Nauru: A Pacific Leader

by Dom on May 2, 2011

What do proposed strikes in New Caledonia, a bit of negotiating in Japan, some near-forgotten events half a century ago on the phosphate islands, and a lack of development all have in common?

It’s pretty simple really; foreign companies getting a great return on investment for mining the traditional lands of Pacific landowners, Pacific states’ development being stifled by profit under the guise of progress, and local’s concerns being ignored. When we have a look at the Pacific today, there is much Nauru can teach us about development and resources.

New Caledonia’s unions have called for three days of general strikes in the middle of May to protest deteriorating living conditions blamed on inaction form their politicians who are under constant barrage from, amongst others, lobbyists from the nickel industry and the banks. This all seems fair enough, but will anything change? I doubt it.

And PNG, a country that has had its fair share of investment/exploitation from the outside world result in very limited development, has just signed a bilateral accord with Japan to make Japanese access to PNG resources easier…. Don’t get me wrong, but who sees this helping the population of PNG to any great degree? It’s not going to generate local jobs, it’s not going to involve a great deal of investment outside the mine sites, and it will probably have any potential benefit to the public reduced greatly by corruption. Bougainville: successful protest. Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers: protest. Barrick: not even letting the protesters have a voice. I have to admit, I understand their stance, but think makes them look like they would not have been able to mount a rebuttal.

So let’s look back and see how these things were handled in the past: has anyone heard of Banaba and know what happened to the kidney-shaped phosphate-rich equatorial rock between 1900 and 1980? Strip mining, depopulation and resettlement (if it could be called that) aren’t really valid options for large companies anymore as opportunities to do so are rather limited and the mass media may draw too much attention to it these days. Well, in the Pacific the environmental impacts seem not to matter actually, so it’s just the locals they have to worry about. The same locals who allow the miners into their countries….

This is the same old story, but what to do about it? How about reviving some old thinking; I’m thinking of a little island called Nauru. And to be fair, there is a lot of negative things to be said about Nauru (just look thrugh my previous posts), but there are some great lessons in the history of the other equatorial kidney-shaped pinnacle field.  I want to see pacific island states take the lead of Nauru and do something about developing their own resources, and it would be nice if a couple of them at least could do something about investing their dividends a bit better. In an ideal world, they may even potentially improve the lot of their own people substantially.

Nauru may be slightly ashamed of its current predicament, but at least Nauru attempted to manage their resources, and develop their country themselves. We’ll watch this space, but forgive me if I don’t pay it much attention, I’m not overly hopeful regional leaders have the capacity or inclination.

Questions, comments, thoughts, retorts?

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