Press Release: West Papuan Independence Leader Benny Wenda visits Ghana
March 23, 2016
Chief Benny Wenda’s statement on his recent visit to Ghana.
The fortunes of the African revolution are closely linked with the world-wide struggle against imperialism. It does not matter where the battle erupts, be it in Africa, Asia or Latin America, the master-mind and master-hand at work are the same. The oppressed and exploited people are striving for their freedom against exploitation and suppression. Ghana must not, Ghana cannot be neutral in the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor.
For many years it has been the dream of my people in West Papua, that I could visit Ghana on their behalf, and to bring the message of our very deep and historical gratitude for the leadership role that Ghana played in defending West Papua’s right to self-determination, and also providing a place of refuge for some of our elders and freedom fighters in the past.
It was very momentous that I came to Ghana at a time of its 59th Independence Day Celebrations and also an opportunity to seek the spirit of the visionary, Dr Kwame Nkrumah and his tireless efforts at gaining freedom and justice for Africans everywhere, such that my people will also one day have a cause to celebrate! Lastly, I came to make the plight and unjust sufferings of West Papuans known to our brothers and sisters in Ghana and to seek their solidarity and moral support once again as our struggle gathers pace.
As soon as I touched down and felt the warm and gentle Accra breeze in my face, it was like the gentle strokes of many African hands welcoming me home. My strong sentiments of belonging to the African diaspora was shared with everyone I met. I was very delighted and overwhelmed that I had finally made it. With such short notice, it was most humbling, awe inspiring and deeply emotional that great and renowned African leaders such as Ex. Presidents Jerry John Rawlings, President John Agyekum Kufuor and Rev. Dr Fred Deegbe would give me such dedicated time and kind attention as they did. The comrades, academics, senior diplomats, journalists, and Pan Africanist who equally sacrificed their precious time was so invigorating and one couldn’t measure how much they had breathed additional leash of life into West Papua’s independence struggle. Each day was fully packed, exciting and eventful, as graciously, God smiled upon the mission – door, after door opened, as we knocked. We are ever grateful to our new family and friends who made it all possible. Now, I can also testify that Ghana is a land with people of genuine love and kind hospitality for the needy.
The people of West Papua have never forgotten that in 1969 when the devastating ‘Act of Free Choice’ took place, where the United Nations turned a blind eye to the illegal activities that resulted in the bloody occupation of West Papua, it was Ghana that took a courageous leading role and raised legitimate doubts over the conduct of Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty over West Papua. 19 African nations followed Ghana’s lead in voicing their opposition and calling for an amendment to the act, including Kenya, Togo and Sierra Leone.
In 1969 West Papua’s act of self-determination, known as the Act of Free Choice was held in order for West Papuans to decide whether to be independent or to join Indonesia. The Act should have been internationally monitored and held to international standards with universal suffrage. Instead the Indonesian army who had invaded, chose only 1026 people to vote on behalf of around one million West Papuan people. The overwhelming majority of our people were prevented from taking part in our own right of self-determination. In front the UN General Assembly the Ghanaian delegation, “expressed reservation concerning the method followed and considered that the people of West Irian had not exercised their right to self-determination”, and that, the ‘Act of Free Choice’ did not follow the basic guidelines laid down by the UN Secretary-General’s own Special Representative, and in this sense was a direct violation of the 1962 New York Agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands that:“ the people of West Irian should be given a further opportunity, by the end of 1975, to carry out the act of free choice”. West Irian was the colonial name for West Papua used at the time. It was such a brave position that Ghana took that other countries (mostly African) supported their opposition to the illegal Act.
The government and people of Ghana also came to the rescue of five West Papuan refugees in 1986. These five native West Papua elders and freedom fighters (with bows and arrows) had fled the grips of the Indonesian government and crossed into Papua New Guinea, but later got captured. They were found by a Ghanaian official from UNHCR, upon whose request Jemes Nyaro, Allex Derey, Gerard Thommey, David Timka, and Aries Wader where all flown to Ghana and granted asylum. They lived in Ghana from 1986 to 1990. Ghana is thus celebrated throughout West Papua to this day for the moral and courageous leadership shown on either occasion, in the face of obvious injustice and intimidation. The people of West Papua will never forget. Therefore, I came to Ghana also conveying these individuals’ gratitude, yet foremost, to thank Ghana for their historical role in standing up for our right to self-determination at the UN in 1969, as against the 1969 “Act of Free Choice”imposed upon us, and to inform our brothers and sisters that many reports have now proved that Ghana and the countries that stood with it in 1969 were correct, and that the people of West Papua have been illegally denied their right to self-determination in the hope that they’ll rekindle and strengthen their historical support for us.
Reverend Dr Fred Deebge, former secretary general of the Christian Council of Ghana and a respected father to many, welcomed me with brotherly love. We discussed the support and prayers from global church leaders in our pain and sufferings, and how the International Baptist Human Rights Council might view West Papua’s subjugation and internal struggle. It was gratifying to share that there are indications that Pope Francis may visit West Papua in 2017. We left Rev Dr Fred Deegbe with his blessing and heartfelt prayers. He said God can do the impossible but He still requires our human cooperation, which is why He says, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Thus blessed we followed on with separate meetings with the two former presidents of Ghana, both highly respected, and loved by the country for their respective roles in continuing to build on Ghana’s founding fathers’ democratic, free and just society.
His Excellency President John Agyekum Kufuor (2001-2009) and former Chairperson of the African Union, renowned international leader, philosopher and chairman of the John Agyekum Kufuor Foundation received us warmly at his residence. We spoke about the importance of the chieftaincy institution in Ghana, and Africa, its traditions and similarity in culture as a whole, my role as a native chief to our people, a leader and spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement of West Papua. I in turn showed him the numerous photo messages requesting Ghana’s support for West Papua once again. He observed that: “You are clearly not Indonesian”and that, “It is important that humanity should be central to everything. As human beings you are entitled to humanity. In due course, humanity will prevail, and you will be free”. These words from one who has such depth of knowledge in history and governance, as well as the struggles going on throughout the world was very encouraging and it truly sustains our hopes. It really does make me believe and see that our redemption from all oppression is nigh and freedom is getting much closer each day.
Most African observers note that His Excellency President Jerry John Rawlings is one of the few political leaders who has had so much impact in Ghana, and Africa as a whole apart from the late Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. So obviously there was some excitement as well as humility that he should also make time for us. He is renowned for his outspokenness, strong leadership, ‘a man of the people’ as well as an initiator and advocate for international peace keeping. It is also noteworthy that it was under the leadership of Chairman Rawlings that the West Papua elders and freedom fighters were granted refuge in Ghana from 1986. Thus to meet Chairman Rawlings and to pass on their personal words of gratitude to him, was to me an important part of this mission. The sentiments and thrust of our conversations during this meeting only served to confirm what many people had said about him. He is a doer, an action man! Shortly after our meeting and much to our amazement he had made sure we were on the evening news that same day!
Chairman Rawlings told me, “It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980’s. West Africa has seen slavery, colonial and independence struggles”. “Chief you find yourself in a very painful situation!”. “I suggest that you contact the European Commission, every parliamentarian, the AU and all organisations concerned. Keep knocking and knock again, don’t let them sleep”, “we will contribute by reminding them who is still colonised”, “Keep fighting!”
It was very appropriate that it was at the W.E.B Du Bois memorial centre that I finally got to meet and thank some of our Pan-African grassroots supporters from Ghana who have been helping spread the word about West Papua throughout Ghana for over a year, including new friends of the campaign who had heard of our visit. Dr W.E.B Du Bois was an African-American civil rights leader and thinker during the American civil rights movement, he made Ghana his safe haven in the 1920s’ and worked with Ghana’s first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah and other prominent Africans on the Pan-African Agenda. As I spoke to members of the Pan-African groups and youth leaders at the centre, it felt like the spirit of our struggle was joining the memories of a proud and passionate people and I knew I was in the right place, among family. It was most significant that a banner sending a message back to West Papuans was raised by our Ghanaian brothers and sisters. It was yet another important milestone and a powerful moment on this home coming trip.
We also got occasion to be guests at one of Ghana’s leading television and media houses (TV3), which covers everything from world news and politics to entertainment. The current affairs programme was appropriately named HOT ISSUES, and the host was Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr. Mr Kwesi Pratt Jnr is a highly respected journalist and is also the Managing Editor of The Insight, a daily newspaper with substantial influence in left circles, academia, the civil and public services. This afforded the opportunity to address many pertinent questions about West Papua and its struggles and also provided a very important platform for reaching out to Ghanaians with our story.
Our final engagement was at the Institute of African Studies at University of Ghana. I discovered during the mission that several senior academics from Ghana had worked in Papua New Guinea in the 1970’s and 80’s and knew all about West Papua and what the Indonesian military had done to our people then. Therefore, it seemed really fitting and important that we could speak at a seminar hosted by the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana. In attendance we professors, senior lecturers, students and members of the general public. The historical facts and current situation in West Papua was openly discussed. Once again I was humbled by the genuine words of solidarity and support for West Papuans, and how our pain and sufferings could be alleviated.
Ghana Independence Celebrations
Finally, having the opportunity to witness Ghana’s 59th Independence Day celebrations at The Black Star Square in Accra was an extraordinary climax! To be in the colourful sea of people from all walks of life in the country, yet among distinguished world dignitaries, African presidents and ministers was equally humbling. It was an overwhelmingly proud moment to see what fellow blacks have achieved. I listened to Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and John Dramani Mahama with rapt attention during their addresses. What a day and celebration to be proud of? His Excellency President John Mahama made note that “Gaining independence in sub-Saharan Africa is not our only first” – “Ghana was the first African nation to provide peacekeeping forces to the UN. Ghana was the first country in the world chosen to receive Peace Corps volunteers. Ghana was the first African country to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and the first African country to win the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Ghana was the first country to open its borders for the provision of humanitarian aid in the fight against Ebola!”.
To the people of Ghana, I pray that someday you could add to your history that ‘Ghana was the first country to stand up for West Papua in 1969’ in its fight for humanity and freedom. Ghana should know that you continue to give hope and inspiration to the people of West Papua. We may have lived so long under colonial rule for 188 years, but it is our strong hope and belief that very soon we will be a free people. Coming to Ghana, seeing so much among my brothers and sisters, and receiving the words and encouragement of such great leaders has made that belief stronger. A big thank you to the people of Ghana, and may I say when you hear the cock crow in the morning, it is your brothers and sisters from West Papua saying: Shiidaa, ye daase, akpe na mi, naa gode!
Chief Benny Wenda,
Spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)
Nobel peace prize Nominee 2013 and 2014.