Today's Post Courier (Thursday 18/09/08)carries an arresting criticism entitled "The Irony of Somare and Independence". It comes from someone in the Sepik and reiterates an all-too-familiar narrative on Somare's legacy of politics and development.
Papua New Guinea celebrated the country’s 33 years of independence on Tuesday. Two weeks ago, my grandmother was carried on a stretcher for six hours through rugged terrain to the nearest hospital in East Sepik. There were no drugs after she was diagnosed with liver/kidney problems so she was sent to Boram Hospital in Wewak for more medication. The irony of it was while my family was in mourning; the people of East Sepik were celebrating Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare’s 40 years in politics. What is Independence when people in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea have remained far away from basic infrastructure like roads and basic health services and have been that way untouched since their forefathers?
IMAGINE the connection between Somare's 40 years of politics and the commemoration of our Independence. In the political anals of history Somare's name will always be mentioned for the part he played in achieving our Independence. That is a fact that WE CANNOT CHANGE. However, if that is an inevitable fact, what has however NOT CHANGED also is this question: "What is independence when people in the remote areas of PNG have remained far away from basic infrastructure...and have been that way untouched since their forefathers? The irony the Sepik person highlights emanates from the problem of change. What I want to change here (in a little way) is to rethink the way Somare's involvement in PNGs political history has been generally received.
I think Somare is the greatest opportunist PNG has seen in the last 40 years.He took full advantage of nationalist sentiments in the 1960s and pursued the Independence agenda in such way that he alone could become the nation's first prime minister. The nationalist rhetoric camouflaged his opportunism. His charisma made it seem as though he was indispensable to the quest for Independence. Once those sitting inside his nationalist bandwagon believe that the key to Independence was in Somare's hands, they forgot the fact that the man wanted to the prime minister. This is what history has not said. PNG becoming independent is very different from Somare becoming prime minister. Somare conflated this two distinct real of desires and made himself indispensable to the pursuit of both.The nationalists desire for independence inhibited any chance to scrutinise Somare's private desire to be the prime minister. That private desire has remain unchanged and what has equally remain unchanged is the very irony that the Sepik person captures in his/her letter in the Post Courier.