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What do Papuans really want?

Not monkey
"The issue of racism in Papua is a serious failure and will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to"

YAMIN KOGOYA

CANBERRA - On Tuesday 14 July, Antara News in Jakarta published an article by Jaleswari Pramodhawardani of the Presidential Staff Office on President Joko Widodo’s approach in handling West Papua issues.

According to Pramodhawardani, lack of welfare is to blame for problems in West Papua. She concluded that Jokowi plans to resolve West Papua’s issues through various development programs.

It seems as though Jakarta has a different concept and definition of ‘welfare’ for Papuans. She described Jakarta’s approach to evaluating the welfare of Papuans as “anthropological”.

In order to be anthropological, one must know and understand the culture and people they are studying, which is a far cry from the attitudes of Jakarta to control and silence rather than nurture the people.

This is typical xenophobic rhetoric used throughout the history of colonisation – colonisers condescendingly looking down upon the colonised, treating them as primitive or savage and attributing their suffering to a lack of development.

Jakarta injects West Papua with a virus and then blames the people for being sick.

How can Papuans put their faith in a program designed by an institution that has inflicted decades of physical, psychological and emotional trauma?

When I hear the term ‘welfare-focused solution’, I cannot see past the insincerity of a government which has destroyed the welfare of the people. In fact, I am not confident that Jokowi understands the meaning of welfare.

Whilst instabilities within Papua and West Papua can be attributed to a lack of quality infrastructure, economic hardship, and poor education and health, these factors do not define the root of the problems. These are merely symptoms.

Pramodhawardani wrote, “We know that people see West Papua only in terms of issues of human rights and violence” and added that there is less concern in fulfilling the “basic rights” of Papuans.

So she acknowledges that the international community is aware of the gross human rights violations perpetrated by her government and that Jakarta recognises this but once again Jakarta fails to see the hypocrisy in their actions – they pretend to advocate for the very same “human rights” which they have violated time and time again.

The pressure on Papuans to surrender to the ways of the ‘civilised’ or ‘westernised’ world is unwarranted. Jakarta wants to manipulate the people through welfare programs and stripping away their culture.

Papuans have the right to be Papuan – they have the right to be respected in their ancestral land.

This mission to ‘civilise’ has already destroyed countless first nation tribes across the world – sacred cultures, religions, rituals, languages and ways of life. Old worlds full of rich culture, all lost in the name of progress.

This is why Jakarta cannot possibly hope to fix the problems in West Papua until it acknowledges how its colonising mission must attempt to understand the Papuans way of life and respect their cultures without feeling the need to change them.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way they think about humanity in West Papua.

With such a transformed insight, an anthropological approach to the welfare of Papuans could be fully realised. However, if Jakarta’s ignorance persists, there is no hope for change.

Papuans are also suspicious of, and overwhelmingly opposed to, development programs that Jakarta has tried to disguise in a Trojan Horse called the “special autonomy”.

The 2021 special autonomy is regarded as Jakarta’s band-aid solution for West Papua’s independence demands and has largely been rejected by Papuans.

Catholic Pastor Alberto John Bunay, leader of 57 Papuan indigenous pastors from five dioceses, rejected Jakarta’s insistence on the special autonomy band-aid and called for a referendum on independence.

There is no indication that Papuans will be satisfied with Jakarta’s strategies. Considering the demands for a referendum on independence, Jokowi’s handling of the welfare approach will most likely be met with massive protests, with a high propensity for tensions to turn violent.

Jakarta seems confused and unable to distinguish between two conflicting instructions given to them by their own presidential office. One, as announced by Pramodhawardani, is for a welfare approach, endorsed by Jokowi. The second, according to the Papuan Legal Aid Institute, also comes from Jokowi, who “gave the green light to hunt down Papuans” and consider them to be “armed separatist rebels.”

How can Jokowi, a man who has visited West Papua 12 times during his presidency - dancing, singing and laughing with  Papuans, who welcomed him with good hospitality and garnered him with the majority vote for the most important job in the country – order militarised operations to slaughter people in the streets while releasing diplomatic statements in the media regarding the welfare of West Papua? Should Papuans be killed, or should they be cared for? It cannot be both.

Papuans view the presence of Indonesia in West Papua as the bane of their existence. Jakarta has tried to change that view for decades with no success yielded from their various approaches.

This is why Pramodhawardani’s endorsement of Jokowi’s welfare approach will not convince the people of West Papua that their best interest is being held in the president’s heart.

While Indonesia remains in West Papua, so too do the problems. It is a futile endeavour for Jakarta to try and deceive Papuans as they have been burned too many times before. Benny Wenda, leader of ULMWP, said it best: “Indonesia has been promising West Papua autonomy for over 50 years.” And in 50 years, Indonesia has not delivered on that promise.

Last year, mass demonstrations reverberated across West Papua and Indonesia, triggered by the use of a racial slur directed towards Papuan students in Surabaya on Indonesia’s 74th independence anniversary.

This should have been a turning point for Jakarta. Papuans were showing their deep anger caused by decades old miss-treatment of Papuans by Indonesians. Papuans saw this atrocious act as a direct attack on their value as human beings and as Papuans.

Last year, in a piece I published about Indonesia’s racism towards Papuans, I stated that calling Papuans “monkeys” can and will ignite the fire of resistance. And it did – thousands of Papuans protested and set fire to the Parliament House. The issue of racism is a serious failure and will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to.

“The people of West Papua have suffered decades of oppression and discrimination at the hands of the Indonesian state” writes Febriana Firdaus, an Indonesian journalist. “Now they’ve drawn inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests to mount popular resistance to yet another authoritarian clampdown.”

The sheer power of humanity behind the BLM protests was able to galvanise communities across the globe. Despite the coronavirus lockdown, large gatherings were held demanding racial justice and equality.

If Jakarta is truly serious about applying anthropological knowledge toward their welfare approach, it must seek to understand the history of the Melanesian people who live in West Papua.

Jakarta’s insistence on forcing the special autonomy extension onto Papuans will ignite more violent protests and even death.

Neither statistics pulled from the Human Development Index to measure the welfare of Papuans nor any presidential instruction or decree to “fix” West Papua will lead to the satisfaction of the people.

Valuing and nurturing human lives cannot be achieved by mere measurement, statistics or developmental plans. Papuans will infinitely resist “civilisation missions” until Jakarta relents and gives West Papua its voice back.

As stated by Victor Yeimo, Papuans should be the ones who get to determine whether they want a second phase of special autonomy or independence and Jakarta should facilitate an internationally supervised vote to determine this.

If not, through all of their failed efforts to coax Papuans into a false sense of security, Jakarta has failed and will continue to fail to ask the most basic question: what do Papuans really want?

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