The Bougainville referendum through the eyes of the ‘lost generation’: Observations from Siwai

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 2021, 62, (2), pp. 193-205
Issue Date:
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A referendum to decide on Bougainville's future political relationship with Papua New Guinea was held in November 2019. The deferred, non-binding, referendum is a key milestone contained in the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA), which sought to reconcile a violent conflict from 1988 to 1998. Although the Bougainville peace process has been deemed a success and significant milestones have been reached towards implementation of the BPA, the conflict continues to have enduring impacts. Particular concerns have been raised about Bougainville's large youth population, often referred to as the ‘lost generation’. This paper documents observations of the 2019 referendum from the perspective of four university students born during the conflict in Siwai District, South Bougainville, whom participated officially in the referendum as an observer group. While trauma and a disrupted education have contributed to youth unemployment and substance abuse in Bougainville, the paper offers a stark contrast to negative narratives of young Bougainvilleans as lacking capabilities to contribute to social and political life. As Bougainville embarks on yet another period of political uncertainty, the paper calls for greater attention to finding avenues to support these young voices to ensure that their generation is not ‘lost’ forever.
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