By GYNNIE KERO
A LOUD crescendo of cheering and singing filled the air as hundreds waited to welcome him at the Boram airport in Wewak. For the people of East Sepik, this was the man to whom they had given their unabated approval to lead them and be their mouthpiece in politics for nearly a decade.
It was around midday last Thursday. The scorching Wewak sun did nothing to keep the people away from the man who was not only the head of their province in parliament, but at different times also the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. His name is down in history as the first Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea at the attainment of Independence on Sept 16, 1975. He is also down in history as the longest serving member of parliament so far, having started his political career in 1968 when Australia was still in charge of the affairs of the nation of PNG.
Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, fondly known as Father of the Nation, was returning to Wewak as the Governor of East Sepik for the last time. People used their hands, and whatever piece of cloth they could find to shield their faces from the glare of the sun. No matter what, they willed themselves to remain around the perimeters of the terminal, to catch a glimpse of their icon.
As soon as the Government-chartered aircraft touched down at the Boram airport, people openly wept, saddened by the fact that this would be the last time that this great man from Karau in Murik Lakes would step down onto Sepik soil as their MP.
The Fokker 70 aircraft was given a wash down on its way to the apron, and the waiting crowd.
Sir Michael disembarked and after inspecting a guard of honor from the Second Pacific Islands Regiment (2RPIR) based at Moem, left the airport for the aptly-named, Somare stadium.
The two lane road starting from Boram airport to the stadium opposite the Kreer compound was packed to capacity with cheerful people and children waving from either side of the road.
As soon as he reached the stadium, a chief’s feathered headdress was placed on him and he was hoisted onto a decorated chair and carried onto the VIP podium.
Sir Michael gave a brief recital about his time when he first stepped into the political limelight.
He jokingly told the crowd about how a young man from Maprik (former Maprik MP Sir Pita Lus) invited him, the young bloke from Murik, to be an interpreter in parliament.
He had to leave behind his wife, Lady Veronica and their eldest child in Wewak and travel to Port Moresby.
Jokes aside, he went on to urge the people gathered there to uphold family units and protect their rich country- PNG.
He heaped praise on the Sepik people for their confidence and trust in him in their continuous voting of him to be their MP without break for 49 years. His message to them was that he has done his part for the country and the onus was now on the younger generation.
Deputy speaker and Maprik MP John Simon who accompanied Sir Michael to Wewak said he was honoured to bring him home. Simon said it was a Maprik (Sir Pita) who requested Sir Michael to initially leave Wewak for a career in politics and it was only fitting that another Maprik take him home at the end of a distinguished career.
Simon said “To facilitate this programme (farewell) and bring you home to the people in ESP who gave you the mandate over the years, is a great honor.”
ABG president Dr John Momis also paid tribute to his longtime friend Sir Michael in a statement.
“My personal encounter with Sir Michael Somare dates way back to our younger days.
Fate must have brought us together over barbecue and beer in Wewak. Little did we know that soon we would be working together and forge a path for this nation. I was then full of idealism and he was brimming with pragmatism. The combination of two different yet attuned minds resulted in greater efforts to trail blaze a path not many at that time dared to tread. Our minds were somehow shaped by the events of the tumultuous 60’s when young men in America were sent to wage war in Vietnam, where personalities like Martin Luther King and the Kennedys were taking the world in storm with their ideals and advocacies, the impending domination of communism, the construction of Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile crisis, Civil Rights protests among others. Shouts of freedom from colonialism, racism, inequality, communism and capitalism reverberated in all corners of the world. I must say the stage was set, the curtain rises.
If there is anyone who would have known him up close as a person, I consider myself honored and privileged. He is not perfect like all of us. There will always be critics and dissenters from his style of leadership but this I have to say, for over 49 years in public service that I have known him he gave his whole life to the people of Papua New Guinea. He was true to his commitment to the people. He pursued relentlessly the right to be free and pushed to unify a diverse country like Papua New Guinea. He did much and he did them faithfully. This I would say is loyal service at its best yet to be matched by and emulated by our current breed of politicians. He exercised his role as a true politician – guided by his faith and embracing his role as a vocation, he ventured into the unknown responding to a call without fear. He was there always ready to listen and to implement results of choices and judgments. Unknown to him perhaps, his biggest contribution was in politics in the tradition the philosopher Aristotle and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas who believe that politics is the noblest of sciences because it is through politics that one can do the most good by passing good laws and politics in the natural order. He exercised and maximized his political strength systematically by not taking the shorter route of traditional politics where the needs of a select few typical of a Melanesian mind takes precedence over the common good. Instead of shrinking from the challenges of his time like the fear of independence and the injustices of colonialism he literally gave himself to pursue his vision of an inspiring future for Papua New Guinea. It was a mark of a true leader when he took the bold step of making things happen and taking ownership of major decisions unpopular as they might have been.
I owe him much. For a pragmatist to put his full trust and confidence in an ideologue like me is a rarity. Here is a man whose vision is achieved because he trusted everyone, he encouraged camaraderie and he collaborated without any reservation if only to achieve results. Upon my election in 1972, he made me Deputy and working Chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee paving the way for everything that we citizens are enjoying now. Later he made me the Minister for Decentralization that again opened more doors of opportunities for governance and development in every province in Papua New Guinea. Our professional relationship was never near perfect. We had clashes and disagreements in many instances. There came even a point where I challenged and stood up against him. This, however, did not deter us from reconciling and collaborating to secure the best collective interests of Papua New Guinea. How can you turn against a man who all the way was a sincere and charismatic politician? His reputation to calm things down where there were incongruities and eventually convince everyone to move forward is an endearing trait that makes him a cut above the rest. Si Michael Somare, the man of the people clearly understood that Parliament is the best venue where one can do the most good for the whole country; where his commitment to serve the people is unparalleled; where collegiality or first among equals (primus inter pares) took precedence in his leadership style. All these things clearly indicated the quality of a true leader who never assumed that he was better than everybody else. At this juncture, may I on behalf of the people of Bougainville express our heartfelt gratitude to this man who together with Sir Paul Lapun stood up for the just right of the landowners against CRA and the Colonial Government when many leaders opted to look the other way and keep quiet. Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare understood and supported the peoples aspirations and grievance and rights not to mention that we were the first provincial government to be recognized under his vision of decentralization.
As the curtain falls, we give our applause and standing ovation. Thank you! May history be fair to you, acknowledge your contribution to this nation and the Pacific Region and put you in its annals which you rightfully deserve.
So long my dear friend! We who share your dream stand ready to forge a new human solidarity necessary for the transformation of our society so that your legacy of always imagining inspiring future will be realized.”
By GYNNIE KERO