Jokowi’s Second Presidential Visit to Papua

By Theo van den Broek 

Reflection and Agenda for dialogue

Papuans have supported the election of Jokowi, who received about 70% of the vote in Papua. They expected that President Jokowi would be a better partner to listen to their aspirations and problems. In his campaign for the presidency, Jokowi promised to be there for the people, to open a dialogue with them and to give special attention to solving of the problems in Papua.

During his first presidential visit to Papua on 27 December 2014, this campaign message still sounded when he urged the relevant authorities to prioritise and finalise the investigation of one of the worst human rigths violations, which took place in Enarotali/Paniai on the 7-8th of December 2014, in which four kids were killed by the security forces. At the same time he repeated that indeed Papuans don’t just need economic development, but above all they need to be listened to.

Coming in for a second presidential visit (7-10 May 2015) expectations were still high, although over the first months of his presidency voices of initial disappointment started to be heard, not just in Papua but also in other parts of Indonesia. The second visit has proved to be a disturbing mixture of moments of joy and moments of very substantial disappointment.

First of all the visit was accompanied with by incredibly disproportional security arrangments. The security forces proudly announced that they would mobilize 6.000 personel (3.400 army and 2.600 police); that they would be using 5 helicopters; that two warships woul]d be on standby in the Jayapura harbour; and that 12 teams of snipers had been prepared to be positioned at strategic locations. At the same time fighter-planes flew over Jayapura. For anyone reading this kind of preparation there can only be one conclusion: Papuans are a real threat, they are very dangerous, and the President might be in danger! This implication is at odds with the reality on the ground where Papuans only showed minor interest in the visit and a number of provincial governmental dignitaires weren’t even on the spot to receive the President. For sure this show of force by the security forces only strengthened the stigmatisation of the Papuans as “enemies of the nation”.

Secondly the lack of enthusiasm and interest by the Papuan community for the visit might reflect the already decreasing trust in the steps taken by the President to solve the problems in Papua. The lack of any substantial follow-up to his message on 27 december 2014 when he urged a fast resolution of the Paniai tragedy may be one of the reasons. The lack of interest might also have been a result of the agenda of the visit, which was mainly ceremonial rather then open and a chance to dialogue and to listen to each other in a serious way.

Within this general context the visit started off on a very ceremonial and formal note, and only sparked some renewed interest when it became public that 5 political prisoners were granted clemency and thereby released from prison. Jokowi also made clear that this was just the beginning as “all the political prisoners will be released over a short period of time to come”. This surprising step was followed by the announcement that the ban on free access to Papua for journalists and other foreign visitors, including researchers, would be lifted. This means: free access for anybody interested. This additional step really revived the hope a lot of Papuans had when they elected Jokowi as President.

Although these two steps are very important and promising indeed, during the days following it came to light that some of the released prisoners had been pressured to sign a letter of request for grace, something they personally were reluctant to do, because it would mean that they admitted that had been involved in a criminal act. They know they were expressing an opinion that might be not in line with the national ideology, but they did so peacefully and within their rights. One of the key persons the President aimed to release was Filep Karma, but he refused to sign the needed letter for the reason mentioned above.

A headline in the local paper also caught the eye in which the National Commander of the army said that “the exploitation of a Papua-Jakarta dialogue should stop”. According to the commander the dialogue was already taking place via the visits the President was making; so, no need anymore to ask for a dialogue. Sadly, the President himself made similar statements saying that “there is no problem in Papua… dialogue for what?”; “no place for a political dialogue;  our policy is a dialogue for development”. Likewise his appeal to “forget about the past and just look ahead” received angry reactions by prominent Papuans, and for good reasons.

Statements like the ones above were very discouraging as the general hope was that with Jokowi there would be room for a substantial dialogue.  Anyway, the message became clear: the central government is not in for a dialogue, such as has been requested for by Papuans over the recent years;  the Papuans are asking for a dialogue to discuss the real roots of the problems in Papua and with a readiness to find a solution together in a dignified way and at the same time move away from the brutal violence that seems to be the trademark nowadays.

While visiting Merauke, the President confirmed officially his earlier made announcement that “starting today all foreign journalists and interested people have free access to Papua; no restrictions in place anymore”.  It was certainly a message that was very much welcomed by Papuans as well as the international community. However listening to de facto powerful people around the President some reservation became clear. No surprise that a couple of days later the Coordinating Minister for political, security and legal affairs announced that any journalist wishing to visit and report on Papua has still to obtain the needed permission first. In other words ‘business as usual’, although the name ‘the clearing house’ was changed into ‘a monitoring’ unit.

The visit to Merauke was mainly geared to affirm that the central government would go full speed ahead and accelerate the implementation of a huge mega-project, i.e. the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE),  that relates to industrial investment and developing of (in the original version) 4.6 million ha of land (including virgin forestry). The program has not taken off over the last five years as indigenous communities didn’t agree with the loss of their land and also because of the irrepairable damage that would be done to the environment. The President just disregarded all the problems and rightful objections, and declared the first step of developing 1,2 million of rice within a period of three years. Besides the fact that the feasibility of this very program has been questioned by well informed experts, Jokowi insists that the program must be implemented. To make sure it will succeed he also invited the army to take an active part in the implementation of the project.  It is amazing that in a region where local communities have been suffering for so long and have expressed so often their concrete suffering as a result of investors’ behavior, including the denial of their basic rights, the loss of their land including their food security, the destruction of the environment, the intimidation by security forces, and the local administrators who prioritised their own personal interest above that of the community they are supposed to serve, that the President didn’t show that he has ever listened well to these very sad human stories or acknowledged the increasing marginalisation of the indigenous community in Papua.

Once again the message is clear: the central government goes ahead with ‘its grand design’ and turns a deaf ear and blind eye to anything else. What is however clear as well is the evident ambiguity of the concrete steps/measures initiated by the President. He comes across as firm and honest in his steps/initiatives, but it takes only a short time for his surrounding political millieu to react and redress or just disregard any policy set by the President. A recent example of this practice is the reaction by the Minister for Transmigration after the President announced in early June that he will stop the transmigration program to Papua. The relevant minister reported that the transmigration program to Papua would go ahead and was very much needed for the “1,2 million ha rice project”, and what is more that “Merauke is a heaven for transmigrants” and that transmigration to the Merauke region has been very successfull in the past.

An interesting aspect of this whole visit was also that the provincial government in Papua hardly participated in it and its ‘policy steps’. It may be very significant and suggest a number of interpretations. But one thing is clear, the provincial government doesn’t make its own voice and analysis heard and that this is as damaging as the overwhelming dominance of the central government in Papua policies.

In conclusion we can only say that the presidential visit has left Papua/Papuans struggling with

  • very mixed feelings and increasing doubt in any concrete political desire of the central government and its related institutions to ‘reach out to the indigenous community in order to find the right solutions together’;
  • wondering who is effectively in charge in the country, and in Papua in particular;
  • the powerlessness of the own provincial government that is supposed to be on the forefront to fight for solutions that show respect for the dignity of the indigenous Papuans as the cornerstone of any policy and action;
  • the feeling that this kind of presidential visit doesn’t meet the standards hoped for by the Papuan indigenous community;

Reflecting on the reality pictured above it is amazing that various crucial problems that really and urgently deserve attention haven’t been discussed, at least not in a setting that includes the participation of the Papuan community. The crucial problems we are are refering to and that we would like to suggest as a substantial Agenda for Dialogue are:

  • addressing the dramaticly changing demographic balance in order to guarantee that (e.g.) at least 30% (minimum!) of the population in Papua should be and remain indigenous;
  • a change in approach including decreasing the repressive/violent way solving problems (including the factual violation of human rights), and decreasing the evident reluctance by the central government to discuss the real roots of the problems;
  • the rethinking of the economic development model so that is becomes more people oriented and safeguards the very right to life for the indigenous community
  • the necessary increase in the regional government’s competence/capacity in order to be able to identify the appropriate policies and balance the evident power dominance of the security forces nowadays.

For anyone who claims to have “the Papuans at heart” these crucial problems should be at the forefront of an honest dialogue, which respects each other. This is an urgent need for and shared responsibility to become real stewards of human dignity.

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