The Economic Inequality Undermining the Survival of Indigenous Papuans

The Economic Inequality Undermining the Survival of Indigenous Papuans

The Economic Inequality Undermining the Survival of Indigenous Papuans Blog, Indonesia, Pacific, The Struggle, West Papua
December 10, 2011

Source: Demographic tensions in Papua: A time bomb? in The Jakarta Post
by: Cypri Jehan Paju Dale

With Special Autonomy unable to address long-standing problems facing Papua, development acceleration is the latest government policy in place in the natural-resource-rich province.

The Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua, known by its acronym UP4B, was formed through Presidential Regulation No. 65/2011. So, to what extent can the acceleration formula can be an appropriate solution, based on an accurate diagnosis of the present multidimensional complexity in Papua?

I consider the policy not only partial, but it also containing intrinsic risks/threats that will potentially worsen the situation in Papua.

According to the presidential regulation, the development acceleration is aimed at “improving people’s welfare” (Article 2) through “socioeconomic” as well as “sociopolitical and cultural development” (Article 5). In this far too general objective, there is no provision for the acceleration of the implementation of special autonomy in the form of affirmative policy for indigenous Papuans.

Instead of becoming the main spirit of the acceleration policy, affirmative actions for indigenous Papuans are only account for one of 10 action plans proposed in the development acceleration policy. More ironically, the affirmative actions are restricted to “giving opportunities and a quota to indigenous Papuan youths, men and women” in the recruitment of military and police personnel, state higher education institutions and “the provision of sporting facilities” (Action Plan 7).

The other nine action plans are general development agendas, with strong economic and investment interests. Apart from giant transportation infrastructure to link natural-recourse-rich regions across Papua, many mega-projects will be implemented. Among them is an industrial and trade zone in Arar, Sorong, a special economic zone in gas-rich Bintuni Bay, fish industrial centers in Sorong, Kamimana and Weri, oil and gas development in West Papua, mining industry in Timika and the infamous Merauke Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE).

While the benefits for native communities are not warranted, there are deep concerns that development acceleration will spark new waves of migration to Papua, which will in turn exacerbate the marginalization of indigenous Papuans. Combined with the extraction of resources, security operations, this marginalization threatens the survival, well-being and dignity of indigenous Papuans.

A preferential option to focus on the development for Papuan people is imperative within the context of abnormal demographic transition in Papua. As the result of the government-sponsored transmigration program and spontaneous migration attracted by a development boom, by 2010 the non-indigenous Papuan population exceeded the native Papuans at a ratio of 52-48. In some regencies such as Keerom and big cities the composition is up to 60-40 (BPS 2010). While the population growth rate of Papuans is only 1.84 percent a year, the migrant population is increasing by 10.82 percent a year. It is projected that by 2020 Papuans will account for only around 29 percent of the total population (Emslie, 2010).

Research I conducted with human rights advocate John Jonga earlier this year discovered a so-called migrant capture mechanism during the special autonomy era, which began in 2001. Migrants’ access to the process and benefit of development is better than that of native Papuans.

Facts and figures from Keerom regency speak for themselves. Indigenous Papuans account for only 40 percent of the population (BPS, 2010). Most of the native people live in rural areas such as Senggi, Web, Waris and Toe Hitam. The urban areas of Arso and Skanto are occupied mainly by non-Papuans (78 percent).

In such an imbalanced composition and distribution of the population, the struggle for socio-, economic, cultural and political power is dominated by migrants. Only six out of 21 local legislative council members and seven out of 39 heads of government agencies are native Papuans. The migrants also rule the trade and agriculture sector.

The domination of the non-Papuan population in the local power struggle is indicated in the relocation of the regency capital from the predominantly-Papuan district of Waris to the predominantly-migrant district of Arso, which was justified by Law No. 26/2002. This decision has moved the center of public services and development focus from the native Papuan area to a transmigration area. It also contributes to the growing disparity between migrants and native Papuans.

While development in education and the health sector has been significantly improved in Arso and Skanto, thanks to special autonomy funds, basic services in predominantly-native Papuans remain minimal.

Meanwhile, the predominantly Papuan areas are more and more securitized. Contrary to the small number of doctors and teachers, the number of security forces is high in rural areas. In Toe Hitam or Web, access to basic services is restricted by difficult geographical terrain, but ironically the government is able to consistently send military forces there.

These conditions have made Papuans feel deserted and oppressed. The socio-, political, economic, and cultural complexities prevent them from competing for access to the process and result of development.

The hazardous development practices in Papua have a correlation with the powerlessness of indigenous Papuans to participate in the process of determining what kind of development, and at what speed, they want in their own land. The determining power is in the hands of the central government and local elites who define, both discursively and in practice, what is good for them, and decide what (and who) can be sacrificed for that purpose.

Without re-articulation and refinement of strategies to implement affirmative policies for indigenous Papuans, the acceleration of development will solve nothing, and worsen the existing complexities in Papua. From this standpoint, the development acceleration amounts to a time bomb.

For Papuan people, the policy will potentially bring about more hazards in the forms of resource exploitation, marginalization and minoritization. The fast-growing population rate of migrants and the disparities between them and the native people engender a high risk of racial/ethnic plus religious conflicts. Politically, this will further fuel anti-Indonesia sentiment.

There is thus far no guarantee for the Papuans that their survival, wellbeing and dignity can be achieved within the developmentalist Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.


posted by:

Leave feedback

Spread the Word

Related Posts


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment