the line, and clarify their wish lists. Australia has proven that it cannot be trusted to secure our Constitution, our Judiciary and our democracy according to principles of rule of law. Australia has proven its ability to openly manipulate our politics and our institutions to serve its own interests. Australia is only here to serve its economic and strategic interests, and we cannot blame it for that, as long as our leaders wake up from their deep slumber and protect our own National Interests.
Our Laws and our Constitution, and our Parliamentary system was adopted from England. We must not lose sight of our own origins both as a people and as a modern nation State. Peter ONeill has the advantage of the wise Counsel of Somare, Chan and Wingti at his disposal. Somare for issues relating to national identity as a modern Melanesian State, Chan and Wingti to help define and chart the economic course that serves the overall strategic national interest s of this country. Those with wish lists in bed with ONeill must be made to define and measure them against clearly stated interests of the nation. If these interests are not defined, and made subservient to the national interests by our young Leaders like ONeill, then the wolves will definitely eat us. Before we realize what is going on, ONeill will have successfully sold our people and the national interest down the river, and he will have sailed into the sunset with his gains, and we will be left to ponder what really went wrong as we struggle as a soul-less nation to live with the manacles of economic slavery, control and poverty he placed us under. God forbid that this should happen!