Papua New Guinea's Crisis: Acute or Chronic?

By Denoon, Donald | World Affairs, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Papua New Guinea's Crisis: Acute or Chronic?


Denoon, Donald, World Affairs


In June 2001 several elements of the crises facing the Papua New Guinea government came together. Students of the University of Papua New Guinea opened another chapter in their thirty-year history of political protest, blockading government buildings in the capital, Port Moresby, then occupying them. (1) The demonstration was unusually well disciplined, drawing in other dissidents but avoiding violence, and after five days Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta relented and met with the protesters. When police then dispersed the crowd, however, shots were fired and three students were killed. Protesters fanned out through Port Moresby in a convulsion of looting, arson, and violence, until a dusk-to-dawn curfew brought that phase of the protest to a halt. The subsequent inquiry has yet to determine the extent of the damage and the violence, much less its dynamics.

One incitement for the protest was land, a reliable litmus test for anxiety and anger. Almost all land in Papua New Guinea outside the towns and plantations is held under "customary" title, and lawyers who had recently begun to draft a legislative proposal of some kind, said that their "objective is to mobilize customary land for development and in particular to make the land available as security for finance." The land could then be leased, but certainly not sold, by the group in whose name it was registered. (2) If the government did intend to introduce legislation (a proposition it later denied), its parameters were narrow. In ninety years of Australian administration and a generation of independence such a step has often been debated but never taken, and for good reason. Australians, like Americans, take their identity as citizens for granted and see land ownership as an option. In Papua New Guinea, however, it is land that confers social and political identity, even for urban people who may never return to the place of their birth. Merely to talk about land often provokes uncontainable passion.

Although Australian economic analysts have encouraged measures to make land a commodity, the Morauta government can shelve the land issue without significant loss of face. A different matter is the more substantial complaint of the protesters, namely, the sale of government instrumentalities such as the national airline and the development bank. On this issue the students enlisted support from the trade union movement and a wide range of urban residents, who see privatization as a form of treason, as transferring public assets to foreigners at fire-sale prices. Privatization is the new economic orthodoxy through most of the world, but the argument in favor of it is in fact culturally specific and comprehensible only to people long exposed to its rationale. To its critics in Papua New Guinea, privatization is a mendacious imposition by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Australian government, designed to filch the people's patrimony. How then did the Morauta government come to adopt a strategy that offers such a broad target to populist protest?

Essentially the government describes its mandate as finding remedies for the many grievous errors and misdemeanors of its predecessor, so as to restore the country's economy and its economic reputation. On the face of it, political stability would seem just as urgent as economics. Since Papua New Guinea achieved independence in 1975, no government has ever survived the full five years of a parliamentary term; and in 1999 the country's political class was convulsed by the disintegration of yet another government. As usual, the government was a coalition, this time headed by Bill Skate, an accountant by training and a populist by temperament. The Skate government formed after the 1997 general election, in the wake of a Defense Force demonstration against the government of Sir Julius Chan over his attempt to employ mercenaries to defeat the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Papua New Guinea's Crisis: Acute or Chronic?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.