The National, Friday 16th December 2011
JAMES Tanis, the former president of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, was recently awarded the inaugural Australian High Commissioner’s Education Award, funded by AusAID.
He will start study next year, undertaking a Master’s Degree in International Affairs at the Australian National University.
The Australian High Commissioner’s Education Award is intended to provide a select number of Papua New Guinean leaders, or emerging leaders, an opportunity to further their education in Australia. Awardees will return to PNG after completing their university studies better equipped to contribute to PNG’s development. Next year, a further two awards will be granted for study in 2013.
Australian High Commissioner, Ian Kemish, said he was proud to have nominated Tanis for the award.
“Tanis knows that education is the key to development. He will take what he learns in Australia and use it to build a more stable and prosperous Bougainville and PNG. He is a talented peace builder.”
Tanis, as he is affectionately known, first entered the domain of peace building in the early 1990s.
When the mine at Panguna closed in 1989, he joined the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) as a fighter. But Tanis quickly become disillusioned with the way the BRA was operating and resigned from “active service”. He returned to his village, married and started a family.
The following year he started working with local village chiefs, who respected him as an educated young man. Tanis has a university diploma in accounting which he gained on a scholarship from Bougainville Copper Limited. The chiefs sought his advice and support on peace keeping in the village and neighbouring villages.
After a period at home, and after much discussion with the chiefs, Tanis decided to re-join the BRA; this time not as a fighter but as a peace builder.
It was an opportune time. The Bougainville Interim Government had just been established, with the late Francis Ona as president and the late Joseph Kabui as vice-president. Tanis became its minister for peace, personally designing the peace building framework based on the Bible, local customs and some creative thinking.
Tanis began to reconcile internal factions between the BIG and BRA; their leaders had been fighting among themselves. He then began to conduct reconciliations in PNG care centres and among divided groups at the community level.
The fighting thankfully calmed in 1997, thanks to the efforts of the many stakeholders that were committed to the peace process, including international partners such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Nations. The Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in August 2001, ending the Bougainville crisis and mapping a way forward for Bougainville.
In 2005, election was held for the first Autonomous Bougainville Government, with the late Joseph Kabui chosen as the first president of the autonomous region. He later died in office and was succeeded by James Tanis at the election in 2008. Chief John Momis is the current President after winning the election in 2010.
Today, Tanis is excited about his new life as a student. “Mi lusim skul long taim pinis nau”, he chuckles.
“The real challenge for me will be adapting to a whole new academic lifestyle. It’s like being thrown into the dark and left to fight for survival (referring to his time as a member of the BRA) but I’m used to it”, he shrugs.
“I really want to succeed, not only for myself but for my beautiful wife Pauline and my children, for High Commissioner Ian Kemish who made this a reality, for the Australian National University who gave me this opportunity, but most importantly I want to succeed for a brighter future for the people of Bougainville.”
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