This is Ben Kadma and his wife, Jenny. I met them last night at a party outside the guest house where I am staying. Ben, in one life, represents everything Bougainville has endured and continues to struggle against today. As a young man, in the early 1980s, he worked at the vast Panguna mine that made billions from the island. The people who lived there, however, saw that the mine was causing huge environmental problems and one of Ben’s workmates, Francis Ona, formed a movement demanding compensation. Eventually this movement became armed, started to call itself a Revolutionary Army and demanded independence for Bougainville from Papua New Guinea. Ben, now one of Ona’s senior staff, fought with him and was eventually captured; he was tortured and spent years in prison. Eventually Ben was released and began working in the peace movement that eventually ended the fighting. I have seen photos of him at these talks and his signature is on the first peace agreements between the various sides.
Ben is also from Nissan island, to the north of Buka, where I am now. Nissan is one of the five communities the Bougainville government has decided to evacuate as a result of climate change. High tides and fierce storms are eroding the sea cliffs that protect his island.
“So you are talking about a man-made disaster and a natural disaster, connecting them together. It is very difficult, very…I don’t think Bougainville can do it on it’s own,” Ben says