In a show of his care for Papua, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the easternmost territory Monday for his first outing since assuming office for his second term on Oct. 20. He danced with native Papuans, opened a bridge and promised more infrastructure development to improve the wellbeing of the people there.
He also went to Wouma Market in Wamena, the capital of the Papua highland regency of Jayawijaya, where The Jakarta Post found in an investigation that many non-native Papuans were killed in fires and native Papuans were shot to death in communal violence on Sept. 23. Regrettably, Jokowi did not say a single word about the tragedy, let alone the deadly shots that allegedly involved the Indonesian Military and the National Police, which had been sent to stop the riot.
Many native Papuans wounded in the violence did not go to the regional hospital for fear of unfair arrest, the Post discovered. Without narratives about truth and justice, Jokowi looks to play down the violence in Wamena last month as no more than buildings on fire and bickering between people. What happened in the town was a representation of multiple layers of inequality, injustice, lies and denial that had accumulated for decades.
There are native Papuans who have started to question whether the infrastructure was built for them or to facilitate the businesses of non-native Papuans. In fact, development in Papua has not only resulted in disparity between the natives and migrants, but has also dramatically changed the demographic landscape. The latest census in 2010 found that non-natives accounted for 22.8 percent of the Papua population, with more urban areas showing the trend of migrants outnumbering indigenous people.
Without truth and justice, especially for native Papuans, development of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and bridges would only worsen inequality. The special autonomy for Papua mandates affirmative actions for indigenous people, but they are simply unprepared to compete with migrants.
When the government refuses to talk about the lives lost in numerous incidents in Papua, in Wamena, Nduga and elsewhere, they are sending a message of disrespect for human lives and dignity.
After the escalating antiracism movement in Papua recently, Jokowi should have changed his approach in dealing with Papua. His signature infrastructure development for Papuans does not amount to a token of respect they deserve after all those unsolved alleged human rights violations. As if to add insult to injury, the central government is considering yet again formation of new provinces in Papua as a quick fix to calm aspirations for a referendum.
Building a bridge to truth and justice is all that will win the Papuan people’s hearts and minds. Jokowi can start with, for example, setting up a commission for truth and reconciliation as mandated by the 2008 Law on special autonomy for Papua.
In his first official visit to Papua after his reelection, Jokowi glaringly missed a golden chance to mend ties between Jakarta and Papua. But it’s not too late for Jokowi to regain the trust of the Papuans. What matters the most is his will.