by Scott Waide – EM TV, Lae
In 2012, Ignatius Bagle’s house was torched by a mob of angry men who accused members of his Five mile community in Lae of stoning a passing vehicle. Ignatius was not the only one who suffered.
Triggered by this seemingly minor incident, the attack led by people he knew as his neighbors resulted in the destruction of more than 30 other houses including his own.
“They came at midnight, and they started burning the house,” he said as he sat under a worn out tarpaulin. Then he points to a corner of what used to be his house.
“He (his grandson) was sleeping in that corner. I dived towards him and pulled him out of the house,” said the 69-year-old.
Three years after the incident, those responsible have not been brought to justice and Ignatius Bagle has not been compensated for his losses.
“I thought the police or the Morobe Provincial Government would step in to arrest the instigators of this violence. “2012 has gone. 2013 and 2014 has passed and now we’re nearing the middle of 2015.”
Ignatius Bagle, spent 47 years of his life as a primary school teacher. Upon retirement, he chose to settle in Lae’s Five Mile area. When he first came, Five mile had a very low crime rate. But over the years, Five mile and the other nearby settlements have earned the reputation as crime hotspots.
In this growing city of 400 thousand people, authorities and community leaders are struggling to deal with a deadly recipe of social disharmony made up of the alcohol, drugs, crime and large pockets of ethnic groups spread out of the city.
Lae’s Police Metropolitan Command reports that nine out of every 10 incidences of serious crime committed in the suburbs and settlements are related to alcohol and drug consumption.
Police reports also show that nine out of every 10 major clashes are supported by the ethnic group of the victim or perpetrators themselves.
Over three years, the instances of alcohol related clashes and revenge attacks by clusters of various ethnic groups have become a major cause for concern for Lae residents.
In Nawae block on the edge of Lae City, managing law and order problems is a daily struggle for senior members of the community.
Those caught up in the alcohol influenced violence and revenge attacks are always the women and children and those who have little option but to live in settlements because of high accommodation costs.
In 2013, the shooting of a Sepik youth, resulted in the widespread destruction of property leaving several families homeless. But over the next five days, as much of the focus moved to the death and destruction, the root cause of the violence – alcohol abuse – faded from public attention.
Many feel they have lost the fight against rampant alcoholism and the sale and distribution of marijuana. The impact of the problem is articulated better by the women who bear the brunt of the attacks.
“I don’t feel safe at all,” says Margaret Kamake, a Nawae Block resident. “When they young men are drunk with steam, they try to rape us or steal from us.”
There is an ever present feeling of lack of control and order and it has left the older generation who grew up in the strict colonial era looking for answers.
On the surface, what is being seen are the symptoms of deeply rooted social and economic problems. The rural to urban migration over 40 years, the lack of opportunity and unemployment have given rise to illegal activities that fuels the crime.
While drug arrests attract a lot of attention, not many realize that one of the biggest problems that exist in Lae City is the production of illegal alcohol. The extent of the production and consumption is been adequately documented. But the frequency of alcohol related crimes, suggests it is widespread.
In some communities, it has become an acceptable means of earning an income due to the high rate of unemployment.
Earlier this year, Lae’s reserve police unit, raided a relatively large production operation run by three women. The carefully planned operation supplied large quantities of distilled alcohol on a daily basis to the surrounding communities.
In many instances, the producers don’t draw the connection between Lae City’s high crime rate and their activities. If they do, the cash benefit of making more than K2000 a month is incentive enough for them to continue.