Click to hear podcast

 

My dear Torres Strait Friends,

You are now in possession of full Australian citizenship. That new state does not only grant you more rights but also imposes on you higher duties and, thus, enables you to show that you are worthy to receive the same treatment as your fellow-citizens in the south....The other way to convince your fellow-citizens consists in showing further achievements. This cannot be difficult for you as you are known to be an intelligent and talented race...Your work as craftsmen, railway employees, salesmen, office clerks and teachers is as good as that of others....If you intend to give your very best, do never imitate white people, for attempt to do so would lead you away from your own selves. But rather develop the qualities which you yourselves possess, to its full extent. Serve God and this country with everything you have, and everything you are, your language, your music, your knowledge of land, sea, and nature, and so on.

- Reverend Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz (written some time after the 1967 referendum which removed discriminatory references to indigenous peoples from the Australian Constitution)

* from Tom Mosby, 'Welcome home to Torres Straits where you had left your heart and went away empty', in The Torres Strait Islands, Queensland Art Gallery/Queensland Museum/ Queensland Performing Arts Centre/State Library of Queensland, 2011

 

                                                             tommosby-slq

 

© Telinga Media. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited

 

 

© Telinga Media. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited

Political suspicion & economic envy fuel highland anti-Asian prejudice

Jacqueline stands in the middle of SVS supermarket, Goroka town. She is a university student, maybe 40-years-old, from the Western Highlands. Her antipathy for the growing number of foreign traders of Asian origin is very widely shared and expressed with typical highland candour.
 
"They are not selling quality things. Even their food - they are not quality, giving us the dog's food - like the bones. We open the umbrella when there's one rainy season, we try to fold it and put it outside, it breaks again. So then they order a new one, they discard them. We are used as sort of a garbage place for Asians so I recommend this looting. They should go !"
 
The looting referred to is the trashing of Asian-run businesses and stores last September in Goroka town and the smaller town of Kainantu, both in Eastern Highlands province.
 
However, it's not always clear how much of this collective ill-will is based on bad experiences or emotive rumour:  "They are collecting our coins, they are taking them over to their own country and they are making necklace and other things out of our coins," she adds.  "We are even running out of our coins too. [They] collect all the coins and they go and fabricate necklaces, chains and rings."
 
Townsfolk complained loudly to Telinga Media that the merchandise they could afford was often faulty or just junk. Despite the expansion of consumer goods in all the towns, the frustration seems to be a sense that they are stuck at the lower end of the market, with no real access to quality goods. And like Jacqueline's lament for her beloved coins, there is a story here about injured national pride.
 
"All Papua New Guineans have the right to their country and prefer good quality products, just like what other countries are enjoying,' says a young farmer named Fako. "We are a good country too and we would prefer good quality."
 
Most of those interviewed in Goroka's main market and around the town last September saw Asian traders as people they would prefer not to deal with. This translates into a point of view that was almost universal: they should go ! There wasn't much consideration of what or who would replace them. Although some older folk with memories of simpler times were unworried by the loss of services and supplies from Asian-run shops.
 
"We can get support from our extended families and also from subsistence farming to sustain us," says David, a sweet potato farmer. " When they were not here, we lived like this so we will return to our usual lifestyle again."
 
Even Jacqueline whom Telinga Media found in the aisles of SVS, a facility run by an Indonesian Chinese family wanted her storekeeper to be a local.
 
"I think our businessmen - Papua New Guineans - they've got the potential to order from overseas and sell. It is because the Asians are taking over, they are lazy. But when they do it themselves, I think they will be able to manage," she says.
 
Such sentiments have the potential to materialise into political demands at the next national elections, due next year. Voters might be persuaded to channel their anger into the ballot box and avoid racial scapegoating. But how realistic are such demands, even if they were presented as serious policy? Chris Arreo is the store manager for Papindo, a supply and retail chain with 40 stores nationwide. He has worked in retail for twenty years, the last 7 years in Papua New Guinea, his third country.
 
"I think it's too hard yet for them to run their own businesses," he told Telinga Media in his Goroka store. "Just for example, the security agencies where the nationals are running the agencies, it looks like after some time, they closed down. If you look at security services, it's just rendering a service. How much more [difficult] if you are buying and selling? It looks like it's hard for them to run their own business."
 
Likewise, Donald Gumbis, a political scientist at the University of Goroka, acknowledges that different rules apply for indigenous businesspeople.
 
"Papua New Guineans can own and operate shops. But would we have the capacity to continue?" he asks. "We have many systems in PNG - we have this Bigman system and Bigman is one who has wealth and you need to provide for your village, your clan, your tribe, for your community. Whereas when you look at the Western concepts of operating businesses, it's basically for pure business and profit-making."
 
A nationalistic call to indigenise foreign-run businesses may well appeal at election time. One reason local traders feel let down, Mr Gumbis says, is that they feel a promise made to them at independence (1975) has been broken.
 
"In the eve of our independence, the govt structured certain economic policies, one of them was the 8-point employment plan," he explains. "One of the 8 points indicated clearly that Papua New Guineans should own and operate businesses. If there is going to be a partnership, it must be a 49-51% but we are seeing a different kind of perspective altogether now."
 
That different perspective is the reality that most commercial enterprises are owned and/or run by foreigners. The government is under pressure to maintain flexible market arrangements, that is, not restricting the movement of capital and people into Papua New Guinea's productive sectors, whether they be mining or retail trade.
 
While many of those interviewed accepted foreign capital for large-scale resource projects, they resented direct competition from 'outsiders' which not only contradicts the nation's founding principles but also came about, they suspect, because of corrupt dealings between foreign entrepreneurs and national politicians.
 
"We have so many resources in our country and we not benefit out of that because our politicians here in Papua New Guinea, they are selfish, greedy," says Dennis, a stallholder at Goroka market."They want to make money out of those Asians. So when they come here, they [Asians] bribe them with millions of kina. They come and make their business here to grab all our wealth and then they walk away with our resources."
 
Such grievances often sound like the real fight is to be had with elected leaders. Some even understood the September violence against Asian commercial targets as sounding a warning to politicians. But this doesn't explain why grassroots grievances are not channelled directly to these leaders. According to Donald Gumbis, the problem starts with the almost complete lack of education about politics from elementary up to university level. Without it, he fears, acts of protest will continue to be dismissed as the work of 'opportunists', with no serious or legitimate political cause.
 
And this is exactly the conclusion looting victims in Goroka are coming to. Chris Arreo of Papindo, closed his doors during the attacks last September. He believes the looters are mainly from the settlements and organised their actions to coincide with a planned protest march on 9th September. But the march was cancelled at the last minute in deference to national independence celebrations. This triggered the rampage which was most severe in the neighbouring town of Kainantu: "Protesting is good but when it comes to the other groups - the opportunists as we call them, the looters - they choose the big fish." Meaning Papindo. He sees the looters as motivated by poverty and hardship, not by any political agenda.
 
Mr Arreo fears the troubles could escalate if the government does not exercise control, both through licensing of street vendors and addressing grievances raised by genuine protest groups. He agrees that the same angry youths who want to loot his store could be organised in such a way that they become used by people connected to politics.
 
Not every local in Goroka was affronted by the presence of Asian businesspeople. Telinga Media met Hans in the main town, not in the open marketplace.
 
"Business houses here are employing, giving job opportunities, job employment to people in Eastern Highlands. Goods and services are provided here," says the employee of a foreign-owned medical supply company.
 
"This kind of looting and attacking business houses is not good because it's unfair. If the general public wish to demonstrate, they should demonstrate to the appropriate authorities like the provincial government or the national government, rather than attacking and looting on innocent people."
 
Protest organisers, he says, should give advance warning of marches and make people aware of what is happening in their town. This might help avoid innocent businesspeople being victimised.
 
Whether the rioters were opportunists or not, the safety of Asian nationals and their chances of running successful businesses still depends to an extent on local perceptions. While they may escape the bigman system by not intermarrying, the UOG's Donald Gumbis suggests their best protection might be to get closer to the communities in which they operate.
 
"There are some [Asian businesses] who have given us assistance and we appreciate that," he says. "They've grown because of their community obligations. But there are some who have not seen themselves as part of the community. We would like them to become part of the community and in that way, we will respect [them]. If you contribute to the community, people will respect you and the business and will not touch you. That's basically the mentality and the perception."
 
Social polarisation, political complacency of leaders and a fearful cynicism that reinforced images of 'violent opportunists' and 'foreign corruptors' will increase the chances of future explosions more serious than those that afflicted Goroka and Kainantu four months ago. Whatever the sins of politicians, attacks against businesspeople who benefit from them stand little chance of bringing about the lasting changes to law and policy that grassroots people so desperately need. The attacks - once politicised - are more likely to lead to social chaos and deepening hardship.

Jacqueline stands in the middle of SVS supermarket, Goroka town. She is a university student, maybe 40-years-old, from the Western Highlands. Her antipathy for the growing number of foreign traders of Asian origin is very widely shared and expressed with typical highland candour.

"They are not selling quality things. Even their food - they are not quality, giving us the dog's food - like the bones. We open the umbrella when there's one rainy season, we try to fold it and put it outside, it breaks again. So then they order a new one, they discard them. We are used as sort of a garbage place for Asians so I recommend this looting. They should go !"

The looting referred to is the trashing of Asian-run businesses and stores last September in Goroka town and the smaller town of Kainantu, both in Eastern Highlands province.

However, it's not always clear how much of this collective ill-will is based on bad experiences or emotive rumour:  "They are collecting our coins, they are taking them over to their own country and they are making necklace and other things out of our coins," she adds.  "We are even running out of our coins too. [They] collect all the coins and they go and fabricate necklaces, chains and rings."

Townsfolk complained loudly to Telinga Media that the merchandise they could afford was often faulty or just junk. Despite the expansion of consumer goods in all the towns, the frustration seems to be a sense that they are stuck at the lower end of the market, with no real access to quality goods. And like Jacqueline's lament for her beloved coins, there is a story here about injured national pride.

"All Papua New Guineans have the right to their country and prefer good quality products, just like what other countries are enjoying," says a young farmer named Fako. "We are a good country too and we would prefer good quality."

Most of those interviewed in Goroka's main market and around the town last September saw Asian traders as people they would prefer not to deal with. This translates into a point of view that was almost universal: they should go ! There wasn't much consideration of what or who would replace them. Although some older folk with memories of simpler times were unworried by the loss of services and supplies from Asian-run shops.

"We can get support from our extended families and also from subsistence farming to sustain us," says David, a sweet potato farmer. " When they were not here, we lived like this so we will return to our usual lifestyle again."

Even Jacqueline whom Telinga Media found in the aisles of SVS, a facility run by an Indonesian Chinese family, wanted her storekeeper to be a local.

"I think our businessmen - Papua New Guineans - they've got the potential to order from overseas and sell. It is because the Asians are taking over. They are lazy. But when they do it themselves, I think they will be able to manage," she says.

Such sentiments have the potential to materialise into political demands at the next national elections, due next year. Voters might be persuaded to channel their anger into the ballot box and avoid violent scapegoating. But how realistic are such demands, even if they were presented as serious policy? Chris Arreo is the store manager for Papindo, a supply and retail chain with 40 stores nationwide. He has worked in retail for twenty years, the last 7 years in Papua New Guinea, his third country.

"I think it's too hard yet for them to run their own businesses," he told Telinga Media in his Goroka store. "Just for example, the security agencies where the nationals are running the agencies, it looks like after some time, they closed down. If you look at security services, it's just rendering a service. How much more [difficult] if you are buying and selling? It looks like it's hard for them to run their own business."

Likewise, Donald Gumbis, a political scientist at the University of Goroka, acknowledges that different rules apply for indigenous businesspeople.

"Papua New Guineans can own and operate shops. But would we have the capacity to continue?" he asks. "We have many systems in PNG - we have this Bigman system and Bigman is one who has wealth and you need to provide for your village, your clan, your tribe, for your community. Whereas when you look at the Western concepts of operating businesses, it's basically for pure business and profit-making."

A nationalistic call to indigenise foreign-run businesses may well appeal at election time. One reason local traders feel let down, Mr Gumbis says, is that they feel a promise made to them at independence (1975) has been broken.

"In the eve of our independence, the government structured certain economic policies, one of them was the 8-point employment plan," he explains. "One of the 8 points indicated clearly that Papua New Guineans should own and operate businesses. If there is going to be a partnership, it must be a 49-51% but we are seeing a different kind of perspective altogether now."

That different perspective is the reality that most commercial enterprises are owned and/or run by foreigners. The government is under pressure to maintain flexible market arrangements, that is, not restricting the movement of capital and people into Papua New Guinea's productive sectors, whether they be mining or retail trade. While many of those interviewed accepted foreign capital for large-scale resource projects, they resented direct competition from 'outsiders' which not only contradicts the nation's founding principles but also came about, they suspect, because of corrupt dealings between foreign entrepreneurs and national politicians.

"We have so many resources in our country and we not benefit out of that because our politicians here in Papua New Guinea, they are selfish, greedy," says Dennis, a stallholder at Goroka market. "They want to make money out of those Asians. So when they come here, they [Asians] bribe them with millions of kina. They come and make their business here to grab all our wealth and then they walk away with our resources."

Such grievances often sound like the real fight is to be had with elected leaders. Some even understood the September violence against Asian commercial targets as sounding a warning to politicians. But this doesn't explain why grassroots grievances are not channelled directly to these leaders. According to Donald Gumbis, the problem starts with the almost complete lack of education about politics from elementary up to university level. Without it, he fears, acts of protest will continue to be dismissed as the work of 'opportunists', with no serious or legitimate political cause.

And this is exactly the conclusion looting victims in Goroka are coming to. Chris Arreo of Papindo, closed his doors during the attacks last September. He believes the looters are mainly from the settlements and organised their actions to coincide with a planned protest march on 9th September. But the march was cancelled at the last minute in deference to national independence celebrations. This triggered the rampage which was most severe in the neighbouring town of Kainantu: "Protesting is good but when it comes to the other groups - the opportunists as we call them, the looters - they choose the big fish." Meaning Papindo. He sees the looters as motivated by poverty and hardship, not by any political agenda.

Mr Arreo fears the troubles could escalate if the government does not exercise control, both through licensing of street vendors and addressing grievances raised by genuine protest groups. He agrees that the same angry youths who want to loot his store could be organised in such a way that they become used by people connected to politics.

hans-gorriotsNot every local in Goroka was affronted by the presence of Asian businesspeople. Telinga Media met Hans in the main town, not in the open marketplace.

"Business houses here are employing, giving job opportunities, job employment to people in Eastern Highlands. Goods and services are provided here," says the employee of a foreign-owned medical supply company.

"This kind of looting and attacking business houses is not good because it's unfair. If the general public wish to demonstrate, they should demonstrate to the appropriate authorities like the provincial government or the national government, rather than attacking and looting on innocent people."

Protest organisers, he says, should give advance warning of marches and make people aware of what is happening in their town. This might help avoid innocent businesspeople being victimised.

Whether the rioters were opportunists or not, the safety of Asian nationals and their chances of running successful businesses still depends to an extent on local perceptions. While they may escape the bigman system by not intermarrying, the UOG's Donald Gumbis suggests their best protection might be to get closer to the communities in which they operate.

"There are some [Asian businesses] who have given us assistance and we appreciate that," he says. "They've grown because of their community obligations. But there are some who have not seen themselves as part of the community. We would like them to become part of the community and in that way, we will respect [them]. If you contribute to the community, people will respect you and the business and will not touch you. That's basically the mentality and the perception."

Social polarisation, political complacency of leaders and a fearful cynicism that reinforces images of 'violent opportunists' and 'foreign corruptors' will increase the chances of future explosions more serious than those that afflicted Goroka and Kainantu four months ago. Whatever the sins of politicians, attacks against businesspeople who benefit from them stand little chance of bringing about the lasting changes to law and policy that grassroots people so desperately need. The attacks - once politicised - are more likely to lead to social chaos and deepening hardship.

 

Add your comments to the forum

 

© Telinga Media. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited

                                                                

© Telinga Media. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited

                                            

                                      

                                                                     

© Telinga Media. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited