The Jakarta Post
Cobras and pigs have reportedly been terrorizing people in some parts of Java and North Sumatra in the last few weeks.
While many experts and officials have linked the snake invasion to environmental damage and climate change, Mohammad Idris, the mayor of Depok, West Java, one of Jakarta’s buffer cities, perceives the phenomenon in a bigger and odder context. For him sinister forces are behind the cobra terror.
When haze choked people in Sumatra and Kalimantan and in neighboring countries, the central government and people living on Java Island paid little attention to the disaster as it happened so far away from their homes. Now the threat that the snakes are spreading is so real and close to them that they have decided to take immediate action.
Elsewhere, North Sumatra Governor, and former three-star general, Edy Rahmayadi has threatened to take punitive measures against those behind the spread of swine fever, as if he was still an active military commander.
In North Sumatra, non-Muslims suspect the local government is reluctant to address the problem of swine fever as the disease affects pigs, an animal that is haram or forbidden according to Islam. Previously the provincial government had sparked controversy with its plan to introduce halal tourism to a region where pig breeding is common.
In response to the spread of the virus, the governor and his staff simply condemned farmers who dumped pig carcasses in rivers. The officials offered no solutions such as deep landfills for the dead pigs or vaccines for the pig herd.
Since October, swine fever has killed tens of thousands of pigs in several regencies in North Sumatra. Governor Edy should have been experienced in handling a crisis. Swine fever will affect the whole province, and the consequences will be overarching if he does not take swift action and work with all stakeholders, including farmers.
Edy, instead, threatens to punish those caught dumping carcasses in the name of public order. He further plans mass culling if the epidemic does not stop. Making crime pay is essential, but letting a deadly disease spread amounts to a threat to human health. Such a policy is hard to credit coming as it does from a former senior military officer.
Pigs are a sensitive issue in the province, where Protestants, Catholics and other non-Muslims, who eat pork, make up a large percentage of the population. For the Christian Batak community, the pig plays an important role in their customs, therefore the governor’s response to the swine fever outbreak appears to hurt them. In the same vein, Bataks were upset by the governor’s plan to promote halal tourism in the province.
The Depok mayor has taken a more “out of the box” initiative than the North Sumatra governor in dealing with an animal-related problem.
Speaking to reporters on Dec. 16, the mayor revealed his intention to launch a combined intelligence, police and firefighting operation to repulse the snake invasion in the city.
He doubts whether the cobras’ omnipresence is caused by environmental reasons like global warming and has drafted a comprehensive plan to combat the venomous reptile.
The mayor, who earned his PhD from the Imam Muhammad Ibn Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, recounted an incident in a Saudi Arabian city, where irresponsible persons released snakes to create panic among the people. “It turned out irresponsible individuals, or provocateurs, had intentionally released the snakes,” said Idris.
After consulting with local firefighters, Idris said he would involve the police and the intelligence agency in the war on the cobras. “The police and local intelligence community will be deployed to find out what is really going on,” the mayor was quoted as saying.
For me, the mayor needs to cope with the root cause of the problem, which is how the snakes invaded the city in the first place. Snake invasions have been reported in Jakarta and other cities across Java, giving rise to the speculation about a conspiracy to spread fear and terror.
Frankly, such a conclusion is simply ridiculous.
Government agencies as representatives of the state, should counter any threat facing its citizens, as in the cases of the cobra invasion and swine fever epidemic. I am afraid, however, that many officials too frequently resort to conspiracy theories and pretend not to know the roots of a problem as has happened in Depok and North Sumatra.
You may feel I am exaggerating the issues of the snakes and pigs, but there is a tendency for government officials to jump to conclusions that appeal to their narrow minds.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo recently blamed greedy oil importers for the increasing current account deficit. He is not wrong, but he is not looking at the big picture. There are very many reasons behind the ballooning deficit.
Like the current account deficit, the problems of snakes and pigs need immediate but rational solutions.