Indonesia needs to rethink its approach to Papua to successfully address the region’s grievances.
Indonesia’s Papua, covering its two easternmost provinces, simmers with the highest levels of deadly violence – inter-ethnic, electoral, land-related and domestic – in the country. Home to a Melanesian and largely Christian indigenous population, it became part of Indonesia in 1969 after a highly contested referendum and has since been home to a low-level armed struggle for independence.
Papua’s diverse population, with more than 200 distinct indigenous ethnic groups (and a large population of migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia), struggles with some of the lowest development indicators in the country. Successive Indonesian administrations have failed to solve these problems or reduce the grievances that fuel the independence movement. This is despite the gradual ‘Papuanisation’ of the local government bureaucracy since 1999 and the implementation of limited special autonomy since 2001. Will Indonesia’s new President, Joko Widodo (Jokowi), who made the region a special focus of his 2014 election campaign, do any better?
The drivers of Papuan grievances include an influx of non-Papuan Indonesians, a failure to address isolation and poor social services in remote highland communities, and the need for more equitable sharing of Papua’s vast natural resource wealth, including that derived from Freeport, the largest copper and gold mine in the world. There are also demands to acknowledge the violence and procedural shortcomings that accompanied the 1969 Act of Free Choice, to ensure more accountability for human rights violations, extortion and rent-seeking by security forces, and to improve governance without exacerbating inter-clan rivalries.
Successive governments have combined a ‘security approach’ and a ‘prosperity approach’ in different proportions. They have confronted the armed Free Papua Movement (OPM) with force and cracked down on non-violent pro-independence groups while simultaneously pouring in poorly targeted and supervised funds for ‘development’.
Jakarta policy-makers and abusive security forces are not the only source of the problem. Local Papuan elites have not helped by competing with each other for spoils. Over the past five years civil society groups have demanded a ‘dialogue’ with Jakarta but lacked the focused agenda to drive one. And while willing to meet with these groups, senior Indonesian government officials have also been wary of anything that smacks of negotiation with a separate party. This is especially the case after Indonesia’s experience with two other separatist areas: East Timor, which voted to break away in 1999, and Aceh, where a negotiated peace in 2005 led to the former guerrillas dominating local politics.
Jokowi’s predecessor, Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, tried several initiatives that were well intentioned but ultimately failed. One was the creation of a government unit intended to coordinate programs across ministries in Papua with a focus on improving education and infrastructure. Hampered by resistance from the bureaucracy and poor leadership, it was disbanded not long after Jokowi’s inauguration.
A second was a draft law on enhancing special autonomy, known as Otsus Plus, an effort to improve the 2001 law that after more than ten years had clearly failed to deliver benefits for Papuans. A draft law written by advisers to the two provincial governors focused too much on unrealistic increases in the value of central government transfers to Papua, but also included creative provisions on affirmative action for indigenous Papuans and protection for customary land and natural resource rights.
Proposals such as reserving smallholder plots in plantations, requiring resource investors to obtain the consent of indigenous communities and provide shares in compensation, and allowing communities to limit the in-migration of outsiders might all have restored a sense of meaningful local political autonomy absent from the 2001 law. But in the end, Otsus Plus also failed through a combination of disputes, delays and public anger over the lack of any consultation with civil society.
A third initiative in Yudhoyono’s second term was a series of meetings with the main advocacy group seeking dialogue, the Papuan Peace Network (JDP). The meetings were exploratory rather than substantive, producing no policy changes before Yudhoyono left office. Their main success was to secure acknowledgement that dialogue – however it might be defined – was an important tool in conflict resolution.
It is now Jokowi’s turn to look for solutions. But the situation on the ground is changing in a way that complicates matters for Indonesia’s new president.
Expanding palm-oil plantations and mines, legal and illegal, have brought in more non-Papuan migrants and increased Papuan migration across clan boundaries, sometimes bringing conflict in their wake. Local elections have pitted clans against one another, starting new feuds. The OPM has increased its attacks on soldiers and police, especially in the highland districts of Puncak Jaya and neighbouring Lanny Jaya. In response, the military and police increased their presence, adding a new police command in West Papua at the end of 2014. More and more new administrative districts have been carved out of existing ones in a way that threatens to further disperse the limited pool of capable civil servants.
Early proposals by Jokowi’s cabinet ministers have done little to signal a new approach. They include suggestions to revive the old unpopular policies of transmigration and to increase administrative division. Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who helped broker the Aceh peace, has a long-standing interest in working toward a ceasefire with the OPM but earlier failed attempts have now given way to other priorities. Without a coherent policy that would address Papua in all its complexity, many are concerned that the new president will be pressured by conservative advisers who stress the ‘security approach’ to Papua.
If the new administration wants concrete ideas, it could do worse than to look back at Otsus Plus and start a new conversation on how to ensure that future large-scale development of Papua’s vast natural resources does not crowd out Papuans themselves. In the meantime, the problems continue to fester.
Cillian Nolan and Sidney Jones are the Deputy Director and Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), Jakarta. This article was originally published in The East Asia Forum on 19 May 2015. It is republished with permission.