In 2011 President Momis argued that if Bougainville is to achieve political independence, then first economic power must be conquered. The conquest of economic power, the President claimed, can only occur through large-scale mining. To quote Dr Momis, ‘political power without economic power is nothing. Bougainville copper mine must open under a new regime’.
What has happened to our minds when we begin to believe only foreign elites can empower us economically? It defies history!
Rise up and stand tall
The observation I am about to make should not come as a newsflash to any observant political leader – Bougainville quakes with great economy power, it heaves everyday with unbound energy that feeds families and sustains communities across the country. Bougainville has within itself enormous capacity. A people who have struggled for decades to throw off the colonial saddle that has undermined our culture, custom, ways, land and roots.
What Bougainville now need are visionary leaders, who have the foresight to see the raw economic power beating in the chest of every citizen. Raw economic power if harnessed, if mobilised could build roads, schools, and hospitals, using our own strengths, human capital and cultural sense of innovation.
Why would we beg at the cooking pot of those who have killed and exploited us? Why take ‘aid’ from Australia – do we know where this aid has come from? What its purposes are? This is a country who has grown rich from the dispossession of its indigenous people, whose ancient lands have been mined into oblivion. The milk of Australian aid is tainted with the blood of its first peoples.
We all must stand up, we are all nation makers, we are all revolutionaries – no one can afford to say anymore, let him make the decision, let him build a road, let him construct a country. We must construct this country, with our hands and culture as our assets.
Bougainville need leaders who can unite people, who can set aside differences, who can excite people about the possibilities that lie within us, rather than constantly racing to sell Bougainville off to bidders abroad who have eyes for nothing but their own enrichment. We need leaders who can stop the property speculators and the price gougers who exploit consumers, and those civil servants who clock off early, drink, steal and sign off on overpriced contracts for friends.
We are a people who survived a brutal military onslaught and a blockade designed to starve us into submission, even little children were denied basic medicines. But we survived, and now we can prosper, if Bougainville again draws on that same sense of self-reliance and pride in our own ways, to develop communal initiates that can meet contemporary and future social needs.
Bougainville needs locally driven projects that use our traditional knowledge, land and environment, to sustain life. This must be coupled to innovative plans that link our rural areas through locally built infrastructure that we can maintain – also we must use local and international technologies to sustainably improve our rural productive practices, so we can improve yield per acre, maximise efficient land usage, and engage thoughtfully with international markets, selling the produce that will see value retained on Bougainville.
But what the people of Bougainville don’t need are divisive politicians, setting community against community, telling us that we will be forever dependent on ‘aid’, unless we invite in the foreign wolves to devour our resources. When leaders do this they are confessing to the people they are not fit for parliament, they have no ideas, or vision, nor do they believe in the collective power of their constituents.
The Panguna Obsession
So what will happen if the Panguna mine again opens against the will of the region’s custodians as some politicians hope? It will be an economic mirage.
Politicians and administration officials will start planning grand visions for Bougainville’s future, which will all hinge on the cargo-cult of mining flooding us with money from the heavens. But a small shift in global copper prices could dash all that in a second. And we will be left with grand plans, public debt, and a servile government who will have to beg to the World Bank and IMF for assistance – they will help, but they will want their pound of flesh, in other words our timber, marine-stock, minerals and land.
Then what happens if copper prices stabilise. Perhaps in ten to twenty years the ABG might even see some revenues again from Panguna, while landowners suffer environmental devastation, the upheaval of their culture, and migration from across the region. But mining revenues become like a drug, the top public officials become use to the good life, the new four-wheel drives, and the air-conditioned homes. Let the backward villagers sweat they say, I am a modern man.
Then as revenues from Panguna dry up, these same top public officials will start to nervously look around for a new hit. Geologists will be sent across the island, looking for the next big-sell off.
In addition to these civil servants dependant on revenues, will be a class of professional fraudsters, which we have seen serially attack the public finances of PNG from inside government and from outside too. They will set up all sorts schemes, to steal from the public purse, they will get rich, have nice houses, and holiday homes in Cairns. Do we want this for Bougainville?
But we are told, mining will be a mere period of transition, using the revenues government will build a diversified economy. This is a theory that has failed to ever work in countries similar to Bougainville, and it has been a clear failure in PNG. Mining becomes like a black hole that absorbs the energies of government, while the people’s economy is ignored – no technical assistance, infrastructure or advice is given to the villager, because uninspiring leaders do not see enough gold for them in it.
This is because the very people who believe in mining as being the answer to all our prayers are the ones least suited to guiding a nation to political and economic independence – they are self-interested and have no vision beyond the advice whispered in their ear from foreign advisers and international mining companies.
The problem Bougainville now face is that the mirage of mining has made some leaders lazy and sapped them of thought. Who needs to work, plan and innovate when mining has all the answers?
The people of Bougainville have been weaned off the drug of foreign dependence, it is time to discover a new generation of ideas to build an economically powerful, self-reliant Bougainville that draws on, rather than disrespects, its inner-strengths and traditional ways.