Repeating History in Papua
The government seems to be repeating the history of colonialism in this nation. The outcome could be like that in Indonesia in 1945.
THE government of President Joko Widodo seems to be repeating the dark history of this nation. In the past, the Dutch colonialists exploited our natural resources and detained and killed Indonesians. Now the people of Papua are experiencing the same thing. They are oppressed and sidelined in their own land.
The Dutch used to arrogantly call us “extremists” and “inlanders”—in dismissive tones. Frequently the people living in the Dutch East Indies were insulted and referred to as “monkeys.” We were treated unfairly, became victims of racial discrimination and finally woke up and fought back.
It is as though history is being repeated. Papuan students in Surabaya were called “monkeys” in the days before Indonesian Independence Day commemoration two years ago. This racist abuse was wrong. It is no surprise that thousands of Papuans responded to this incident with large-scale demonstrations and widespread opposition.
As if that were not enough, now the Indonesian government has officially applied the “terrorist” label to the Papuan independence movement. Announced by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud Md. on Thursday April 29, this mistaken policy could add to the number of victims on both sides of this dispute. Once again, civilians face the threat of becoming scapegoats.
It must be said that the approach used by the government to resolve the long running problems of Papua have been wrong from the start. It is not clear if it realizes it or not, but Jakarta strategy bears a very close resemblance to the methods used by the Dutch colonial administration decades ago. The “terrorist” label applied by Mahfud to the opposition movement in Papua is very similar to the “extremist” term used by the Dutch colonial authorities to describe the Indonesian independence movement.
Apart from applying the terrorist label and increasing the number of police and military personnel in Papua, the Indonesian government is also offering sweeteners if the opposition is stopped. In the bill to extend special autonomy in Papua, the government is trying to tempt people by offering an increase in the budget for the easternmost province. Previously the Papuan government only received two percent of the total general allocation funds, but now this is to be increased to 2.25 percent. However, so far most of this special autonomy funding has gone to the Papuan elite. According to November 2020 data from the Central Statistics Agency, Papua and West Papua are still the poorest provinces in Indonesia.
Another policy planned by the government is to divide Papua into several smaller provinces. The government claims that this will improve governance in Papua. But there is also a hidden hope that this division of the provinces will result in the Papuan elite having less time to oppose Jakarta. The tactics of sharing out money and divide and conquer appear to have been taken directly from the guidebook written by the colonial powers in the past.
We know that the Dutch strategy failed, and that Indonesia became independent in 1945. This means that we could suffer the same fate as the Dutch if the mistaken approach in Papua is continued. It is not too late for the government to change direction. President Jokowi could begin by admitting that there are human rights abuses in Papua that must be properly investigated.
The roots of the problem in Papua are not only related to economy, as the central government claims. Building roads, airports and bridges will not heal the hurt and the feelings of oppression felt by the people of Papua. The way to resolve the Papuan problem that Jokowi has chosen will lead to Indonesia acting like a colonizer, something that the 1945 Constitution says must be erased from the face of the earth.