Ethnic riots ruining cities, towns

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday April 20th, 2016

 ETHNIC violence is turning our urban centres like Port Moresby, Lae and Madang into tribal war zones and portraying Papua New Guinea as one of the last frontiers where uncivilised tribesmen still roam, pillage and kill at will.

A clash last weekend between two groups from Hela spilled into the Gordon market and resulted in the destruction of the biggest informal market in Port Moresby.

The violence also disrupted the capital city’s public transport system when PMV operators protested against the stoning of their buses at Gordon market. Thousands of PMV users were left stranded late Monday and yesterday.

Just last week, Madang town experienced one of its worst cases of ethnic violence when people from East Sepik and Western Highlands fought a running battle which is alleged to have started after some unruly Sepik youths stoned a PMV bus owned by a highlander. 

The continuing ethnic violence in our cities and towns shows that modernisation has had little or no impact on the mind set and behaviour of many of our people.

Despite the legal ramifications, ethnic and tribal groups continue to take the law into their own hands through fighting and destruction of property. 

The latest ethnic clashes in Madang and Port Moresby are a glaring example of the age-old payback tendencies and acts of revenge that are allowed to persist in our cities and towns.

As NCD Metropolitan Superintendent Benjamin Turi said: “This kind of attitude is unbecoming. The city must be safe for everyone to live and move around in.”

It’s no wonder that Port Moresby has been described as one of the most dangerous cities to live and work in. Not only is the capital city infested with all kinds of criminals but violent tribesmen are running amok in the streets.

While Port Moresby has its share of ethnic violence, it is nothing new to Lae, the country’s industrial hub and gateway to the populous Highlands region. 

The Highlands Highway links Lae city and Morobe province to the six highlands provinces – Eastern Highlands, Chimbu, Western Highlands, Enga, Southern Highlands and Hela – and is accessible to highlanders migrating to Lae and other coastal centres like Madang. 

Migrations of people from the Highlands to Lae have been ongoing for the last three decades and while the numbers have fluctuated over t, a large number of highlanders have become permanent residents in the city and their children, especially those who were born there, now call Lae their place of origin. 

Likewise, many highlanders and people from other coastal provinces have migrated to Port Moresby over the years and are now permanent residents. Their children call the capital city their home as many were born here.

Despite their change of environment, many of these people continue to think and behave the way their ancestors did. In times of conflict with people from other provinces, they are prepared to fight and die just the way their ancestors did.

As National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop said recently when condemning such violence, those people engaging in ethnic clashes should leave Port Moresby.

Parkop will probably be the first to admit that it is easier said than done – repatriating warring tribesmen and their families back to their home provinces.

The governor should seriously consider suggestions to introduce the Vagrancy Act to stop the uncontrolled urban drift that is the root cause of ethnic conflicts and violence in Port Moresby. 

Papua New Guineans will continue to suffer from the negative effects of ethnic conflicts unless our political leaders take a tougher stand on this issue.

It remains to be seen whether the Vagrancy Act will help to resolve ethnic conflicts but it may be a start in preventing the uncontrolled movement of people from the rural areas to the urban centres. 

There have been arguments for and against this legislation, which critics believe is against the freedom of movement as stipulated in the Constitution.

The current tensions between the ethnic groups in Port Moresby and Madang have the potential to erupt into full-scale ethnic violence, something that must be avoided at all costs. 

Our cities and towns can ill-afford such disruptions to life, business operations and government services.