by Peter King
Paper for presentation at a conference on Comprehending West Papua organised by the West Papua Project, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney, 23-24 February 2010
What might persuade the Indonesian government that the time has come to yield to the near-unanimous desire of indigenous Papuans for self determination and independence for West Papua—or at least to begin a reconciliation process by adopting some version of the Papua Road Map to dialogue as laid out and being “socialised” by LIPI (the Indonesian Institute of Science)and Muridan Widjojo in Jakarta and by the Catholic Church and Neles Tebay in Jayapura?
- Persuasion by “moderate” voices… exemplified by the Road Map group who would put dialogue about independence on hold while civil society in Papua and Indonesia is mobilised to activate potential voices for “moderation” towards Papua among the Jakarta elite and to persuade Papuans that dialogue about everything else (tragic history, failed special autonomy, threatening in-migration) would be worthwhile.
- Fear of escalating protest and repression in Papua… putting Indonesia’s international reputation at further high risk as it did in East Timor during 1991 and 1999 and in Aceh for long periods from 1976 until the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Indonesian government and GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) in 2005. This signal act of reconciliation legitimised the GAM and the political party which emerged from it to contest, and win, elections in Aceh. It was as if a party spun off by the OPM guerillas (the Free Papua Movement) was now ruling in Papua. But no such option is under consideration for Papua where any purely local Papuan party is and would be illegal so long as Jakarta rejects dialogue and negotiation.
- A turn at the Centre against the TNI… especially the army, which has failed to follow the cues laid down for its business divestment–or for the “political divestment” of its so-called territorial function. Thus the overwhelming local presence of the TNI in large parts of Papua, especially the central highlands, continues to disgrace the government and the country with uncontrolled repression, including torture, assassination and brutal sweeping operations, and routine embezzlement of civilian budgets to support military programs and campaigns.
- Realisation generally in Indonesia that Papua can be an opportunity as well as a (secessionist) threat…The toxic combination of Papuan rejectionism (of the NKRI –the unitary republic--and its works) and TNI impunity could even ultimately imperil the rather limited democratic political gains made over the past 13 years under reformasi in Indonesia itself. In a political economy perspective these gains have mainly served so far to entrench a new post Suharto version of decentered and decentralised KKN (Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisme) and money politics. They have confirmed Indonesia as the Big Sick Man of South East Asia.1 Grinding poverty is still the norm for a near majority of the population, 2 and KKN looms over the future of the economy as a true Great Big Tax on Everything which seemingly cannot be evaded while corrupt police, prosecutors and judges (the legal mafia) and a largely corrupt political, bureaucratic and military elite still prevail against a vocal and active NGO sector. Indeed there is only one truly effective anti-KKN official watchdog, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).3
Papua stands out after East Timor and Aceh as the next frontier where the most effective blow can be struck against TNI impunity, rampant embezzlement (of the trillions of rupiah –hundreds of millions of dollars--which have flowed out to--and also back from--Papua under special autonomy since 2001) and the money politics of the starkly unrepresentative and unresponsive mainstream Indonesian political parties which dominate electoral politics in Papua as everywhere else in Indonesia, except Aceh. Papua is also the place where the dangers of inaction may be greatest.
- Reprise of East Timor…If despite all of the above possibilities for a new deal by gradualism in Papua there is still of course the East Timor scenario of 1999 which could be played out again, and quite suddenly. The latest Papuan political mobilisation began in July 2010 with a huge people’s march from the MRP (the all-Papuan upper house in Papua province) to the DPRD (the local parliament) against special autonomy and for some kind of a referendum on Papua’s future. If defiance is carried further this year and the army, which still seems to have remembered nothing and learnt nothing—largely because it has suffered nothing--revisits its militia and mayhem tactics of 1999 in Dili a new scenario might indeed unfold. There could even be a fresh opening for a global civil society uprising on behalf of Papua, and even another Australian-led peace-keeping intervention.
In other words Indonesia as a people’s polity has a strong interest in terminating repression and police/military impunity in Papua. But the Indonesian official elite post Suharto continues complacent about the long term outcome in Papua, with settler numbers building to a majority and beyond and military (including Kopassus) cooperation with Australia and the US restored. But Indonesia has, for the Papuans and for many disinterested observers, lost its mandate to rule in Papua by consistent failure across over the years to treat the people as true partners in “development” or anything else. What NKRI Jakarta sees in Papua is not Papuans but rich resources and almost limitless land and forest and sovereign territory (over a fifth of the archipelago’s total) to do with as it will.
In the upshot of nearly five decades of repression and exploitation by the myopic unitary republic “losing” Papua would not be a tragedy, as most but not all Indonesians or at least Javanese think.4 Indeed it is becoming a kind of necessity. Indonesia’s resource-profligate ways with forests have already led it to Number 3 in the world’s carbon pollution stakes. Destruction and burning of peat and other tropical forest in the interests of the palm oil boom have already laid waste large tracts of Sumatra and Kalimantan and elevated Papua into a last frontier for giant plantation and food estate schemes. These schemes now promise to turn the Papuans ultimately from a people without a land into a people without land as well. And they will most assuredly nullify any other plans and programs to lower Indonesia’s preposterous (for a non-industrial power) carbon footprint.
The green path, for Papua and Indonesia both, is to finally, belatedly, ensure that customary land owners can control their own destiny and be helped to save their own forests for human purposes. Papuan political leaders need to be given a chance to ensure that in the interests of Papua (and Indonesia and the planet) the deforested fate of Sumatra and Kalimantan is averted for Papua.
It is also a big negative for Indonesia that Papua’s trillions of rupiah in special autonomy funding might just about as well have been thrown in the sea.5 The main function of this largesse has been to grease the policy of divide and rule which has set Papuan political elites (and regions) against each other to control the money and given them powerful reasons to pretend that special autonomy is working and stay loyal to the Jakarta-imposed system. Papua and West Papua, two of the smallest (by population) provinces of Indonesia have “enjoyed” the biggest largesse from the centre. But the extremely high level of per capita funding has translated into a staggeringly high level of per capita corruption among the bupatis, governors, bureaucrats and importunate brigadiers who have divided it up. PT Freeport famously adds well over a billion dollars a year to the Indonesian treasury but KKN Papua annually subtracts a possibly comparable sum.
The awkward truth is that, notwithstanding the prospective tax and royalty billions to be collected from Freeport copper and gold, BP gas, BHP nickel prospects and Chinese paper mills in Papua, Indonesia would arguably be better off without her two troublesome Papuan provinces. Or at least better off with a Papua enjoying genuine autonomy, Aceh style. Indonesia has certainly turned out to be much better off without East Timor--not that this perception is very strong among Jakarta’s nationalists!
The argument is partly about Indonesia’s lack of legal, historical and moral entitlement to occupy Papua as it has, and the utter alienation of the Papuans which has resulted. This alienation is what makes the defence of unconditional sovereignty in Papua such an interminable, debilitating, corrupting, expensive and reputation-ravaging affair for Indonesia. One hopes for another Habibie or Gus Dur—Presidents who grasped the point in the early days of reformasi. Meanwhile one hopes, like Mr Micawber in Dickens, for something to turn up. Going on East Timor and the present state of the Middle East it quite likely will.
1 Peter King, ‘“Corruption Ruins Everything”: Gridlock over Suharto’s Legacy in Indonesia’, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus [online], February 2008
2 A quick illustration of this: On a recent trip to tourist-ridden and “booming” Bali I struggled to find any tourist sector worker (driver, hotel hand, cook, shop minder) in receipt of more than Rs 800,000 per month ($2.50 per diem), which happens to be the official minimum wage in Jogjakarta. Journalists there were campaigning to achieve four times that sum as a minimum wage while acknowledging that many of their number in fact received less. Sri Wahyuni, ‘AJI calls for decent salaries for Yogyakarta journalists’, The Jakarta Post, 21 January 2010
3 In support of this claim we may note that KPK effectiveness was not seriously affected by the appointment of a reputedly corrupt official from the Attorney General’s office as head in 2009 (although that official is now in jail convicted of murder), and that a cabal of disaffected (with aggressive KPK investigations) police and prosecutors conspired to frame for corruption (or even to murder) two high (and clean) KPK officials at that time. (They survived.) Peter Gelling, ‘Corruption scandal hits Indonesia's anti-corruption commission’, Minn-Post.com, 9 November 2009
4 Several Indonesians who are relaxed and comfortable with Papuan, Timorese, Malukan and/or Acehnese independence are quoted in Peter King, West Papua and Indonesia since Suharto: Independence, Autonomy or Chaos? UNSW Press, Sydney, 2004, p.70
5 Agus A. Alua, The Schema of the Implementation of Special Autonomy, Presentation at West Papua Project/ Indonesia Solidarity Conference, Sydney University, August 6 to10, 2007 (online); Andi Hajramurni, “Papua governments blew Rp 30t on ‘special autonomy’: Official”, Jakarta Post, 10/9/2009. Rs 30 wrillion was the amount allocated to Papua in 2008. Ridwan Max Sijabat, ‘Govt blamed for stagnant special autonomy in Papua’, Jakarta Post, 29/3/2008