Theonilla Roka Matbob not only achieved her dream following the 2020 Bougainville Elections; she has also made history by becoming Bougainville’s second woman to win an open constituency.
During the return of writs on Thursday, the 24th of September, the Bougainville Electoral Commissioner, George Manu, made special mention of Matbob, who was declared the winner of the Ioro Constituency on the morning of the 12th of September.
Thirty-year-old Matbob – a young mother with a degree in arts, social and religious studies from the Divine Word University – follows along the most difficult and hardest of all paths first carved by Josephine Getsi in 2015 when she was elected to the Peit Constituency seat in the Bougainville House of Representatives.
Unlike most of her peers, straight after graduating from university in 2015, Matbob returned home to initiate a program that aimed to increase the quality of education in her community in Panguna district.
In an interview with this newsroom, Matbob said seeing the low level of education in her constituency motivated her to create her own projects to empower their children. Her aim is to have an educated generation in the next 10 years.
“Whilst working as a social worker and a counsellor, I was able to reach our communities where government services rarely reach,” Matbob said. “And listening to their stories I was able to see that there was a gap between the government and the people.”
Matbob said despite the slogan: “A government for the people, by the people”, no tangible outcomes were seen on ground. That was when she saw that it was time for change.
“But I did not want to rush into making the decision to contest. I waited for how the people were going to respond to my presence in the communities.
“So the request that came from the community actually just empowered the dream that I had to one day represent the people in the Bougainville House of Representatives.”
Growing up in a home where her relative was Bougainville’s first president acclimatised her to the political climate. Matbob said her only challenge was contesting a male-dominated seat. She shared that the worst thing to happen to her was competing against her own brother.
“I’m not sure if he was used from outside or… it was just that there was a form of rivalry within him that he contested against me just to split the votes so I wouldn’t make it. But because I had so much done with the community – not necessarily giving them material stuff to bring them to my side but – being with them, sleeping with them, eating with them was the thing that actually grounded their trust in me.
“So no matter how challenging it was, I still knew – before the nomination – that this seat was going to be a woman’s seat.”