Due to the matrilineal organization of society on Bougainville, there was strong potential for women, in particular, to influence the peace process. In terms of land ownership, Bougainvillean women reserve the right to designate land for personal or commercial uses. As they do not typically fight in battles, women are viewed as more neutral parties who fulfill the roles of negotiating and peacemaking. By the end of the Bougainville crisis, hundreds of women put aside their diverse clan allegiances in order to come together as a more unified Bougainvillean force.[27] Saovana-Spriggs emphasizes the importance of the role that women played, stating that “women were the initial brokers” in the process of peace-building process.[28]

Towards a Transformed Future?

More recently, controversy has sparked over talks for the infamous Panguna mine to be reopened. This time around, there are several key changes that suggest that the vehicle to peace and security remains on the correct tracks. John Momis, current President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, believes that reopening the Panguna mine will enable Bougainville to take a further step towards full independence, as well as strengthen health and education systems across the island. Rose Pihei, Minister for Culture and Tourism for the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), also voiced her support of the motion to reopen the mine. She explained that “Panguna landowners are ready to work with the Autonomous Bougainville Government as the legitimate government for Bougainville and other factions are already working with them to join the team so that Bougainville can voice their grievances as one Bougainville. The Panguna mine will be opened as soon as all the negotiations are completed. Panguna gave independence to PNG and should now be opened to give the necessary funds for Bougainville to move forward.”[29]  Papua New Guinea’s leading newspaper reported that the right to choose their own future was what “every Bougainvillean has been waiting for”.  Important measures were made in the motion that ensured that the landowners will maintain ownership of resources, and that mining policies are installed for wealth to trickle throughout the island, a clear difference from Panguna’s past.

No population on Earth today is left isolated from globalizing forces, from the flows of the global market economy, and neither are they excluded from the global challenges that the human community faces. Having such valuable resources located on their island, Bougainvilleans must move forward carefully to avoid economic symptoms like the “resource curse”, where the gift of holding such valuable resources within one’s borders increases the likelihood of conflict. The possibility also exists that if Bougainville’s economy does not diversify, future mining exports will out-compete all other sectors on the island. At the same time, Bougainvilleans are given an opportunity here to become further independent and to gain the funds required for their communities to prosper. This is possible as long as rightful landowners are given due compensation and the Bougainville community as a whole, rather than the government of Papua New Guinea, takes responsibility for the Panguna mine—ensuring that the environment is much better protected from dangerous chemicals and that the wealth created is used to enhance society rather than to form a new class of elite. In this year, 2012, developments are still ensuing.

Conclusion: Balanced Security, Better Bougainville

The hybrid form of warfare that occurred in Bougainville is the most common form of warfare that has waged through the 21st century. As resources continue to be depleted with a growing population and cultures of over-consumption, the risk is high that intra-state conflicts will continue to emerge across the globe, igniting over distributions of wealth and the assurance to basic needs, and involving governments, indigenous groups, multinational corporations, private military forces and more. Amidst such complexity, the Bougainville story demonstrates that resolution of hybrid conflicts is possible and that situations of conflict can be transformed into times of peace as long as we remain innovative and dedicated.

The peace-building mechanisms that have proved to be the most effective and longest-lasting are those that are valued internally by the community members themselves. This means that the community’s voice is heard throughout the process, creating autonomy and solidarity, building collective responsibility, and legitimizing social identity. Third-party mediators must consider the specific cultural and historical contexts of the conflict at hand if they are to help those caught in violence come up with solutions that suit their own needs. As Clements, Brown, Boege, and Nolan clearly depict, the success behind the achieved peace in Bougainville is due to the political order that has been developed that “combines elements of the western model of statehood (a president and parliament, a constitution, free and fair elections, a public service) and elements of customary governance (councils of elders and councils of chiefs, customary law and conflict resolution. This hybrid model is functioning well and enjoys a high degree of legitimacy….”[30] If conflict, and the states in which conflict occurs, are often hybrid in form, it would seem a logical necessity that conflict resolution efforts also take a hybrid form.

The victories within the Bougainville story legitimize grassroots movements as well as non-western or indigenous forms of governance and conflict resolution. The Bougainvilleans’ solution was not to revert to the past, but rather to reinvigorate traditional customs and incorporate their own cultural norms and values into the conventional westernized methods of peace-and-state-building. This ensures that the identities, needs, and livelihoods of minority communities are legitimized and respected while also making progress to ensure that they have equal access to the goods and services of the modern era. It is through such innovative and integrative methods that populations who have suffered protracted conflicts may strengthen their own capability of breaking cycles of violence to ensure peace for the long haul.

This paper is an updated version of an article that originally appeared in Foreign Policy Journal on April 22, 2011.


Boege, Volker. “Traditional Approaches to Conflict Transformation- Potentials and Limits.” Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, 2006.

Boege, Volker, Anne Brown, Kevin Clements, and Anna Nolan. On Hybrid Political Orders and Emerging States: State Formation in the Context of ‘Fragility’. www.berghof-handbook.net, Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, 2008.

Burton, John. Conflict: Human Needs Theory. London: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Dinnen, Sinclair, Doug Porter, and Caroline Sage. Conflict in Melanesia: Themes and Lessons. World Development Report 2011, 2010.

Hegarty, David. Peace Interventions in the South Pacific: Lessons from Bougainville and Solomon Islands. Honolulu: Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Conference, 2003.

Kaldor, Mary. New & Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era (2nd Edition). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Parliament of Australia. “Collection: Commitees; Sub Collection: HoR Committee Reports.” Sub Collection: HoR Committee Reports. 07 19, 2010. http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/search.w3p (accessed 2011).

Regan, Anthony. Bougainville/ Papua New Guinea. Kreddha Research and Analysis Department, Kreddha Autonomy Mapping Project, 2008.

Regan, Anthony J. “‘Traditional’ Leaders and Conflict Resolution in Bougainville: Reforming the Present by Re-Writing the Past?” 1999.

The Coconut Revolution. Directed by Dom Rotheroe. 2001.

Saovana-Spriggs, Ruth. “Bougainville Women’s Role in Conflict Resolution in the Bougainville Peace Process.” In A Kind of Mending: Restorative Justice in the Pacific Islands, by Sinclair Dinnen, Anita Jowitt and Tess Newton Cain, 195-213. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2003.

The European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper. Voices on Panguna. 2012. www.bougainville-copper.eu (accessed 2012).

The National Online. Pacific Islands Report. 2012. http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport/2012/November/11-26-07.htm (accessed 2012).

Tombot, John. “A Marriage of Custom and Introduced Skills: Restorative Justice Bougainville Style.” In A Kind of Mending: Restorative Justice in the Pacific Islands, by Sinclair Dinnen, Anita Jowitt and Tess Newton Cain, 255-264. Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2003.

U.S. Department of State. “U.S. National Security Strategy: A New Era.” U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda, 2002.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. “GAO-10-1036R, Hybrid Warfare: Briefing to the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives.” Washington DC, September 10, 2010.

Williams, Phil. Violent Non-State Actors and National and International Security. International Relations and Security Network, 2008.


[1] (A. Regan, Bougainville/ Papua New Guinea 2008)

[2] (Parliament of Australia 2010)

[3] (Williams 2008)

[4] (Boege 2006)

[5] (U.S. Department of State 2002)

[6] New Wars Theory was developed by Mary Kaldor as a tool for differentiating the characteristics of violent conflict in the 21st century from the conventional understanding of interstate political warfare that formerly dominated the international relations field.

[7] The modern state as it is known today is formally recognized as being created through the processes that evolved from the Peace of Westphalia, a series of treaties in Europe that ended the Thirty Years’ War and transitioned Europe from a medieval system of states into the modern territorialized system of sovereign states.

[8] (Boege 2006)

[9] (U.S. Government Accountability Office September 10, 2010)

[10] (Parliament of Australia 2010)

[11] Ibid

[12] (Rotheroe 2001)

[13] (Parliament of Australia 2010)

[14] (A. Regan 2008)

[15] (Rotheroe 2001)

[16] (Parliament of Australia 2010)

[17] (Rotheroe 2001)

[18] (A. Regan 2008)

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] (Dinnen, Porter and Sage 2010)

[22] (Hegarty 2003)

[23] (Boege 2006)

[24] (Saovana-Spriggs 2003)

[25] (Tombot 2003)

[26] (A. J. Regan 1999)

[27] (Saovana-Spriggs 2003)

[28] Ibid

[29] (The European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper 2012)

[30] (Boege, Brown, et al. 2008)