An increasing number of people are coming to the conclusion that the only way out of the current political impasse is via dissolution of Parliament. While it may prove to be the only workable option, that doesn’t mean it’s what we need, let alone what we want.
Prime Minister Kilman finally spoke to the people of Vanuatu Monday, confirming that he had asked the President for Parliament to be dissolved on the 16th of October.
The President had already made his perspective clear: Dissolution must be seen as a last resort.
He’s not wrong. Contrary to Mr Kilman’s protestations, it is within the President’s purview to defer—if not outright deny—such a request. Presidential powers are largely ceremonial, but they’re deliberately vague precisely because he is expected to exert a moral influence on the country and its leadership, especially under extraordinary circumstances.
In Vanuatu today, our circumstances are nothing if not extraordinary.
Dissolution is a defeat. It is an admission that Parliament has failed to do its job. Continue reading
In an exclusive interview, Manasseh Sogavare describes his long personal journey to the top
Asked how he started his career, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare laughs wryly.
“I entered public service as a toilet cleaner and tea boy,” he chuckles. It was, he says, “a tough, rough beginning.”
“And I learned from that.”
If Mr Sogavare’s example is any guide, there are few shortcuts in life. “What I got is through hard work, and basically I worked my way…. I worked my way up through public service…
in all my life in public service, I worked in the Inland Revenue division.
“I started as toilet cleaner in the Inland Revenue Division and localised the Commissioner of Inland Revenue post in twelve years.
“I got all the degrees along the way, and all the promotions.”
He smiles in recollection. “The people that I’d salute along the way: ‘Good morning, sir!’ … the people with white socks—these were colonial days—I’d welcome them into the building and direct them to their desk.
“Three remained when I became Commissioner of Inland Revenue, and the role changed to ‘Good morning SIR!’”
He snapped a smart salute, mimicking how they would receive him, and then allowed himself an amiable laugh. Continue reading
Manasseh Sogavare explains how he helped bring West Papua into the MSG
“It’s all under the water now, so we can actually say it: It came down to 3-2.”
This is how Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare described the situation in Honiara in June of this year, when he played a central role in brokering an historic agreement finally to bring West Papua into the MSG fold.
This week marks Mr Sogavare’s first visit to Port Vila since Solomon Islands took over the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group at that fateful meeting in June. He took some time to give an exclusive interview to the Daily Post.
In it, he looked back at the events leading up to the decision to include the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. He also offered some frank observations about the road ahead for the MSG under his chairmanship.
Asked how he could square the circle of embracing both Indonesia and the West Papuan independence movement, he said, “I guess that’s where the true Melanesian spirit of arriving at decisions comes into play.”
“It came down to 3-2,” he continued. “If we’d gone down the path of democratic voting, it would have gone through. But if we did, it would have caused serious division amongst the group, and we don’t want to go down that path.”
Seeing that an all-out push for full membership for the ULMWP wasn’t achievable, Mr Sogavare decided to apply a more Melanesian approach, and to broker a compromise.
He described how he presented his solution: “We have a history of making consensus decisions, and we would like to maintain that…. The bottom line is that we would like to bring West Papua into the fold of the MSG. How can we achieve that?” Continue reading
Originally published on the Pacific Policy Blog.
Last week’s Solomonic decision by the Melanesian Spearhead Group to cut the baby in half and boost the membership status of both the ULMWP and Indonesia is an example of the Melanesian political mind at work. Valuing collective peace over individual justice, group prosperity over individual advancement, and allowing unabashed self-interest to leaven the sincerity of the entire process, our leaders have placed their stamp on what just might be an indelible historical moment.
Last week marked the first time the indigenous people of West Papua were not entirely defeated. And that, in itself, is a victory.
Thousands gathered to celebrate in Timika and elsewhere in the western half of the island of Papua. Praise for Manasseh Sogavare’s depiction of the decision as a ‘test‘ of Melanesia’s respect for human rights was widespread. Domestically, his role in the decision seems to have bolstered his standing as a statesman and leader.
But a more dry-eyed look at the process reveals a cost that will undoubtedly prove quite high for proponents of West Papuan independence. David Robie’s depiction of Papua New Guinea and Fiji’s stance on the issue as a ‘betrayal‘ is starker than many others, but it’s not wrong.
Voreqe Bainimarama’s disingenuous insistence that Indonesia’s territorial integrity cannot be challenged begs the question of the legitimacy of Indonesia’s continuing occupation—one which, notably, the UN has still to answer. Likewise, Peter O’Neill’s insistence on ‘mandated’ representation for the Melanesian peoples of West Papua would be laughable if it weren’t so callous. The whole reason that the people of West Papua are seeking legitimacy through the MSG is because they are disenfranchised at home.
Sato Kilman took advantage of the clouded complexion of the domestic political scene to keep his proverbial head down, sending only a senior administrator to the Honiara summit. In fairness to him, from a tactical perspective he really had no choice. From a strategic perspective, his handling of the issue could only leave him weakened. Social media commentary in the Solomons was particularly unkind, portraying Vanuatu’s PM as lacking the nouse to stand with Mr Sogavare, letting down West Papua ‘at its hour of greatest need.’ Continue reading
In journalism and in life, it helps to believe in a few things:
I believe in long answers to short questions. I believe that each question raises more questions. I believe that wisdom consists mostly of raising more questions than others do. I believe there is no higher vocation than trying to understand.
I believe that people confuse clarity with simplicity. I believe that sometimes things are perfectly clear, but rarely are they simple. I believe that simple solutions are never right enough to be useful.
I sometimes believe that it’s Us versus Them, but then I remind myself that Us is all of us.
I believe that short, pithy statements are all well and good, but useless if taken alone. I believe that, eventually, all slogans become lies.
I believe that faith unchallenged is weakness. I believe that unquestioning faith raises walls rather than breaking them down. I believe that unquestioning belief is a kind of blindness.
I believe that truth is often painful, but learning is a glorious thing. I believe that, just as we exult in the physical exertion of sport, we can exult in the psychic pain of learning and improvement. I believe that correcting someone is a sign of respect. I believe that it is respectful to believe someone capable of learning and worthy of our help. I believe that we should embrace correction from others.
I believe that we are wrong more often than we are right, and even if we’re not, we should act as if we were. Continue reading
Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post
Right after Sato Kilman stage-managed the ouster of Joe Natuman’s government, Wan Smolbag debuted their latest Youth Drama group play. The title, Yumi Stap Wea (Where Are We?) is the same question several MPs must have been asking themselves in the whirlwind of changing allegiances.
One of the plays was tightly scripted, engaging and thought provoking. It avoided easy answers to long-standing problems in Vanuatu, and took a dry-eyed look at some of the key difficulties that we face as a country.
The other gave us a new Prime Minister. Continue reading
Originally published on the Pacific Policy blog
Yesterday, during an interview for a documentary film about climate change, I was asked how Vanuatu came to be known as the Happiest Country in the World. On the face of it, the title is quite apt. Wherever you go in Vanuatu, you will find smiling faces, warm welcomes and open hearts.
Even in the aftermath of cyclone Pam, which directly affected half the population and badly damaged dozens of their islands, Ni Vanuatu people still managed to smile and laugh. I confess that even after a decade living here, I found it astonishing that people would show such grace in the face of adversity.
In the badly affected Malapoa Waetwud neighbourhood, a man calmly described how he and his family would live off fallen fruit for a few days, then they’d dig up whatever hadn’t rotted in the ground; but after that, he wasn’t sure where the next meal was going to come from. On the southern island of Tanna, which was utterly devastated by 230 Kph winds, I sat with a group of mamas in the shade of the only remaining tree trunk in that part of the village, and we laughed and gently teased each other as we passed the time.
And it’s not that they were oblivious. On the contrary. Only half an hour earlier a village elder came up to me, looked me in the eye and spoke with brutal simplicity: ‘I nogat wan samting.’
‘There’s nothing left.’
It took me days—weeks to be honest—to understand how people could remain light-hearted in the face of the loss of everything of value in their lives. Continue reading
Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post
‘Really,’ asks the King Rat, ‘how exactly are rats and humans different?’
Out of that simple spark rises a complex allegory of honesty and deceit, selfishness and survival, all found in the least likely places. Wan Smolbag’s newest play—one of three in this year’s season—is the most ambitious yet in terms of its story-telling. Director Peter Walker says the play has a bit of a Cinderella quality to it, but here, it’s the rats are riding in coaches.
Rats and humans have always lived together, we are asked, so how, exactly how do they differ? They have leaders and followers; they all live and thrive surrounded by refuse; they squabble and vie incessantly; and they lust and love—and confuse the two—just as (in)constantly.
So why is it such a big deal then, when the King Rat becomes obsessed with Veronik, a still-pure flower of a girl, living in semi-squalor in Port Vila? At turns charming and menacing, he and his cohort are willing to wheedle, extort, con and coerce anyone in order to win her hand. Despite King Rat’s constant moans of frustrated desire, the solution turns out to be a simple one: Just find enough money to satisfy the girl’s so-called parents, and nothing else matters. Not even the wishes of Vero herself.
The plot writhes from one episode to another as rat and human natures try to come to terms, and as their mutual motivations are unveiled, it becomes increasingly difficult to answer King Rat’s question. And yet… and yet, as Vero’s younger brother candidly confesses, ‘who wants a rat for a brother-in-law?’ Continue reading
Freddie de Boer has a post up, decrying pro-torrenting ‘myths’ that need to die.
Down in the comments, he writes,
Many of you are dramatically underestimating the kind of resources that are necessary to make great artwork. Sgt Pepper could not have been made by dedicated amateurs. Even today, high-quality recording costs are far higher than people realize. Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro and a dream. Nobody laboring alone in his bedroom could code Half-Life 2.
But Counter Strike absolutely WAS coded by a bunch of volunteers as a result of their own enthusiasm. Likewise Team Fortress.
Oh – and the Linux kernel, which drives most of the web today. And BSD Unix – the framework on which Mac OS X is built.
And pretty much all of deviantart.com. And a majority of the stuff on 500px.com. And a great deal of good writing.
Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro, but that does nothing to diminish what a couple of kids with a GoPro can do. And Sergeant Pepper – oh, this is silly and childish. Freddie, your proposition is that Great Art is not possible without significant resources being brought to bear. The real proposition is that some kinds of creative endeavour (the majority of which are decidedly not great) are not possible without significant resources. Continue reading
The ITU, bless their binary souls, just released the 2014 Measuring the Information Society report. The headline is – or should be – that something is very wrong on the internet, and we need to fix it.
I used to scoff at the phrase ‘digital divide’, which was used to soft-peddle the glaring technological inequalities between rich and poor nations. I still don’t like it, but for different reasons. I used to think that the technological gap between the developed and developing was evanescent, a transient blip which would rapidly disappear as wireless broadband technologies proved viable in even the most marginal markets.
Not so. At least, not so far. The 2014 ITU report shows a widening gap between rich and poor, in spite of the fact that growth in the global digital economy is driven entirely by the developing world.
Let’s look at who’s got access to broadband on their mobile:
The disparity between the richest and the poorest countries is glaring, and unlikely to right itself. The developed world and the Least Developed Countries are on completely different trajectories. Even the developing countries are showing a rate of increase that would require radical change even to come close to the level of ubiquity seen in Europe and North America. Continue reading