MSG decision highlights Melanesian identity crisis
This week's Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders summit in Honiara looms as a test of Melanesian identity and solidarity.
This week's Melanesian Spearhead Group leaders summit in Honiara looms as a test of the group's purpose.
The bloc was founded in 1986 with the aim of promoting Melanesian heritage, and advancing the de-colonisation of Melanesian peoples.
MSG leaders are weighing up whether to accept a formal membership bid by West Papuans of Indonesia or to elevate Indonesia's status in the group from observer.
Johnny Blades reports that some see the concept of Melanesian identity as being in the balance.
Demonstrations around Melanesia in the past weeks reflect strong public support for the West Papuan MSG membership bid. But leaders of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Solomon Islands have already indicated the United Liberation Movement for West Papua's bid is likely to be knocked back and, instead, observer status considered. A Solomon Islands opposition MP, Derrick Manuari, warns that MSG governments are breaching the spirit of the MSG.
DERRICK MANUARI: The Melanesian Spearhead Group was established to promote the solidarity and the rights of Melanesian states and territories. And that is the very reason why the FLNKS (Kanak movement of New Caledonia) was admitted into the group and not France, for that matter. And in this case, they are promoting an elevation of Indonesia's membership in the group. West Papua is Melanesia. Indonesia is not Melanesia, as we all know.
Government figures in Jakarta have signalled that as home to some eleven million people with Melanesian ethnicity, Indonesia seeks greater representation in the MSG and does not approve of separate West Papuan membership. But the ULMWP insists West Papuans are distinct from other peoples in Indonesia. Its spokesman Benny Wenda says it's confident that MSG leaders will make the right decision.
BENNY WENDA: We are talking about the Melanesian Spearhead Group as a policy. Melanesia's principle is that they stand for the Melanesian people. Indonesia tend to use their money diplomacy. We know that. I am not really concerned about that.
The issue exposes how Melanesia lacks a collective identity, according to Yamin Kagoya, an Australia-based West Papuan social worker and student. He says too often Melanesians identify themselves with labels imposed by powerful external forces.
YASMIN KAGOYA: Psychologically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually all damaging. And I just went to Manus Island last year and I saw how the people of PNG basically being abused and used unfairly by the Australian and New Zealand expatriates at the refugee centre. They were treated in their own land as a second class citizen and I realise that our people we somehow realise that we are not good enough.
He says this week's MSG summit, with its ultimatum on West Papua and Indonesian membership bids, is a perfect chance for the MSG to assert Melanesian identity. But he suspects the challenge may be too difficult for the current leadership.
YASMIN KAGOYA: Melanesia is very, very difficult to define so I think the leaders are struggling to come together. You got to think, every single one of these leaders somehow we are tied strongly to our tribal and clan kinship and most likely what is going to happen is our loyalty to these ties are more stronger than our vision to build a united West Papua or a united Melanesia and I think this is part of the problem.
Meanwhile, a former Solomon Islands prime minister, Ezekiel Alebua, has castigated MSG leaders for allowing non-Melanesians to have an influence in Melanesian politics. He says leaders of Fiji and PNG in particular are more interested in trade and commerce than MSG founding values.
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