[Analytics] West Papua and MSG tragedies

The Melanesian Spearhead Group headquarters in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: RNZI / Jamie Tahana. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

When I ring home to West Papua, my village people often ask me about the rumours that they have heard, of an upcoming Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting. They would ask, “When is the MSG meeting?” and if West Papua will be accepted as a full member. I would tell them that I do not know, and then, with a dispirited voice, they would say to me that they will continue to pray for our membership. Yamin Kogoya specially for the Pan Pacific Agency.

I responded the way I did because of two things: I truly don’t know of any proposed dates for the meeting, and I also don’t want to give false hope to the West Papuan people. MSG often changes the date of their scheduled meetings last second, which unfortunately is becoming the norm for them.

The foreign ministerial meetings and Leaders’ Summit of this regional body was scheduled for June 15 to June 17, 2021, but, unfortunately, it has been postponed again. It is now being rescheduled for June 22 to June 25, with no guarantee that the meeting won’t be postponed further.

Past Leader Summits were held in 2018 and February 2019, just before COVID-19 hit in Suva, Fiji, where the ULMWP leaders addressed the meeting.

2016 was another significant year for both MSG and West Papua. The Leaders’ Summit was held in July 2016 in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, and was supposed to be the moment that everyone thought West Papua would be finally accepted as a full member. But, again, it was rejected due to some criteria issue that West Papua did not meet.

The semantic rhetoric in the media surrounding this momentous point of West Papua national liberation – advocated by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) back then –gave a lot of false hope and disappointment to Papuan people.

The climate at that time was forecasted with anxiety and anticipation, like expecting your team to score a goal in the final FIFA world cup. Hundreds of Papuans were fasting and praying in West Papua, supported by grassroot solidarities across Oceania. But tragically, the MSG leaders failed to score the goal everyone had cheered for.

This tragedy was captured in the words of Melanesian leaders at that time. Joe Natuman, Vanuatu’s deputy prime minister at that time in July 2016, said that “West Papua was sold out for 30 pieces of silver”, as reported by Asia-Pacific media on July 20.

At that time, the MSG’s Director-General Amena Yauvoli said, “I believe the MSG Secretariat has been working hard to formalize membership criteria from observer to full member.” Unfortunately, this hard work, never bore any fruit.

Even though it was justifiable to grant ULMWP’s full membership in MSG, as expressed by Prime minister Sogovare when he hosted four Melanesian prime ministers of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji during the 23rd Melanesian Spearhead Group Special Leader’s Summit in Honiara in 2016, there were other forces at work behind the scenes: sorting out the criteria of what constitutes ‘Melanesia’.

Given these unfolding events regarding the fate of Melanesia, the late Grand Chief Michael Somare, one of the key founding fathers of the independent state of Papua New Guinea and MSG, also said, “We must make the right choice on West Papua”, on July 14 in 2016.

In the same week, the Vanuatu Ambassador to Brussels at that time, Roy Mickey Joy, said, “The Melanesian Spearhead Group is too politicized; it has lost its Melanesian integrity and what it stood for.”

For the Melanesian leaders, changing and postponing dates and sorting criteria for MSG’s membership seems inconsequential, but it is a matter of life and death for Papuans. Unfortunately, this tragic drama is playing out like a horror movie wherein innocent people are being chased by a monster, desperate to seek and enter a safe family home, but refused entry.

Many Melanesian prominent leaders are passing away

These tragedies have also been marked by the recent loss of many of the Melanesian leaders. For decades, they dedicated their lives to open the MSG’s door for the abandoned Melanesian family – Papuans.

In 2014, Dr John Ondawame, one of the exiled Free Papua Movement (OPM) leaders who tirelessly lobbied the MSG leaders and countries, passed away in Port Vila, Vanuatu, on September 4. Another prominent Vanuatu-based West Papuan independent leader, Andy Ayamiseba, passed away in Canberra in February 2020. Tongan Prime minister Akilisi Pohiva, an outspoken proponent of West Papua’s cause, also died in 2019. We have recently lost the Grand Chief Michael Somare, the founder of MSG and the state of Papua New Guinea, in 2021.

In West Papua, Klemen Tinal, the vice governor of Papua’s province from Damal tribe of Papua’s central highlands, died in Jakarta on May 21, 2021. Papuans can only lament these tragic losses with endless grief as many prominent churches and tribal and independent leaders continue to die in this war.

Adding to these heartaches, the people of West Papua and Vanuatu also lost another great leader. Pastor Allan Nafuki, a prominent social justice campaigner, died on Sunday, June 13, just two days before another proposed MSG meeting, which has now been rescheduled again, for June 22.

Pastor Allan Nafuki was responsible for bringing warring factions of Papuan resistance groups together in Port Villa in 2014, which helped precipitate much of the ULMWP’s international success. Vanuatu, West Papua, and communities across Oceania mourn the loss of this great beacon of hope for our region.

Saturday 19, June, has been announced as the day of mourning for Pastor Allan in West Papua. His picture and words of condolences have been printed and displayed across West Papua as they mourn for the great loss of their great father and friend who shared their burden for four decades.

The ULMWP leadership paid their tributes to the late pastor Allan through ULMWP’s executive director Markus Haluk’s words: “Reverend Nafuki is a father, shepherd and figure of truth for both Vanuatu and West Papua.”

In another statement, Benny Wenda, ULMWP’s interim president, stated, “This is a great loss – but we also celebrate his legacy. He helped combine the destiny of the people of West Papua with the Republic of Vanuatu and helped bring about Papuan unity in 2014.”

Despite these tragedies and losses, Papuans and their solidary groups still fix their eyes on MSG.
Matthew C Wale, the Solomon Islands opposition leader, tweeted:

MSG Leaders cannot continue to postpone the admission of West Papua into the group. It’s time the word ‘Spearhead’ in the title is given meaningful use. 30 pieces of silver & a mercenary approach cannot be the way decide the application for full membership.

Free West Papua Campaign Facebook page has also been inundated with photos of Papuans holding banners supporting West Papua admission into MSG.

Bring West Papua back to the Melanesian family

Bring West Papua back to the Melanesian family is the main message Papuans are trying to convey to the Melanesian leaders across the social media world. Although Melanesia itself is a colonial invention, Papuans take their identity as part of Melanesia seriously. They feel threatened by the large influx of Indonesian migrants into their ancestral land.

In response to these growing demands, the MSG leaders granted observer status to ULMWP in 2015; however, Papuans insist that elevating it to full membership status will boost their confidence as they carry their cause to the wider world. This will legitimize the home-based regional support before asking anyone else for help. It also means someone out there recognizes the 60 years of tragedy, as the world kicked West Papua around as they saw fit for their own selfish interests.

The beginning of Papuan tragedies

The modern history of West Papua since 1963 has been tainted with tragic stories of betrayal. It started when the Dutch prepared Papuans for independence on December 1, 1961, but then withdrew without saying anything. The controversial New York Agreement followed this betrayal in 1962, which gave the green light to Indonesia to re-colonize West Papua, sealing its fate with a sham Act of Free Choice in 1969.

Ever since, Papuans have been trying to share these stories with the world, unfortunately, their fate was ultimately decided during that agreement. Two prominent Papuan leaders, Willem Zonggonau and Clemens Runawery, fled West Papua to Papua New Guinea to fly to New York to inform the United Nations that the Act of Free Choice was corrupt, but were stopped by the Australian government.

The cover-ups of these betrayals and prohibition of international media and the UN visit to West Papua persist. Unlike the Palestinians, Papuan stories hardly make global headline news, remaining a secret war of the 21st century somewhere between Asia and the Pacific.

Today, West Papuans and their solidarity groups around the world continue to knock on the MSG’s doors. But MSG leaders’ are reluctance to open their arms and embrace Papuans as part of their larger Melanesian nation-states, only adds another episode of tragedy in their liberation stories.

The MSG’s decisions on ULMWP’s application for full membership are not in the hands of some celestial beings beyond human comprehension. These decisions that affect human lives are in the hands of individuals just like you and I, with family and conscience. This is true to what’s been happening in MSG and true to what had happened in the New York Agreement in 1962 or any other meetings held between the Netherlands, Indonesia, and Western governments about Papua’s fate.

Mortal human beings, titled leaders, ministers, kings, and queens continue to make decisions that bring calamities to human lives, driven by self-deluded, egotistical importance, righteousness, greed, and power. These are the catalysts of human tragedy.

We make wrong decisions for the right reasons and make right decisions for the wrong reasons, or sometimes unable to make any decision at all, with all sorts of reasons, influenced by misleading information, misjudgement, and misunderstanding. Ancient Greeks wrote about these tragedies in the fifth century BC, but these tragedies are still unfolding in front of our eyes.

Although the famous Greek Tragedy was set in a distant past in different cultural contexts, the basic theme is still relevant today because it tells us about the decisions we make about our relationship with other people, the consequences, and the unfairness of life itself.

What happened and what is still happening to West Papuan people reflect these tragedies – being cheated, mistreated for decades, and forgotten by nations around the world as they turn their back on their fellow humans. MSG’s indecisiveness of West Papua’s full membership adds to these prolonged mistreatments of the Papuan people.

MSG is at a crossroads

These are uncertain times as humankind is slowly but surely being re-programmed to think and feel specific ways under the cursed COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that the old world is dying, and a new one is being born, and we are in the middle of it – at a crossroads, gazing at some cataclysmic collapse looming all around. In this kind of climactic moment, a hero is needed to make bold decisions and set a precedent for future generations. These pressures compel us to reflect on these tragedies and ask why the Melanesian Spearhead Group was formed in the first place over 40 years ago. Was it to save Melanesia? Or destroy it?

In Port Vila, October 2016, when Sogovare met and told pastor Allan Nafuki and West Papuan leaders Jacob Rumbiak, Benny Wenda, and Andy Ayamiseba about granting West Papua full membership, Pastor Allan “smiled a long overdue smile and breathed a sigh of relief, saying, “Now I can go to my home island of Erromango and have a peaceful sleep with my grandchildren, with no disturbance whatsoever,” Vanuatu Daily Post reported.

The beloved pastor Allan Nafuki, the chairman of Vanuatu Free West Papua Association, passed away on Sunday, June 13, 2021, just two-days before MSG’s meeting, which has been postponed for another week. He is now certainly at peace on his island with his family, but the thing that thrilled him to utter these words, West Papua membership in MSG, is still unresolved.

How long will the MSG leaders drag out these overdue smiles, tragedies, and betrayals? What should I tell Papuan villages who fast and pray every day for your decision? Should I tell them I don’t know? Or say, “yes, your prayers have been answered”, that the rest of the Melanesian family has now welcomed West Papua? West Papuans have been waiting a painfully long time for recognition, for salvation, for independence.

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