Michael Somare, the first prime minister of Papua New Guinea, who played a key role in leading the country to independence from Australia, died Friday in Port Moresby, the capital. He was 84.
His death in hospital was announced by his daughter Beta Somare, who said he was admitted on February 19 after being diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.
“Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers, which is rarely detected early,” she said in an email. “As a family, we only had two weeks to look for possible treatments for our father.”
Widely regarded as “papa blo kantri”, the father of his Pacific nation, Mr Somare has been Papua New Guinea’s longest-serving prime minister for three separate terms, in 17 of the country’s 45 years of independence. He held the position from 1975 to 1980; from 1982 to 1985; and from 2002 to 2011.
Mr Somare played a key role in addressing the challenges posed by the country’s various tribal groups, Australian immigrants and the Australian Government on the eve of independence.
Ronald May, an honorary associate in the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, wrote in an obituary for Mr Somare on a university website:
“Despite these challenges, Papua New Guinea made a smooth transition to independence in 1975, with Mr Somare as prime minister, confusing those in Australia and elsewhere who had predicted political and economic collapse. It remains one of the relatively small number of postcolonial states that maintain a continuous register of democracy. “
Mr. Somare was born on April 9, 1936, in Rabaul, Eastern New Britain, where his father was stationed as a police officer. The younger Mr. Somare was raised in the province of East Sepik, which he would later represent in parliament.
He worked as a translator and journalist before entering politics as the founder of Pangu Pati, who acted as an unofficial opposition in Parliament, before forming a coalition that led the country to independence.
He served as Papua New Guinea’s chief minister as an administratively administered territory and, after independence, as prime minister.
In a midnight radio address to the new nation, Mr Somare said: “This is just the beginning. We must now stand on our own two feet and work harder than ever. We are truly masters of our own destiny. ”
He spent the last part of his last term in critical care outside Papua New Guinea, during which he was removed from office by a group of lawmakers who announced that the role of prime minister was vacant. Mr Somare formally withdrew from politics in 2017.
In addition to his daughter Beta, Mr Somare is survived by his wife, Veronica, whom he married in 1965; and their other children, Sana, Arthur, Michael and Dulsiana.
On Friday, Mr Marape called for a “week of silence, peace and tranquility, as we pay tribute to this man to whom our country owes much”.