There is something inherently intimidating about Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby which I think is a combination of the “rascal factor” and standing out in the crowd as a “dim-dim”, or white fella, in this country of dark skinned & fuzzy haired people.
Papua New Guinea is one of my favorite places – truly one of the last frontiers with some fantastic scuba diving and an amazingly diverse & incredibly rich interior. However the country is very much in the developing nation category and is likely to be so for a long time to come given it’s strong tribal nature, poor administration, endemic corruption and minimal infrastructure.
As the national capital and only point of international entry, Port Moresby has a pretty bad reputation – principally because of the random and occasionally very brutal nature of the rascal gang attacks. The basic problem is a general lack of employment opportunities in the country, so Moresby tends to attract people from far and wide in search of opportunities to move up the ladder.
Unfortunately the vast majority don’t find the pot of gold they are looking for and, with an unemployment rate of around 60%, they turn to petty crime. Tales of car jacking, rape and the occasional murder make the situation seem pretty grim, and the “dim-dims” & wealthy locals are relatively easy targets – so all the hotels, businesses & housing compounds have high walls with razor wire.
The biggest growth industry was security guards until “big oil” came to town – chasing the large reserves of natural gas in the highlands area to the northwest of Port Moresby.
When you talk to expats who live there you get a slightly different perspective and, although they can all relate stories of near misses or people they know who have been attacked, they all seem to get on with life regardless and so I wondered if it’s really as bad as it seems?
Apparently the violence is a lot more serious for the locals than it is for the expats, because the expats who are held up or robbed are rarely harmed – just hand over what you have and that’s it.
Whereas with the locals serious violence is usually associated with the robbery – the reality being that if you rob an expat and don’t harm them, no serious follow up occurs by the Port Moresby police. But if the raskol hurts an expat, then the police have to be seen to do something and a lot of ex-judicial punishment seems to be involved in the process.
So, while it may not be anywhere as lucrative, its much easier and simple to rob a local than it is to rob an expat as the locals get virtually no help from the police, making life for them truly dangerous and even harder than it should be.
On previous trips to Papua New Guinea I have always gone out of my way get through Port Moresby as quickly as possible or, if I had to stay overnight, did so at one of the two highly secure but very expensive airport hotels. However on this trip I decided to stay in Moresby and booked a room at the Ela Beach hotel, near the downtown area, resolving that I needed to get over the siege mentality and leave the safety of my room and at least have a walk around and see the beach.
The Ela Beach area has become an upmarket and expensive area with some significant real estate having been built along the sea front, but the main beach area near the headland still has a local feel about it.
The security guards at the hotel were clearly nervous when I walked past them and asked very politely where I was going and did I need any help. I demonstrated my responsible attitude by explaining that I had left everything of value locked in my room and then ventured out…
It was actually all very pleasant as the area is nice one to wander around and there were lots of local people about who were just either going about their business or sitting around shooting the breeze.
I decided that I needed to explore a bit more and get a clearer picture of PNG’s capital as what I thought might be a death walk around Port Moresby turned about to be nothing more than an afternoon stroll…