Until recently, visitors making their way to the immigration checkpoint at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby were greeted with a sign exclaiming, "Welcome to Papua New Guinea: The land of the unexpected". In a nation that is so self-aware of its unpredictability, forecasting future scenarios is like staring into a crystal ball. Quality data is scarce and incomplete, trends are difficult to establish and validate, and prognostications on PNG's future are often dogmatic and politicised.
Over the past 42 years Papua New Guinea has defied many of the most negative projections for its future, and navigated a huge number of 'crossroad' situations. Even before 1975, some were arguing that independence would be an unmitigated disaster, and the risk of Papua New Guinea becoming a failed state is a question that has permeated its short history It is a question that is now being asked more frequently. On one view, Papua New Guinea has managed to "muddle through", largely on the strength of its peoples' resilience in the face of adversity. However, this resilience may be dwindling, and rather than "muddling through", Papua New Guinea may instead be on a "muddling down" trajectory. Its politicians, on the other hand, claim that the country's prospects have never been better.
In a nation with so many development challenges and such porous data, it is difficult to identify future scenarios, let alone determine which is most likely. How does one define a failed state in Papua New Guinea, where most of the nation is not dependent on a properly functioning state? Without accurate data, how can one track trends in human development over decades? Should the focus be placed on the country as a whole, or on urban areas, on rural areas, or areas critical for economic development? How can new technological advancements be appropriately accounted for?
Drawing on the papers in this series, five variables from each of the sectors addressed in the papers have been identified as critical influences on PNG's development over the next ten years and beyond. From these variables, three potential scenarios emerge, with the most likely scenario that Papua New Guinea will continue to 'muddle through' as it has in the past, failing to meet many expectations of development but defying the country's many detractors, and avoiding state failure.