Bougainville's Independence Referendum

December 17, 2019

Map of Bougainville

Situated 560 miles east of the Papua New Guinea mainland sits one of that nation's small islands, Bougainville. The people of Bougainville have just voted for independence. The referendum was approved by the Papua New Guinea government, and, although it's non-binding, the decisive vote will likely compel Papua New Guinea to grant Bougainville independence at some point in the future.

Why is independence such an important issue for the citizens of Bougainville?

In the 1800s, colonial activities of Britain and Germany split Bougainville away from nearby southern islands with which it shares cultural and linguistic connections. The archipelago became a disputed region. The British took control of the southern islands, but the Germans controlled Bougainville.

Later, during World War I, Australia occupied Bougainville, and after the war, it became property of Papua New Guinea.

The relationship between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea was never good, and, in the late 1980s, environmental and economic concerns related to the mining industry on the island led to a revolt by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army against the national government of Papua New Guinea. A ten-year civil war was the result.

In 1997, peace talks resulted in a truce, with one outcome of the agreement being the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. This was a unique arrangement, as no other province of Papua New Guinea has its own legislature.

Bougainville has sought independence for years, with lingering bitterness over the civil conflict that claimed between 10,000 and 20,000 lives.

In October 2018, the question that would be posed in the referendum was made official, giving voters the choice between greater autonomy or independence, with no option to maintain the status quo. The long-awaited Bougainville independence referendum, scheduled for November 2019, has just occurred.

The votes were cast, and 98% were in favor of independence.

But that doesn't mean Bougainville will be an independent state any time soon. The Papua New Guinea government will decide if Bougainville should become fully independent, and if so, when that will happen.

Major political unrest and environmental concerns over the island's mining operation have crippled efforts to effectively build up the economy through internal revenue generation. For the Papua New Guinea government, the debate over Bougainville's independence will center around environmental and economic worries, and it will have to address sensitive geopolitical factors.

At Seterra, we want to ensure that our maps are current, so, if Bougainville becomes the world's newest independent nation, we'll be sure to update the affected quizzes immediately!

Flag of Bougainville