Go Pinis

Go Pinis

Sunday, September 28, 2008

No good

So it is about time that I introduced you to the history of conflict in this region and its impact on life here. Its timely having just returned from a trip to Arawa, the former capital of the Bougainville province.

Before the opening of Panguna mine in central Bougainville, this former province of Papua New Guinea was a quite place known mainly for its plantations. Development in Bougainville jumped forward with the opening of the Panguna copper mine in the 1970s (located in the centre of the main island, and one of the largest open cast mines in the world). The venture delivered significant revenue gains for Papua New Guinea - at the peak of production the Panguna mine was generating 45% of Papua New Guinea’s GDP.

This had a huge impact on Bougainville. For a start, Arawa was built pretty much from scratch, including a second town on the west coast. Hospitals, schools, power stations, a port and roads were all built to host over 3000 ex-pats, Bougainvilleans and PNG nationals (red skins). Landowners received millions through the deal, but, despite these benefits, serious malcontent was brewing in the highlands.

According to academic texts, conflict arose out of real and perceived environmental issues associated with the mine, the influx of Papua New Guinea labourers, contention over the percentage of revenue that should be invested in Bougainville vs PNG more broadly, and contention over titleholder arrangements (for a start, this is a matrilineal society, and all negotiations were arranged with local men). Francis Ona, leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, put it this way: “my fighting on Bougainville is based on these factors – one, we are fighting for man and his culture, and two, land and the environment. And the third one is independence.”

In 1988 conflict broke out and developed into a full fledged civil war between the BRA and Papua New Guinea forces (cue Mister Pip). A lack of discipline and control on both sides resulted in a pretty ugly conflict; about one tenth of the population died during the crisis.

What started as an attempt to assert more decision making power over the mine quickly became a war of independence. Ceasefires and peace agreements were repeatedly brokered and broken, but eventually a ceasefire was signed and honoured in 1997.

In 2001 a peace agreement was signed guaranteeing disarmament of Bougainville combatants, the creation of an Autonomous Bougainville Government, and provision for a referendum on independence in 2013. In 2005 the ABG was formed, and in 2006 a Strategic Action Plan for development was approved by the Bougainville Executive Council.

So, what are the noticeable impacts of this conflict? For a start, there’s the huge skill gap. The conflict was ongoing for about a period of nine years, and as you can imagine, things did not return to normal straight away. As a result, a lot of talented, skilled Bougainvilleans have left, and there is a big chuck of the demographic that haven’t completed a formal education. This shows itself in a number of different ways – firstly, in most urban centres you will notice a lot of young men, my age and younger, walking around with nothing to do. Over the channel, some of these guys will be wearing camo gears and carrying a knife (not because they are violent, but its just the thing they do here – most are really friendly). Working in the administration, you will notice that all divisions are understaffed, and mainly in their 50s. This is a real issue given that the life expectancy for males is sitting between 50 and 60 – the President, Joseph Kabui, passed away before the age of 60 in June, and he joins several members of the Administration.

What is acceptable in terms of violence is a little different here too. A fight here can escalate pretty quickly. Take last weekend for example – there was a fight recently between a Buka local and someone from Kieta (3 hours drive south). The Kieta man lost, badly. As a result, the wantok, or extended family of the Kieta man were here claiming retribution. There must have been 50-60 people down at the local hall, and we were advised to keep a low profile. Another story: over on the mainland a group of youths were drunk on homebrew, hanging out beside a road with nothing to do. A car drove past and for some reason one of the youths decided to throw a bottle at the windscreen. The car screeched to a halt and one of the passengers jumped out and killed the youth (knife in the heart). For some unknown reason, the youths decided the killer was from the south, so they rounded up a posse and went about terrorising all known southerners in the area. A roadblock was set up and, what with two roadblocks already in place (the permanent one in Panguna, and another further south following another death), Bougainville was effectively shut down.

Don’t be mislead though – things here are much better and these events are outside the norm…mostly. Being further north and the now centre of government has helped create a more peaceful vibe here in Buka. You can’t really tell that anything close to civil war took place. You’ve gotta go to Arawa to really get a sense of what happened.

Imagine it’s the 1970s and you’ve decided to go work in Arawa, a tropical paradise where you can enjoy a game of tennis or golf, dinner at the local resort, diving in tropical waters, fresh fruit and vegetables, glorious sunshine, a juicy salary and friendly locals sporting mean afros. Got that in your head?

Arawa today is…quite different. The courts and course have been swallowed by forest, the resort has been completely hollowed out and covered in graffiti, rusted structures peek out through thick vines, most of the expatriate accommodation has been burnt down, and the local sculpture in the park is riddled with bullet holes. The picturesque port nearby, once a sign of economic wealth, became a dumping ground for live and dead victims of the conflict (often thrown out of a helicopter). I imagine it would be a shock to anyone that brought their children here in the 70s.

It has been about ten years since the signing of the peace agreement, and most of Bougainville has settled down (relatively speaking). However, for some in the highlands, things haven’t changed much. The Panguna mine remains a no go area for most people, including government. A road block is in place and permits are required to pass through. There are still a few cowboys up there…there’s a self declared defence force and government up in Panguna, not recognised anywhere but in their own heads, but they have M16s so I don’t plan on taking the piss. Sadly they chose not to be parties to the peace agreement so disarmament efforts have not included that group (or so I understand).

All this makes things pretty interesting. I’m not sure what impression this might be creating for you, but I must emphasise how friendly and welcoming people are here. Its ridiculous. I walk down the road and there’s plenty of waves, smiles and how are yous. Locals are a little hurt by the reputation Bougainville has because, in all honesty, it is not a fair reflection of the people. The crime here is a result of the conflict, unemployed, unskilled, drunk youth who need help. They definitely do not represent the majority.

There is so much more to be said, but I will leave it at that. The rest of the story will be spread out over subsequent posts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Somehow I have managed to get myself installed on the local radio station, Radio Bougainville (call sign is Voice of the Sun Rise), which as it happens is just across the field from my house. Thing is, I bought my laptop just before I left and only uploaded about 10% of my music collection, and the radio station has hardly anything to draw on, so…I need your help!
I am playing at 8:30pm on Saturday nights for one hour as part of the youth programme. The basic idea is that I expose peeps to what's going on in terms of music around the world, keep them connected and share the good stuff. My debut was last Saturday and I have to say it was the most fun I've had with clothes on! Despite being really nervous I was grinning from start to finish, and only stuffed up my pidgin a little bit…
So please please please help a brother out and send some music my way! Anything goes, metal (there's actually a big following here!), electronica, pop, blues, anything good that you think people would dig, and some of the more popular stuff going around at the moment. Not only will you be doing me a HUGE favour but you will also be helping ensure Bougainvilleans have some mean tunes to rock out to! (that includes your stuff Taulima)
Please send anything in cd form, and I really need to know the song and artist details for each track – oh and by the way, can't be any swearing on the tracks, although I've already stuffed that up! Send to:


Thank you soooo much! Love your ways.
Ok, for the curious ones, here is the playlist for my first ever live broadcast:
Tangaroa – Tiki Taane (just to scare the crap out of the locals – chur Greta!)
Welcome to Jamrock – Damian Marley
Just – Mark Ronson feat Alex Grenwald
Mr Brown – Bob Marley and the Wailers
Pray for Grace – Michael Franti and Spearhead
Clav Dub – Rhombus
American Boy (Radio Edit w/ Kanye)
Romeo – Basement Jaxx
Millionaire – Kelis feat Andre 3000
Feel Good Inc – Gorillaz
Fix Up, Look Sharp – Dizzee Rascal
Homecoming – Kanye West feat Chris Martin
Don't Stop the Music – Rihanna
Always on my Mind – Tiki Taane
Midnight Marauders – Fat Freddy's Drop (my favourite – chur Shane!)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The MDGs

While on the topic of measuring development, I've been doing a bit of reading on the Millennium Development Goals. To quote Wikipedia, "The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that 189 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include halving extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development." Thanks Wikipedia.

We are currently planning a review of the Bougainville Strategic Action Plan here, which includes a number of indicators similar to the MDGs. Despite committing to in the SAP, no comprehensive data analysis or regular monitoring has been undertaken on these indicators. So, to get familiar with the task, I have been doing a bit of research. Some of you are no doubt familiar with the MDGs, so I am posting the following:


September 13, 2005
Necessary Measures


FIVE years ago, about 150 world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York and tried to move the mountain of global poverty. They adopted eight Millennium Development Goals - quantifiable measures of progress on problems like malaria, tuberculosis and child and maternal mortality. The achievement of those goals by 2015 would lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty.

The trouble is that progress toward these benchmarks often cannot be measured. And if their achievement cannot be measured, the goals are not only a letdown for the world's poor, but also a time bomb for the credibility of the United Nations. As world leaders gather in New York again this week, the United Nations will have to grapple with the question of whether progress is on track to achieve the goals by the 2015 deadline. So far, this inability to measure progress has meant that the United Nations has either guessed or remained silent.

Consider the hazard of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, a fate that befalls more than 500,000 women annually, according to the World Health Organization. The Millennium Development Goal on maternal mortality is to "reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio." Measuring that ratio requires an accurate count of both safe births and maternal fatalities.

But according to the United Nations Millennium Project, only a "handful of countries" can really prove the maternal mortality ratio is improving; poor, rural countries where obstetricians are scarce, home births are common and the dead are mourned privately simply do not have the data. That is why in 2000, their most recent assessment, scientists from the United Nations warned that "it would be inappropriate to compare the 2000 estimates with those for 1990," or to "draw conclusions about trends."

Malaria is another example where United Nations goals hinge on something immeasurable. In 2000, the organization's scientists warned that "it will not, in general, be possible to measure the overall incidence rate of malaria." Yet barely two months later, the United Nations placed bets on doing exactly that and persuaded the world's leaders to endorse a new Millennium Development Goal to start lowering the incidence of malaria by 2015.

Having ignored the advice of its own scientists and fashioned its goal unwisely, the United Nations today studiously avoids having an opinion on whether the malaria crisis - the disease is the No. 1 killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa - is getting better or worse. And yet, nobody who studies malaria doubts that it is getting worse.

Probably the most useful discussion the United Nations could plan for this week's meeting would be one that asked world leaders to endorse new goals against which they could truly measure progress. This is feasible: there are alternative ways to track malaria's toll or to assess the safety of pregnancies. For instance, dozens of demographic surveillance sites could be set up in the poorest countries to document births, deaths, illnesses and social services. This has already been done in countries like Tanzania and Ghana.

How disappointing it is that the United Nations leadership went to great lengths to ensure that no such discussion could happen this week. Last September, Louise Fr├ęchette, the United Nations deputy secretary general, instructed the organization's scientists that she didn't want the summit meeting being "distracted by arguments over the measurement of the Millennium Development Goals," and ordered that they refrain from proposing any refinements to the goals. This is lamentable political censorship.

By putting that discussion off limits, and pretending the Millennium Development Goals are meaningful as they now stand, the United Nations has lost five years on a short timeline and sabotaged its own vital mission to help the world's most unfortunate and needy people.

Amir Attaran, a scientist and lawyer, is a professor at the University of Ottawa.

For more on this debate, and a reply from Jeffrey Sachs (he helped draft the goals) see here.

Of interest....

You may or may not have heard of the Human Development Index.


Take a look and see where you respective country sits. Note that PNG has the third lowest ranking amongst Asia/Pacific nations. In a recent speech by the Deputy Prime Minister it was stated that 80% of the population live in rural houses with poor access to government services. He also felt that generally speaking, things are getting worse. Students here have been protesting over the fact that standards of living are so low here and job prospects are weak, despite huge wealth in natural resources and all the money coming into PNG.

One wonders why...

Also, the following links discuss projects that two fellow VSA volunteers are working on:

Lesley is providing assistance to Leitana, a counselling organisation whose foudner, Helen Harkena, was nominated for a Nobel Prize.


Kim, best friend of my flatmate Melanie, is working with an advocacy agency to help resettle the Carteret Islands peoples.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

A dingo stole my baby

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Earning my bread

Ok, so the ball has starting rolling here and I am getting more busy by the day. Just wrote the following to Ian 'The Pacemaker' Girvan, and thought you might like to know what I am up to here.

It has taken a bit, but am really starting to settle in here and find my path, really starting to enjoy myself. Have a lot more discretion over what I work on here, so much to do and room to create work for myself. Pretty stoked with that :)

Currently working on the terms of reference for the donor coordination and harmonisation group, which is pretty cool. Wrote my diss on NGO coordination so starting to feel like my career is finally going somewhere! Sitting at the table with AusAID, UNDP, EU etc so rubbing shoulders with all the right people. Also trying to get a research proposal off the gound, want to do a sample household survey on access to and quality of government services. Shaping up nicely.

Hmm what else...sheparding the drafting of the Goverment's corporate plan...nightmare that...required me to give a speech on managing for public outcomes! My former manager, Anna Cook, would have been proud. Or rolling on the ground laughing :) Even gave a copy of her paper on managing for public outcomes to a senior UNDP official.

Trying to get a stalled policy on youth off the ground as well, but not sure that the capacity is in place to get that going. Capacity is the BIG issue here. Would hate to work in Human Resources here. Speaking of which, may be leading some workshops to build policy skill sets in the CEOs here. Also want to do some scenario analysis type stuff but that is further down the line.

Oh and apparently we have to go over all the development projects that are being bid for this round. So kinda of a Treasury role there, should be interesting. Ooo ooo AND I have been asked to draft a memo outlining my thoughts on how to initiate a review of the Strategic Action Plan, and any issues to be wary of. Stoked to be offered that opportunity, can't wait to get stuck into it. Any review will have to wait until 2009 though so that's a wee way off.

That's more or less it. I'm also generally lending a hand or a bit of advice here and there, formally and informally. Good fun. We now have power after three weeks of blackout (no-one paid the bill) so the office is also a much more enjoyable place to be!

So by and large I feel I am going from strength to strength. The bach is really starting to feel like home now which is great. The med students are back in Adelaide and Mel is in Port Moresby so am home by myself now. Took a bit to adjust, but luckily have got a good group of friends here and they are keeping me company. Also seem to have the companion of a mangy mutt called Deeyogee. Clumsy as hell and has a scab on his left ear that won't heal, but he seems grateful that I just want to play fetch when there's a stick in my hand.

And every now and then I stop and realise how beautiful this place is, and how good it is to be here. Chur.

Big ups to the Wellington Massive.