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Jakarta Post

Insight: Creating new Papuan provinces without political participation will only add to conflict

  • Septinus George Saa

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Birmingham, UK   /   Wed, November 6, 2019   /   09:35 am
Insight: Creating new Papuan provinces without political participation will only add to conflict Jokowi’s leadership must prioritize empowerment of Papuans as decision-makers with full support either through funding or other mechanisms. Potential conflicts of political interest in Papua could lead Papuans to seek further intervention by the President in their affairs. (Antara/Thoyib)

In its second term, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government should learn crucial lessons from the political actions taken in Papua and in the rest of the country, led by students. Among other things, they had raised the issue of racism against Papuans, objected to the addition of troops in Papua, demanded the release of activists, that human rights violations be resolved and demanded the end of the impunity enjoyed by the alleged murderers among the security personnel — apart from demanding a referendum for Papua as a peaceful solution to chronic grievances. These also include their sense of marginalization and the extractive investments of the members of Indonesia’s political elite.

Our reform movement is still young, yet Jokowi’s second term has already entrusted questionable figures from the authoritarian New Order era with strategic positions. Those of us from Papua have become increasingly distrustful of the political double standards applied in Papua — notably the lower awareness of leaders and politicians of the need to take into account the views of Papuans, compared to those of non-Papuan citizens.

The ideology of Papua Merdeka (Free Papua) continues to gain support from Papuans. For Papuans themselves, “development” from the 1960s to 2019 had started with various military operations that killed hundreds of thousands of Papuans in the land of their ancestors, pushed by the political elite without strong local foundations.

This view was strengthened this year as Indonesia’s leaders have now given the green light to even more new provinces and regencies besides the existing Papua and West Papua. Reports say there might be five new provinces based on seven customary areas — according to the mapping of the previous Dutch colonial administration.

As a member of a younger generation, I share the sense that our ideals of a participatory political culture seem so distant and alien. A government of this day and age should not be imposing a patronizing political culture under which Papuans are not considered citizens who are aware of the political system, who are able to participate in politics.

Worse, Papuans are also considered to have little knowledge of the processes for offering input to government, including requests and support, or about its output, including laws and policies. That Papuans are considered citizens who are clueless about participating in politics is reflected in the plans for the new provinces and regencies in Papua, which are dangerous for Indonesia’s future in Papua.

Actually, Papuans are fully aware of the impacts of Jakarta’s politics. The establishment of West Papua, for example, clearly reflected power struggles over the potentially lucrative posts of governor and regents. It was followed by a fairly sudden increase in the non-Papuan population, as well as an increase of land clearing and illegal logging.

My proposed solution is very simple. First, creating new provinces and regions may indeed be a government effort to boost the Papuan economy through the stimulant of government funds to the new regions. However, the establishment of the new regions must take place through participatory politics involving wide consultation with Papuan communities.

Without such participation, resistance from Papuans will rise everywhere, which is already evident in recent statements by local political leaders. What with the still-popular ideology of Papua Merdeka, such efforts to create new regions would only be rejected on the basis that Papuans would only gain more suffering and marginalization in their own land.

Another reason for the rejection might be that a democratic Indonesia that should champion and protect its indegineous people is only a capitalist entity seeking quick solutions to drive economic growth.

This perception has grown from the large-scale campaigns to attract investors, particularly to Papua’s extractive sector, while Papuans are part of the global indigenous community that has experienced first hand the meaning of national and foreign investment: frequent dislocation from their homes.

When this happens, whatever protests will arise will collide with the security forces of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, the “NKRI” that citizens consider must be defended at all costs. More victims will fall, worsening Indonesia’s track record on human rights violations against Papuans. Jokowi and Jakarta’s elite should take such factors into account when forming policies, such as those for new regions in Papua.

I agree with Papua Governor Lukas Enembe who stated, “Don’t teach us, we defend NKRI all-out,” as quoted by suarapapua.com on Aug. 24. The governor obviously understands the roots of chronic conflicts and he would agree that new regions would only incite more polemics and conflicts that native Papuans never win. Making new regions is not a “win-win solution” for Papuans; it is a “lose-lose” situation as long as Jakarta and President Jokowi continue the same approach: subjectively deciding what’s best for Papuans.

Jokowi’s leadership must prioritize empowerment of Papuans as decision-makers with full support either through funding or other mechanisms. Potential conflicts of political interest in Papua could lead Papuans to seek further intervention by the President in their affairs.

While the President seeks to reap sympathy and genuine support from Papuans, despite the much remaining work and the plentiful, unresolved past sins of the state against Papuans, Pak Jokowi can start a new chapter in Papuans’ lives by refusing to be a leader with an autocratic and transactional style — and instead encourage the free will of Papuans. Pak Jokowi must now lead with a democratic and transformative style.

***

Papuan scientist, research associate with the Mason Institute of Tribology, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom; winner of First Step to Noble Prize in Physics 2004.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.