The National, Thursday September 17th, 2015
SIR Julius Chan, one of the founding fathers was heard on national radio the other day reminiscing about the nationalist aspirations that drove the independence agenda more than 40 years ago.
One could infer from his comments that an important and unique aspect of the emerging nation was the general Melanesia culture of sharing and caring which made independence possible.
Leaders and the masses were agreed that the real motivation to aspire for self-determination was the transcendent common good over any individual or regional considerations.
That is based on the age-old village system of government by tribal and clan leaders. Though some may have been authoritarian in meting out cruel justice by the hand of the sorcerer, traditional leaders everywhere in this country by and large had always aspired for the common good.
Even the widow and the orphan had and have their place of honour in the village community. That is, until recently and in the face of a cash-driven economy and “foreign concepts” of individualism materialism.
With that common nationalist sentiment, drawing consensus for the national constitution in its current form was done with little resistance.
It must have taken quite some nerve for a bunch of mostly young public servants who have not quite gone past the age where youthful energy and idealism has been sufficiently conditioned by the wisdom of old age.
Thanks to very willing and sympathetic friends, however, this crop of national leaders had political independence delivered without the drama that had greeted similar nationalistic aspirations elsewhere around the globe.
The World War II had ended barely two decades earlier and the process of decolonisation had spread across Asia and the Pacific.
There were precedents out there and other noteworthy nationalist leaders, authors and philosophers for our fathers to take their cue from.
Yet the founding fathers were virtually treading on a completely new and untested adventure – to attempt to unite the multiplicity of ‘mini-nations’ into a united nation.
The emerging states from the process of decolonisation had a few characteristics in common; they were non-white, with developing economies, facing internal problems that were the result of their colonial past, which sometimes put them at odds with European countries and made them suspicious of European-style governmental structures, political ideas, and economic institutions.
In the same year that Australia released its United Nations trusteeship of Papua New Guinea thereby granting it independence, other former colonial establishments were granted autonomy or independence: The Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean was granted independence by France, Portugal let go of Angola, Mozambique and East Timor, the Netherlands granted independence to Suriname, then Dutch Guiana.
In celebrating Papua New Guinea’s 40-year political history it must be said that it is a time to reminisce and thank the founding fathers. We ought to revisit the ideals of those hot-headed young men who some thought were hurrying an independence that was still years into the future.
Though they themselves may have been distracted by the fast pace of advancement that took over after independence, their aspiration and aspirations are still with us today and very much relevant.
Their aspirations for economic development have borne out at least at the macro level. The economy has expanded remarkably in the 40 years.
At the macro level, things are as impressive as the plaudits and positive minded economists have been telling us.
But the daunting, almost surmounting challenge is in transforming that national wealth to be of relevance to the household – to put a smile on the face of the housewife in the grocery store or send the school kid away on a full stomach.
The challenge is to take the orphan and urchin off the streets of Port Moresby.
The Papua New Guinean way can be harnessed in this modern age.
We do not have to conform to the economic thinking of the world driven by ideals contrary to those that the nation was founded upon.
This is the challenge facing the young leaders who have taken the baton from the founding fathers.