Being almost 50 years old should usually be cause for celebration, yet while the masses celebrated Papua New Guinea’s national day, huge issues remain among the populace about the rampant poverty, huge levels of corruption, as well as the huge levels of violence faced by people on a daily basis.
Getting to Papua New Guinea for the September 16th national day celebrations should have been easy, or at least the one time that corruption was kept at bay, but alas this was not to be the case. Air Niugini, the state owned monolith and notoriously one of the most corrupt airlines on the planet had canceled their Manila to Port Moresby flight for the 4th day in a row for unspecified reasons.
For those of us with disposable income it meant simply moving to PAL (Philippines Airlines), but for locals returning home it largely meant being stuck in Manila. Why were the flights canceled? No one quite knows, but the country has been suffering from fuel shortages, while the state run airline has arguably been hit by years of graft instead of reinvesting in its planes.
This continued with the knock-on effect of also disrupting peoples domestic travels to either their hometowns, or to the world famous Goroka Festival. Here the airline found themselves booking twice the capacity for each flight that it could take, with the only way to have any chance of flying being to find a member of the Air Niugini staff to bribe. Our party (post-bribe) found themselves on the tarmac only for the flight to be cancelled due to “flight hours”. This torrid situation would continue for weeks, with even returning to capital and on to Manila still involving greasing the wheels.
Said farce, which saw many locals having to sleep for days at Port Moresby airport has led many netizens to question not only the competence of Air Niugini, but also why the country insists on what is an expensive state monopoly.
Surely this is one market where the introduction of a player such as Air Asia would quite change the game. Sadly government corruption makes this all but impossible as things currently stand.
What is Papua New Guinea at 48 years old?
Papua New Guinea gained its independence in 1975 from Australia and the United Kingdom, but it has far from been plain sailing since then. Prior to said independence what is now the Autonomous Region of Bougainville declared independence as the Republic of North Solomons, in what was to be a tense into future problems, while the country as a whole has struggled to define what it is to be Papua New Guinea.
The reasons for this are multi-faceted, but as expected are closely related to colonialism, with one politician from Arawa in Bougainville telling us “They came here and just drew invisible lines. We are more related to the people of the Solomon Islands, while others on Papua are more related to the people of West Papua. We are simply a constructed nation”.
And such a construction has led directly to war in both West Papua and Bougainville while the “rest” would rarely call themselves “Papua New Guinean”,.
And while there is no one size fits all answer to this, it was something our Mount Hagen fixer Jospeh felt strongly about “We first and foremost talk about the tribe we are from, then our region. The only time we talk about being from PNG is when its national day or the rugby is on”.
Yet the state propaganda would not have you think this, with the constant different people united under one nation being reminiscent of the communist propaganda used to hold together the old Yugoslavia.
Papua New Guinea at 48 is one of the most dangerous places on earth
One of the main bones of contention for local people, particularly those in the capital city of Port Moresby his that of safety, with Pom as the locals call in being fairly close to hell on earth.
The city has some of the worst wealth disparity in the world, as well as what is reckoned to be the highest sexual assault rate on women, with estimated stating that up to 70 percent of women have been sexually assaulted in some way shape, or form. This combined with the highest rape rate in the world make the city a hell on earth.
Why are things iso bad here? There really is no one size fits all answer, but it does seem to be driven predominantly by economics. Young men get sent to the capital to seek their fortune, only to find huge rates of unemployment, so instead drift into time controlled by the infamous Raskol gangs.
Said gangs not only terrorize the streets of both Port Moresby and Lae, but are also known for their sheer barbarity, with initiation to the gangs often involving both rape and murder.
This has led to Port Moresby simply being too dangerous to travel pretty much anywhere in the daytime, and absolutely everywhere that isn’t gated at night. This was something two colleagues found out the hard way after getting robbed at knife point near the Holiday Inn. Thankfully they were not hurt, but conversely that they had not been stabbed led the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary to not even bother to come out and investigate. Essentially things are so bad that unless someone is mortally injured it does not even get registered as a crime
Following our female local guide who asked not to be named stated “This is just normal for us, you want to know what it is like here, now you have the real experience”. A point further shared by netizens, who whilst sorry for what had occurred and indeed the name it gave their country, were also keen to point out the sheer normality of it.
Why does the west not do anything about Papua New Guinea?
With such levels of volume, and with things such as homosexuality being banned you’d expect to hear a lot about Papua New Guinea, but this is obviously not the case, which leads one to wonder why?
Sadly the pure fact is that Papua New Guinea at 48 are the perfect example of a well behaved neocolonial state. A fervent bulwark against communism back in the day, they have remained loyal to not just Australia and the west, but also to big multinationals such as Rio Tinto.
This led to the west all but quashing Bougainvillea hopes for independence, a station that will likely lead to war within the next 5 years, but also the west all, but propping up a small, wealthy corrupt ruling elite.
These local elites can rule unmolested, so longs at the country does not align with China, as the Solomon Islands did, allow exploration of their resources, whilst also following western foreign policy.
This led many within the country to question why Papua New Guinea would do something as controversial as open an embassy in West Jerusalem, although again it is a question may feel they already know the answer to.
The status quo though can only last so long, with it being inevitable that local population, as they did in Bougainville will realize just how much they are being exploited – and then? Then you have revolution.