How to unpick the past, saving the emancipatory threads, and discarding those that have led to subjugation and conflict.
This is the challenge facing Bougainville as it enters a new phase in its history.
The World Bank has returned. The Australian government has returned. Other regional powers have a presence, principal among them China. The mining consortiums and loggers are back, as are the shady deals and discontent.
Economic development is being reimagined, not as the continuation of a colonial project, but as the autonomous will of Bougainville’s parliament. However, it is a will expressed under the weight of political institutions designed to be supported by a significant accumulation of capital, from which tax receipts can be extracted. They lean in their very design to an economy dependent on natural resource exploitation.
On the other hand, at a grass-roots level people are repairing the land that was damaged. Culture is being revived. Indigenous agrarian practices are being embraced. Local savvy is being harnessed to bridge the social divides and problems that have endured in post-conflict Bougainville. New forms of leadership and governance are being imagined.
It is unclear how these different, at times antagonistic forces will play out, as independence becomes a more tangible reality for Bougainville. Visions of independence will almost certainly lead to contentious politics.
At the same time there is an intensely creative force at work on Bougainville. A new course is being set. The destination is yet unclear.
Renewal - Further Context
Over fifteen years have passed since the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. It addressed immediate factors essential to ending armed hostilities. However, other questions have been left unanswered.
For example, how can the antagonistic vestiges of the colonial project be wound back so impacted communities may re-join with their own histories and find new ways forward that are sympathetic to their culture, ways of life, and the philosophical values this involves.
These important questions, that arguably ring loudest in the mine impacted areas, have often been overshadowed by public policy decisions that aim to reignite forces introduced during the colonial period. This includes fertilising a nascent capitalist economy by exposing natural resources to large inflows of foreign capital, through mining, forestry and fisheries; and focusing education, infrastructure, public investment, and other support services, on processes that can spark intensive forms of capital accumulation.
When the Autonomous Bougainville Government announced its intention to reopen the Panguna mine – with support from outside bodies such as the World Bank and Adam Smith International – the tension between those seeking to advance the objectives first set by the colonial administration, and those looking to critically appraise it, found expression in the rising tensions witnessed in Central Bougainville. As the Bougainville government issues mining exploration licenses to foreign mining companies that permits them to investigate the potential for industrial mines in other parts of Bougainville, these tensions may spread further.
Against this backdrop, the final part of this series focuses on the thinkers and community members who are attempting to heal the wounds of the past, by rejuvenating new ways of life, not imagined in the colonial project. Some are returning to custodial lands destroyed by the mine, to connect in a personal way with ancestors, and resuscitate the traumatised landscape. Others are embarking on radical new initiatives designed to engage young people in practices that develop their own communities, on a footing they are sovereign over, and in terms that are sympathetic to the values of their culture.
These initiatives are a testament to an ongoing process of intellectual critique that is alive within communities, and a continued appetite for taking back control over a history that has been overdetermined by projects designed abroad, and imported, without consent.
- Site Village
‘I was one of the supporters of the logging companies during my young days. But somehow I changed my life’.
The crisis was Bruno’s wake up call.
‘If there is no land, there is no life’.
As blood spilt, he began a monastic journey. Bruno planted over a million trees.
‘I realised that the environment itself is a source of life for me. And I've got to safeguard it and I've got to treat it in a way that is going to help my people, my future generations’.
Bruno has established a seed farm for native flora. He also teaches sustainable agrarian practices.
‘The Bougainville Crisis, I don't want that name to be somehow forgotten by the people of Bougainville. Thats why I had to call it Bougainville Crisis Integrated Mini Forestry’.
'We've got several thousands of all sorts of varieties of tree crops. I produce about 2,000 varieties of seeds ... My idea is for us not to lose any of our indigenous tree species ...
Bruno’s agrarian college uses applied methods of instruction that centre on student experimentation and critical reflection.
‘The way I educate my people, is through demonstrations, and also through awareness. If we just keep the students inside the classes I think they wont learn anything ...’.
Graduates take the knowledge and the duty to share it with their communities.
“I think in the near future we are going to revive the wholeness that has been lost”.
Peter Arwin and Susan Onavui
- Old Dapera
‘Ancestral homes’, ‘spiritual beliefs’, ‘sacred waters’, ‘they were here’.
The camera pans out. Peter Arwin points to millions of tons of waste, dumped on top of Dapera village, where he is from.
His parents lost all they held sacred. They died still mourning this loss.
‘It’s a sad thing’.
‘Our life is intact with land. Land is our mother. Motherland’.
‘You destruct our land, you are destructing my life’.
On the waste rock mountain stands Susan Onavui, Peter’s sister.
She is returning to her ancestral home.
“We have to come back because we were from here”.
It is a pilgrimage. It is a return. 130 metres above Old Dapera.
‘We walk on the stones and its very hard’.
‘We fill the water from far away land’. It is transported by hose.
Flowers are brought in as well, to give the ancient place colour.
Susan’s struggle to reclaim her ancestral land is a poignant signal of a wider struggle to reclaim a lost history.
- Simalaka Village
Many were displaced by the war. Many left to fight. Michael helps all people return.
‘I have been working very closely with the village people in our endeavour to resettle the people back to their villages’.
They must resume their place and reacclimatise.
This process is complicated. Different age groups had different experiences of conflict, which result in different needs today.
‘[People] need special attention at their own different levels’.
Michael speaks of a sensitive topic. War and long-term trauma.
Systematic research reveals many people, especially young men experienced and witnessed extreme violence during the war – it lives on today in serious mental health issues, that impact on the family unit.
‘Others were still in school when the crisis erupted, when the crisis came about, they were starting their learning process in their lives ... And during that time ... they learned violence, indirectly’.
‘They were not taught to be violent. But the situation made them to become violent. Now they’re married, and most of their children, they're violent kids’.
‘That’s one group we need to help through rehabilitation’.
Michael links the fear and aggression of war, to inter-personal violence today. ‘When a small conflict occurs [today], [those suffering trauma] automatically they'll run for knives’.
‘When mother and daughter fights, the daughter who experienced violence, will get up and then destroy plates, spoons, and cups, etc.’
‘The way forward is to free these young people from the emotional imprisonment they are in’.
- New Dapera
The rusted metal homes signal a community haunted by the past.
‘Mining destroyed our lives’, says Dapera village leader Samson Kaissy
Forgotten by the government, Dapera village lives the nightmare many feared during the 1960s.
‘The mining chemicals are all over our forest’.
Heavy rains wash away their gardens. There is no good food anymore. He points to a dilapidated building.
‘Look at our school here. You can't believe it’s in a place with so many resources the wealthy took and left with’.
Samson sees Dapera as the fate install for any community that welcomes industrial scale mining ventures.
He opposes the government’s plans to reopen Panguna.
Samson points to the Bougainville Mining Act (2015).
Funded by the World Bank, drafted by British firm Adam Smith International, and then approved by Bougainville’s parliament – for many it is a symbol of colonialism in new form.
‘The law came from the interests of investors and the government itself’.
“Instead of helping us with this man-made disaster, they are trying to create another destruction on the little land we have left”.
There are many economic paths that could secure a future free from the pain Dapera has suffered, Samson contends.
‘But the government is only looking at mining’.
The Bougainville government and its Australian advisers argue without mining, independence is impossible.
‘The Panguna mine is not the issue. Don’t tie it to Independence. Independence is one thing, the Panguna mine is another’.
‘The government must look for alternatives to find money. We have plantations, we have good seas. The Bougainville population is not that big, its maybe just over 300,000 people now ... we don't need a big project like this mining’.
‘I don't want this pain faced by us in Dapera to be experienced by other people elsewhere ... This pain must finish with us’.
A New Trojan Horse
Dominic Itta stands. He is member of parliament for Kongara, a region with deep scars from the Panguna mine and the convulsive history it provoked. Itta sits in the Autonomous Government of Bougainville parliament, or ABG for short. It is a semi-autonomous political creation of the Bougainville peace agreement signed in 2001.
The ABG manages the legal, policy, and material affairs of Bougainville, while preparations are made for independence.
Itta claims this vessel for autonomy and independence, the ABG, is now tethered by the same forces who originally corrupted the island and brought tensions to the point of violent eruption. International mining conglomerates are again prowling, he argues, in search of Bougainville's natural riches. Itta talks of a nascent nation, which has yet to find its feet or cultivate a breadth of leaders able to resist new encroachments upon the island's sovereignty by rich and powerful mining interests.
At the centre of this new incision by international mining power is a draft mining bill (which was subsequently passed by parliament). The law was financed by the Australian government and World Bank. Adam Smith International, a British firm widely seen as a corporate vanguard for the new neocolonialism, was selected to write the final mining law for the people of Bougainville. Adam Smith International used mining industry consultants, including an individual who had served as Rio Tinto Senior Lecturer at the University of Dundee, and another who had for years worked as a consultant for Rio Tinto, the same international corporation that engineered mass environmental destruction on Bougainville, and facilitated war crimes through its subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Limited.
Itta is furious.
"This mining law of Bougainville, we Bougainvilleans did not contribute ... This bill is a foreign law ... When they wrote it, they put their interests in it".
Itta argues slick methods were used to pass this law.
The 'lawyers lured us', he declares. 'They showed a Powerpoint presentation. They said this section is good, this law is good, these clauses are good. Because they were thinking, these members do not know anything about the bill'.
Itta laments, the members of parliament rendered themself open to the siren calls of foreign legal advisers by not reading the law.
'It went into the Members' pigeon holes, and I was one of the last members to receive a copy from the pigeon hole', Itta recalls. 'When I went to pick up mine, I realised that copies of other members were still in the pigeon hole. Which means even the members were not well versed with the law'.
The law, Itta complains, is written in the language of the white man.
'This law is not written in my language so that I could understand its hidden meanings'.
This new incursion by foreign interests, he fears, will lead to more blood unless resisted.
Colonel Alex Dakamari
- Morgan Checkpoint
Colonel Alex Dakamari guards the entry to Panguna.
No mining corporation will be allowed in.
Colonel Dakamari sees Panguna’s reopening as the thin edge of the wedge
‘It's not only the Panguna mine. This land is full of resources’.
‘If we reopen the mine it won't just concentrate on Panguna. It will spread out’.
Since he spoke these words, the Bougainville government has issued exploration licenses to Australian firm Kalia Resources. Kalia anticipates a large-scale venture in Bougainville’s north.
SR Metals, a Filipino mining concern with a chequered history, has been granted an exploration license over the Kokoda area of central Bougainville.
Back at Panguna BCL and Australian miner RTG battle it out to win the rights over Panguna.
‘Most of us we don't want the mime to reopen’, Colonel Dakamari maintains.
‘They are only talking with people who are in the main centres. I mean at Arawa, or people along the road. Not most people back in the villages. Because it’s people in the villages that have to decide’.
“The people who want to reopen the mine, I can call them big shots”.
‘Bougainvilleans they are peaceful people. And they are always humble. They have got patience. But if you keep on pushing them where they can't stand you now, they will start to retaliate’.
- Site Village
Verse by verse, Bruno explains a song that will shortly be performed by Paruparu village.
It sees in human history a religious parable.
Bequeathed with a rich bounty by the creator, human beings have attempted to master and exploit the natural world they are wedded too. This has paved the way for extinction, epitomised Bruno argues by climate change.
But there is hope.
It lies in the search for a new harmony with the natural world.
Bougainville can lead the way, and set an example Bruno contends.
The song then begins under a night sky.
“Our balanced Mother Nature is now destroyed. What are we going to do to revive it and bring back Mother Nature to its former glory?”.
Mining and independence
The World Bank and Australian colonial administration maintained during the 1960s that in order for Papua New Guinea to obtain independence, it must open up its natural resources to international investment. Only then would there be sufficient taxation receipts to fund a state created in Australia’s image.
Fifty years later the same economic argument is advanced, this time by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). Facing the prospect of independent statehood, which now appears likely following a resounding vote to leave Papua New Guinea in the 2019 Bougainville independence referendum, like its colonial predecessor the ABG has looked to Panguna as the means through which to fund the state and enliven the market structure it inherited.
Minutes record the ABG’s position in a meeting with different landowner factions.
President John Momis observed:
‘Panguna mine he said must be opened and there is an important need for a Unified Stand by ABG and Panguna Landowners’.
An intervention by the Minister for Natural Resources is also summarised.
‘Minister Michael Oni explained that there was no two ways about Panguna mine being opened in the not too distant future’.
Strong support for the government’s position was provided by two leading members of the Panguna Landowners Association Executive who had been voted out of office in 1987, Lawrence Daveona and Michael Pariu.
Both men were looking to reinvigorate pro-mining landowner bodies, and unite them under an umbrella organization which could negotiate the mine’s reopening.
As this new organ emerged, documents from the period reveal the commercial calculations underpinning this endeavour.
One document states:
‘Here is a mine worth K 4.4 Billion to us capable of producing K 1.2 Billion per annum (K522 Million each per annum for National Government and ABG/Bougainvilleans and K235 Million per annum for Landowners), for us per annum without us having to spend money on it. It will create thousands of jobs for us and provide a FREEPASS to every Bougainvillean for free education, free healthcare and good income opportunities.’
It is predicted that a reopened Panguna would provide all landowner families with a sizable annual income through royalty payments:
‘If we assume there are 4000 adult descendants of the original 510 titleholders, this corresponds to K 35,714 per annum or about K2, 976 per adult landowner per month’.
While cargo cults are often a disparaging gloss used to depict a wide range of movements in Papua New Guinea, here was an example of a euphoric landowner faction who attributed almost millenarian qualities to the mine reopening.
Bougainville Copper Limited fanned these gusts of enthusiasm for reopening coming from pro-mining quarters. A presentation in London by BCL records:
‘Reopening the mine and ABG economic independence are intertwined’.
‘Militants are becoming more amenable to re-opening but are being replaced by outside parties with vested business interests opposed to reopening the mine’.
‘The current ABG and PNG governments are supportive but the political situation remains fluid … President Momis declared support for reopening Panguna’
‘ABG income from Panguna will help make the Province economically self-reliant and accelerate social benefits such as health, education and employment’.
As a select ensemble of interest groups rallied around the mine’s reopening, international institutions brought their weight to bear on this delicate power balance.
The World Bank funded international consultant firm Adam Smith International to formulate the ABG’s mineral policy and draft a new Mining Act. Meanwhile the Australian government funded advisers to help prime and facilitate Panguna mine negotiations. Kiaps and District Officers were no more, today it is polished consultants and international academics.
As mining is reintroduced this time around, on a rationale with a much older vintage, the scale of the proposed industrial enterprise has expanded. Previously all sites outside Panguna had been ring-fenced from mining under a moratorium agreement. This has been lifted.
Under the policy framework established by Adam Smith International, foreign mining firms are gaining exploration licenses throughout the island, in conjunction with local fixers. This is inciting heightened tension, as the chequered track record of the companies being invited in are exposed to the public.
In contrast to the ensemble of actors promoting mining as the bridge to self-reliance and independence, a significant groundswell at the grass-roots level have argued for an alternative bridge grounded in indigenous systems of tenure, production, governance, and social management. They offer, it is argued, a sustainable framework for exerting sovereignty, governing without the need for significant taxation receipts, and retaining value on Bougainville where it is produced. On the other hand, it is claimed, increasing dependency on international commodity and financial markets erodes sovereignty, diminishes political independence, increases vulnerability to international economic cycles, drains value from the island, and harms local assets.
This perspective, while finding vocal expression, lacks a political movement that could feasibly organise, resource, and operationalise in practice its overarching principles.
By contrast the market and governmental structures modified and built upon since colonial times, has the support of the ABG, business factions, international donors, investors, and foreign governments.
The Mining Act
A decision was made by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in 2011 to reopen Panguna.
Six years later the ABG lifted a moratorium that had prohibited mining outside Panguna. Now the entire island’s mineral wealth can be explored.
A similar proposal had been submitted back in 1989 by the North Solomons Premier, Joseph Kabui. In that instance all exploration rights would have gone to a joint-venture in which Kabui, and his political colleague, John Momis, were shareholders, alongside an Australian investor.
Now it was envisaged that a wider set of actors would be able to bid for Bougainville’s mineral wealth.
However, while mining powers had been devolved to the ABG under the Bougainville Peace Agreement, the government lacked a policy, legislative or administrative apparatus through which to facilitate this growing political desire for large-scale mines across the island.
Enter the World Bank and Australian Government. Through loans and foreign aid grants, consultants were brought in to create a policy, administrative and legislative framework.
Adam Smith International (ASI), for instance, was contracted through World Bank funding to design Bougainville’s policy and legislative framework.
The consultants brought to Bougainville by ASI enjoyed close ties to the mining industry, including Rio Tinto.
More generally speaking ASI has a reputation for advancing the interests of international investors, at the cost of local communities. They promote regimes of privatization, deregulation, and low taxation in ‘developing’ countries.
The firm has sparked controversy over its ‘inappropriate’ methods, to quote a UK House of Commons Committee statement.
Alongside World Bank dollars, Australian aid funded foreign experts to advise the ABG, and those landowner factions supporting Panguna’s reopening.
Key experts include Anthony Regan. At the time Regan was based at an Australian National University research centre funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs.
As part of the funding agreement centre scholars agreed to brief Australia’s foreign, defence, and intelligence agencies, drawing on data acquired from the region.
Another key expert brought to Bougainville is Professor Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh. He is the Chief Investigator of a controversial study funded by the mining industry. This includes Rio Tinto who contributed an undisclosed amount.
The growing role played by outside consultants with close links to the mining industry and foreign governments provoked increased resistance on Bougainville.
As a draft of the Mining Act was circulated tensions grew.
One local Chief wrote to his member of parliament stating: ‘As our member of Eivio Torau in the ABG Parliament, I can suggest to you on behalf of the people in the villages who are aware of the current situation, that you will bring great pain and mourning on our people if you choose to vote to pass the current Bill. This Bill would put us back into the position we were before 1989 from which we honestly believed we were freed’.
Noah Doko, who would become a Member of Parliament for Central Bougainvillle in 2015, wrote a year before: ‘Let us all realise the truth - this mining Bill will likely lay the foundations for another Bougainville crisis’.
Peacebuilder Blaise Iruinu pleaded ‘don't interfere with my people's affairs at any time and particularly at this delicate stage when we are making much progress. It is likely to destabilise our society, undo our work and create division and tension’.
Petitions signed from leaders across the island were submitted in protest. They contained striking criticism of the ABG and the foreign consultants funded from abroad.
Nonetheless, the Mining Act drafted by ASI was passed in 2015 by the ABG. There has been credible claims many MPs did not read it and were unaware of its contents.
Subsequent analysis produced by Jubillee Australia warned it did not uphold the principles of free prior informed consent. They also pointed to the significant criminal sanctions legislated for those protesting anticipated mining projects.
As exploration licenses are issued across Bougainville, it remains to be seen how this framework engineered using expertise drawn from Britain and Australia will mediate local politics, if growing level of resistance are experienced like back in the 1960s.
It is also unclear if existing tensions will escalate as some fear putting the peace process in peril.
Concepts such as independence, self-reliance, sovereignty and development, are central to political aspirations on Bougainville at all levels. However, their meaning for different groups often varies quite considerably. For some these ideals are achieved by building on the legacies bequeathed from the colonial era, for others it is through their selective dismantlement. For some it is about reviving culture, tradition and local savvy, for others it is a matter of importing skills, education, and expertise from abroad. Of course, these are the two extremes, in between lies a considerable spectrum of views and positions.
These different potential fault-lines of contention will not necessarily provoke new hostilities as some fear. To see these different positions clash, a seismic event would be required that accelerates and compresses the associated tensions to the point where they become combustible. There would also need to be a trigger.
But as the question of independence materializes on the immediate horizon for Bougainville, the presence again of the World Bank, and the Australian government, in the form of consultants and policies promoting an extractive led political economy – has echoes of the past. Except now these moves are being primed by an Autonomous Bougainville government sympathetic the economic rationale first articulated in the 1960s by the colonial regime. Resistance comes from communities, activists and ex-combatants with the benefit of hindsight.