Papua under Indonesia: A Fire in the Husk

By: Ivan Hadar


Papua remains “a fire in the husk” (Kompas, March 23), which can explode at any time if preventive actions are not taken immediately. Bloody incidents that killed 11 military personnel and civilians in Tingginambut and Sinak last month are evidence of this.


Papua is full of contradictions. On the one hand, Papua — as sung by Franky Sahilatua — is a “little paradise that fell down to earth”. It has three main sources of capital that could be a major factor in accelerating the improvement of welfare: plentiful natural resources, a rich and diverse ecosystem and a relatively small number of inhabitants.


This condition has been further strengthened by the transfer of huge funds from the central government in order to execute the special autonomy status of Papua. Since the enactment of special autonomy 12-years-ago, the amount transfered to the region has reached Rp 30 trillion (US$3.08 billion).


On the other hand, Papua’s potential has not given comparative advantages to its people. The percentage of poverty in Papua is still above 20 percent, much higher than the national average. Papua province’s Human Development Index (HDI) rank is the lowest, while neighboring West Papua province is ranked 29th out of 33 provinces surveyed in Indonesia.


Of great concern is the fact that the majority of indigenous Papuans are still mired in poverty and are marginalized. The life expectancy, schooling years and health levels of indigenous Papuans are low. At the same time, indigenous Papuans have been gradually displaced from economic centers in urban areas.


This contradictory condition will continuously trigger dissatisfaction and conflict that will lead to demands for independence in Papua. Learning from Aceh, Papua needs dialogue to resolve its conflict.


For a start, efforts should be made to harmonize relations between the central government and the groups representing various interests in Papua relating to basic principles, objectives, goals, agendas, mechanisms and stages, as well as the locations and facilitators of the dialogue (Tebay, 2012).


Sources of conflict in Papua can be grouped into four issues (Indonesian Institute of Sciences, 2009). First, the marginalization and discrimination of indigenous Papuans through economic development, political conflict and mass migration to Papua since 1970. Second, the failure of development programs — especially in areas of education, health and the economic empowerment of the people. Third, the contradiction of history and the construction of political identities between Papua and Jakarta. Fourth, accountability for past state violence in Papua.


In addition, there are three interests of the Papuans as mandated in the Special Autonomy Law, which has not been fully implemented by the government (Ridha, 2011), namely: substantial interests regarding political, economic, social and cultural rights; interests relating to the recognition of the role of traditional institutions and the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) as well as the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and a human rights court; and the interests of indigenous Papuans regarding the recognition of their existence and cultural symbols.


Law No. 21/2001, which was subsequently converted into Law No. 35/2008 related to special autonomy for the provinces of Papua and West Papua, has stated that for the development of these two provinces — special attention is needed for the empowerment and protection of indigenous Papuans as part of affirmative actions. This should be considered a new approach in accelerating development programs that bring prosperity to indigenous Papuans and other poor people in both provinces.


So far, development policy in Papua has been in favor of indigenous Papuans. Governor, regent and mayor posts have been held by natives. There is a quota system for staff recruitment in government offices, schools and universities.


Many believe, however, the success or failure of development in Papua is strongly influenced by the policies and development plans that are sensitive to the culture and geographical location of indigenous Papuans.


M.T. Walker and J.R. Mansoben (2001) noted the diversity of indigenous Papuans was closely related to socioeconomic patterns of adaptation of the population in major ecological zones such as swamps, beaches, estuaries, lowlands, foots of mountains, small valleys and high mountains.


Ecological zones that affect patterns of adaptation are reflected in livelihood systems, including technology and the division of labor system.


A good understanding of this would be the basis for appropriate planning, especially in an effort to involve the poor and marginalized in the development process.


In the past, the economic growth of Papua relied more on the mining and finance sectors that only made a small contribution to the expansion of employment.


High economic growth does not have a positive impact on improving the welfare of the majority of indigenous Papuans who work in the agricultural sector and have been abandoned.


It is a necessity for the development of culture-based planning and the prioritization of the agricultural sector, which is the largest contributor to employment. These affirmative actions to improve the prosperity of the majority of indigenous Papuans need to be done without forgetting other social groups, including women who are marginalized in the development process. This perhaps would be the first step to eliminate the “fire in the husk” that will expectedly bring peace to Papua.


The author is the lead writer of the 2012 Papua and West Papua human development reports.



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