On July 9, 2011 another irrational colonial border that demarcated Sudan was consigned to history when South Sudan achieved independence. In the process an often seemingly irrevocable principle of decolonisation, that boundaries inherited from colonial entities should remain sacrosanct, has been challenged once again. Indeed, a cautious trend in international relations has been to support greater self-determination for ‘nations’ without awarding full statehood. Yet Kosovo is another state whose recent independence has been recognised by most major players in the international community.2 In West Papua’s case, the territory’s small but growing elite had been preparing for independence from the Netherlands in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Dutch plans envisaged full independence by 1970. However, in 1962 Cold War realpolitik intervened and the United States engineered a transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia under the auspices of the United Nations. To Indonesian nationalists their revolution became complete since West New Guinea had previously been part of the larger colonial unit of the Netherlands East Indies, which had realised its independence as Indonesia in 1949. In West New Guinea, most Papuans felt betrayed by the international community and have been campaigning for a proper referendum on independence ever since.
Jakarta has staunchly resisted any discussion of West Papua’s status outside of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia. However, in February 1999 Papuan civil society representatives convened in Jakarta for unprecedented talks with President Habibie, Suharto’s successor who was eager to demonstrate his reformist credentials. Habibie’s own successor Abdurrahman Wahid initially attempted a policy of tentative engagement with Papuan civil society, which included sponsoring the Papuan Congress of May 2000. This so-called ‘Papuan Spring’ of 1999-2000 marked the zenith of pan-Papuan organising and solidarity, prompting speculation that West Papua might follow East Timor in conducting a referendum over its status. During this period Papuan nationalists were also able to fly their Morning Star flag for the first time without fear of long jail terms or violent reprisals. However, as hardliners in the Indonesian military consolidated power after a period of relative weakness, the flowers of the Papuan Spring withered and Wahid was removed from office in July 2001.
In response to the Papuan Spring, the Indonesian authorities have pursued a dual strategy — a repressive security approach that also characterised the Suharto years (1966-1998) and co-option of local elites through the 2001 Special Autonomy Law, which has been used to promote greater Papuan participation in local administration. The security approach has combined increasing troop numbers with greater surveillance of civil society, and since mid-2000 the state has again responded to flag-raising ceremonies with violence and long prison terms. In a symbolic act, the Indonesian military’s special forces also killed Papuan Congress chairman Theys Eluay in November 2001. Meanwhile, the Special Autonomy Law, on paper a much more comprehensive devolution of authority than most other provinces gained under Indonesia’s nationwide regional autonomy legislation of 1999, was designed to assuage Papuan demands for independence. However, whilst the territory does receive the biggest per capita allocation of central government development funds in Indonesia, Jakarta does not trust indigenous Papuan officials enough to properly implement Special Autonomy and has therefore severely curtailed much of the promised autonomy. Its halting implementation has also been accompanied by increasing numbers of Indonesian migrants settling in West Papua.
So far, this dual strategy of dividing Papuan civil society and increasing the costs of Papuan resistance has appeared effective since the momentum generated during the Papuan Spring has not been sustained. Nevertheless, the frequent demonstrations across the territory protesting the failures of Special Autonomy and demanding a referendum have taken on a greater urgency since Indonesian migrants now constitute more than half of West Papua’s population. However, if allowed to vote in a referendum it is probable that many of these settlers would view continuing integration with Indonesia as more in their interest. This raises the question of whether they could or should be excluded from participating in any vote on West Papua’s status. At the time of East Timor’s referendum in 1999, Indonesian migrants constituted around 10% of its population and were excluded from the voter registration process. For Papuan nationalists, the demographic situation is therefore much more perilous, and it has also been argued that an independent West Papua is unviable. This paper will attempt to analyse what kind of independent state West Papua might become if the territory were to follow Timor-Leste and South Sudan into statehood. Would it become another so-called ‘failing state’, like its closest neighbours Papua New Guinea (PNG), Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands? By examining some of the difficulties affecting West Papua’s neighbours post-independence this paper will introduce some of the main challenges an independent West Papua could likely face. In conclusion it will examine the prospects for a better future for ordinary Papuans, whether through independence or genuine autonomy within Indonesia.
Melanesia or Asia?
The division of New Guinea between two states, indeed between two continents, can be traced back to 1828 when the Dutch proclaimed their territorial possessions ended at the 141st meridian east, roughly halfway across the large island. During the scramble for empire that also decided the colonial demarcations of Africa, New Guinea’s eastern half was to be administered by German, British and, subsequently Australia colonial governments, before gaining independence in 1975 as Papua New Guinea. However, the western half of New Guinea remains a colony, having being forced in 1962-3 to swap Dutch colonialism for a much more pernicious, militarised Indonesian form. As such, this accident of colonial cartography has proved remarkably durable, and through Indonesian control officially demarcates the border between Asia and Oceania, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to its west and the Pacific Islands Forum to the east.
Indigenous Papuans are a Melanesian people in common with Pacific neighbours PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji, and are thus racially and ethnically distinct from the vast majority of the Indonesian population. With the exception of partly Polynesian contemporary Fiji, Melanesian countries are characterised by an extremely large number of indigenous ethnic groups due to geographic factors that have encouraged massive linguistic diversity and clan-based ethnic identities. In the case of New Guinea such factors include mountainous terrain, dense rainforests, steep valleys, impenetrable marshland and large distances, which have combined to create isolated communities speaking different languages and developing different cultures. Indeed, New Guinea is home to almost 1000 indigenous languages, with a reported 267 on the Indonesian side, representing around one-sixth of the world’s ethnicities. In PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu these micro-polities are so numerous that none are able to impose hegemony over others at national level. Whilst these micro-polities have often fought each other, ethnic conflict is usually restricted to a local level, unlike in sub-Saharan Africa where it has also existed at a national level, most notoriously Rwanda in 1994. Thus creating small, relatively heterogeneous single-member electoral districts or constituencies has been viewed as a potential strategy to minimise ethnic tensions at a local level in PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Whilst such extreme ethnic fragmentation is rare outside of Melanesia, the presence of large numbers of Indonesian settlers makes the situation in West Papua uniquely complicated. Indeed, Indonesian migrants in West Papua themselves constitute a plethora of ethnic groups, representing the archipelago’s ethnic diversity. Most Indonesian settlers in West Papua come from Maluku, Sulawesi or Java. Despite the diversity of both native and migrant groups, both view the distinct differences in skin tone, hair type and even diet as symptomatic of intrinsic differences that override any other ethnic categorisation.
The first wave of Indonesian migrants in the colonial era were Christian teachers, officials and professionals from the nearby territories of Maluku and North Sulawesi, brought in by the Dutch administration to help run the territory prior to World War II. After 1945, the Dutch forced the departure of many of these functionaries to prevent the spread of Indonesian nationalism but around 14,000 of them were still living in Dutch New Guinea in 1959, with around 8,000 being from the neighbouring Maluku archipelago. Since many of these middle-ranking officials had served the brutal Japanese occupying regime, the seeds of Papuan resentment towards Indonesian settlers had already been sown. The United Nations-administered transition period of October 1962-May 1963 effectively began the Indonesian takeover, and resulted in an influx of Indonesian civil servants and security personnel, mostly Muslims from Java. This too caused resentment since they replaced Papuans who had been trained under the Dutch for self-governance. In February 1966 a hundred Javanese families set sail for the territory, thus slowly beginning the West Papua chapter of Indonesia’s nationwide transmigration programme, which subsidised families to move from overcrowded regions to less-populated parts of the archipelago. Between 1969 and 1989, the programme moved some 730,000 families from Java, Madura and Bali to Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and West Papua.
The transmigration policy reached its zenith in the 1980s, and the number of ‘official transmigrants’ in West Papua is now dwarfed by ‘spontaneous transmigrants’ who migrated internally with little or no government help. This constitutes two separate patterns of migration since many of the largely Muslim Javanese official transmigrants were originally settled in rural areas where few other migrants ventured. The self-funded migrants originate mainly from eastern Indonesia, mostly Muslims and Christians from Sulawesi and Maluku who usually settle in urban areas along the coast. It is these self-funded migrants whose numbers are rising vertiginously. In addition to spontaneous economic migration, other drivers of contemporary Indonesian migration into West Papua are the expansion of the bureaucracy that accompanies the national decentralisation process and large-scale agricultural ventures such as palm oil plantations and the proposed Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate. Plans to convert even more land to palm oil and other plantation crops will likely increase the rate of migrant population growth. By contrast, the indigenous Papuan population is unlikely to grow much faster in light of poor healthcare in rural areas and much higher rates of HIV among indigenous Papuans than Indonesian migrants.
One particular difficulty that would immediately confront policy makers in an independent West Papua is the fact that the territory has become divided into two realms – of the (mostly coastal) towns and cities, where migrants constitute the majority and dominate all commercial activity; and the rural interior, which is overwhelmingly Papuan, employed in subsistence farming and often only loosely connected to the modern, cash and international economy. For example, data from the 2000 census shows that in Mimika regency, where the huge Freeport gold and copper mine operates, those born outside of the regency made up some 57% of the population and in Jayapura regency, the territory’s biggest urban centre, they constituted 58%. Whilst the towns and cities are relatively prosperous by Indonesian standards, the countryside is populated by an underclass of indigenous tribes who suffer the worst living standards in Indonesia. Since the coastal areas contain most of West Papua’s industries and work opportunities in the formal economy, they also attract better-educated Indonesian settlers who invariably secure the best private sector positions. For instance, it has been estimated that these migrants possess more than 90% of all trading jobs in the territory, and they also dominate the manufacturing sector.
Papuan rural to urban migration in search of employment actually predates the Indonesian takeover since it began during the Allied war effort and increased with the Dutch expansion of government after their return in September 1945. Wage labour for the war effort and subsequently the Dutch colonial administration was the major form of employment for almost twenty years but such opportunities became scarcer for indigenous Papuans after the Indonesian takeover, forcing many back into a subsistence lifestyle. Migrant domination of the coastal towns and cities continues to crowd out indigenous Papuan migration to urban areas, thus reducing their employment opportunities in the formal, cash economy. Indeed, as migrants continue to arrive they consolidate existing ethnic networks, which are vital for gaining choice employment in Indonesia. Given the relative paucity of the indigenous business class, such ethnic networks work against Papuan job hunters, with the result that Papuans continue to work mainly in subsistence farming. Exacerbating this divide, migrants have also achieved greater success in commercial agriculture, allowing them to take control of local markets. This reality is already a significant issue for both provincial administrations to handle, and has prompted calls for positive discrimination for indigenous Papuans to better compete in the job market. How an independent West Papua deals with this problem would likely have a substantial bearing on the stability and viability of the nascent nation state.
In 2007 Chauvet, Collier and Hoeffler estimated the total cost of failing states at around US$276 billion annually in lost GDP, with Pacific island nations accounting for US$36 billion of that. The Failed States Index, which perhaps should be described as the failing states index, defines a failed state as “one in which the government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population, does not provide domestic security or basic public services to its citizens, and lacks a monopoly on the use of force.” In the 2011 Index some 177 sovereign states are ranked on their vulnerability to collapse according to 12 indicators, among them conflict, corruption, demographic pressures, poverty and inequality. The rankings are headed by Somalia and dominated by countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Timor-Leste was perceived to be the most vulnerable state among West Papua’s neighbours, although its 23rd place ranking reflects an improvement in its domestic security situation since 2008. The Solomon Islands was ranked 49, PNG 54, Indonesia 64 and Fiji 68.
Whilst the spillover effects of state failure to their neighbours are reduced since Pacific countries are islands, Chauvet et al (2007) warn that, “The cost of failure might be higher than average in small islands because they are atypically highly exposed to the global economy”. This is largely due to the fact that, “Both capital and labour are likely to be highly mobile internationally in small islands.” The implication is that the residents of the country itself shoulder most costs of state failure in the Pacific, in contrast to other regions where the spillover effects to neighbours are much higher. The same research calculated that over a 20-year period the total cost of such state failure in PNG amounted to some US$33.5 billion, or around US$1.7 billion in lost GDP per annum, whilst in the smaller Solomon Islands it reached US$2.2 billion, equivalent to US$0.1 billion per year. If correct, this hypothesis suggests that state failure could be particularly damaging to an independent West Papua trying to find its feet.
Failed states are usually characterised by high political instability; rampant corruption; dysfunctional economies; collapse of government services; breakdown of law and order; internal conflicts; and loss of state authority and legitimacy. Such state paralysis allows local and traditional leaders to displace the state’s power in their respective areas, and the state becomes effectively unified in name only. In Melanesia’s case a youth bulge also further threatens stability, and PNG and the Solomon Islands are the states most closely associated with state failure within the whole Pacific islands region which also encompasses Polynesia and Micronesia. In both countries high crime rates, extensive political corruption and rampant tribalism are becoming increasingly threatening. By analysing the present situation in West Papua this section will consider whether some of the pressing issues gripping its neighbours would likely affect an independent West Papua too.
“Melanesia and East Timor are now widely perceived in official and academic circles as an ‘arc of instability’ within which economic development has also largely stalled.” Whilst only Fiji has suffered military takeovers, political instability has characterised Melanesia since independence. Across the region unrepresentative elites often manage to seize control of the state and use their positions for self-enrichment and empowerment of their own narrow constituencies, usually confined to members of their own clans or language groups. The pre-eminence of these so-called ‘Big Men’ is highly entrenched and feeds a situation in which locals see themselves as “followers of the state”, that is “personified as a big man . . . bound by . . . reciprocity to look after and redistribute resources to his followers”.26 The legitimacy of such big men and their administrations derives both from their ability to sustain patronage networks and from international recognition and assistance. As has been the case across both Indonesia and Melanesia, diverted development funds and revenues from commodity exports enriches politicians, their cronies and public servants, engendering mistrust of the authorities, hampering development efforts, fostering rising levels of crime, and even encouraging internal rebellions.
The extent to which such a patronage-based style of politics has contributed significantly to state weakness and political instability across Melanesia and the Pacific is particularly visible during elections. A familiar pattern in elections in PNG, for instance, is an unwieldy number of candidates and parties competing against each other in which over 50% of sitting candidates are not returned. Many new members win their seats with under 10% of the vote and consequently cannot or will not represent the remaining 90%. Intense bargaining often ensues after the votes are tallied, with the many independent candidates trading their votes for handouts to their supporters. Political parties in PNG, and in other Melanesian states, are usually centred on an individual leader rather than being ideologically based. Thus, political parties frequently splinter in light of the competing interests of their leaders, and it could be many years before issues-based politics become entrenched across the region. The inevitable outcome is a fractious coalition government fused together only by corruption and bribery in the absence of party loyalties and awareness of the public good. Ironically, disillusionment with a fragmented national parliament further fuels instability since electors increasingly vote for smaller political parties or local independent candidates instead of the major national parties. As a result, the failure of leadership across Melanesia to act in the national interest is seemingly putting the systems of democracy under threat, especially in light of the region’s rapidly growing, increasingly urbanised young population.
The Westminster system of parliamentary democracy as practiced in Melanesia has not proved able to hold elected politicians to account partly because the electorate seems to have little concept of how the system is meant to operate. Furthermore, many of the MPs that get elected have no genuine understanding of how the Westminster system should operate. Instead, many only care about getting in to parliament, securing a government post that guarantees all the perks and privileges, and then clinging onto power. A politician in Melanesia needs to pay back those who voted for him, and a government position is usually the only means to do so. The inevitable result is that politicians spend their entire term in parliament maneuvering to get into government by any means necessary, leading to frequent motions of no confidence in the sitting government by those attempting to form the next government. As a consequence, the whole basis of democracy in Melanesia appears inherently unstable, and illustrates the problematic nature of grafting liberal democratic political systems onto traditional authoritarian arrangements of hierarchy and leadership.
Indeed, democracy appears to be in crisis in all of West Papua’s closest neighbours. Whilst PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are all formally constituted on the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, each suffers regular constitutional crises and parliamentary votes of no confidence. For instance, PNG’s acting prime minister is currently facing a Supreme Court challenge over his, allegedly unconstitutional, appointment in December 2010, whilst his predecessor had been trying to install a new governor-general, an appointment beyond the remit of the prime minister. The widespread fraud and violence that overshadowed PNG’s general elections in 2002 and 2007 also suggests that democracy is under siege. Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands has had 15 governments since independence in 1978, the vast majority of which have been unstable coalitions in a persistent state of flux and under constant threat of no-confidence votes. Indeed, the very first act of the newly appointed opposition leader in April 2011, himself a former prime minister, was to lodge a motion of no confidence in the sitting government. In Vanuatu the government was toppled in a similar no-confidence vote at the end of 2010, whilst Fiji was formerly a democracy but a military coup in 1987 ushered in alternating periods of military rule and parliamentary democracy. The most recent coup of December 2006 re-established military control and elections scheduled for March 2009 have been postponed to September 2014 at the earliest.
East Timor also has had a difficult transition to independence. Violent clashes flared in 2006 when approximately 600 soldiers, constituting some 40% of the armed forces, were dismissed after protesting alleged discrimination against troops from the west of the country. This necessitated the deployment of peacekeeping forces from Australia, Malaysia, Portugal and New Zealand to quell the violence and looting in the capital Dili. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was forced to resign and other members of the political elite were implicated in the troubles. In February 2008 rebel soldiers broke into the homes of President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, resulting in a serious gunshot injury to Ramos-Horta and the fatal shooting of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. Gusmão managed to escape from his home prior to the rebels’ arrival but his car was peppered by gunshots on its way to Dili. Whilst political tensions have gradually subsided since then polarisation ensures the nascent state remains fragile.
Given that none of its neighbours have enjoyed political stability since independence, it would be a challenge for an independent West Papua to avoid similar problems, especially since it is currently suffering from other symptoms that characterise failing states in the region. A foretaste of instability might be glimpsed in the controversy surrounding the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua or Papuan People’s Assembly), a body established under Special Autonomy to be staffed entirely with indigenous Papuans and to represent Papuan cultural interests. Whilst the body is not equivalent to a second chamber of the provincial parliament, it does have a role in the legislative process and in theory should possess significant political authority. However, elections to the MPR have been dogged by allegations of irregularities, most recently in February 2011 when Papuan civil society complained about a lack of transparency in the vote counting process. The provincial parliament and three Protestant churches were among the dissident voices expressing their disapproval of the MRP, whose membership and leadership have also been subjected to interference from the central government. For example, Jakarta rejected the recent re-election to the MRP of Agus Alue Alua and Hanna Hikoyobi, the body’s chair and vice chair for the 2005-2010 period respectively, amid accusations that the pair had been using the MRP to promote Papuan independence. Moreover, the history of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM, or Free Papua Movement), the territory’s main armed resistance movement since 1965, has been riddled with internal ethnic rivalries that have compromised the group’s effectiveness.
In addition to political instability, corruption is also endemic throughout Melanesia, particularly in PNG and Solomon Islands but also to a lesser extent in Vanuatu and Fiji. Indonesia’s reputation for corruption is well founded too, with many observers arguing that it has actually worsened and become more diffuse since Suharto’s fall in 1998. Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2010 ranked Indonesia and the Solomon Islands joint 110th worst out of 178 countries for “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians”. Vanuatu was ranked 73 and PNG 154. PNG’s Public Accounts Committee found in February 2010 that only five of some 1000 government departments, agencies, provincial governments and statutory organisations it investigated had satisfied the Public Accounts Management Act to properly account for government funds. Nonetheless, Port Moresby has shown little inclination to seriously prosecute corruption cases, strengthening the perception that nepotism and cronyism are becoming increasingly entrenched. Whilst PNG probably deserves its low ranking, one weakness of the CPI is that it does not account for local variations within countries, as anecdotal evidence suggests corruption varies significantly among the cities, districts and provinces of many states. The CPI also fails to take into account the foreign drivers of corruption, which characterise resource extraction schemes in particular.
Nevertheless, most politicians in Melanesia tend to be motivated by self-enrichment and localism, an obvious recipe for corruption that is a strong feature of government in PNG and is being replicated in West Papua. As part of its policy response to the Papuan spring of 1999-2000, Jakarta has cultivated an elite of indigenous Papuan politicians and bureaucrats in order to ameliorate separatist sentiment. The Special Autonomy Law of 2001 specifies that provincial governors must be indigenous Papuans and that indigenous Papuans are to be granted priority appointment as judges and prosecutors. Aside from the position of governor, Indonesian settlers have controlled the territory’s bureaucracy, especially at the higher levels. However, under Special Autonomy the indigenous elite has demanded a greater role in running the territory, in response to the increasing numbers of Indonesian migrants dominating the formal private sector. Their vehicle has been the MRP whose members have also pushed for laws stipulating that local administration heads and their deputies must be native Papuan. Although real efforts to employ more Papuans in government service only began in the late 1990s, as a result of Special Autonomy it was estimated in 2005 that around 35% of the civil service was indigenous Papuan. This contrasts with Dutch efforts that had Papuans comprising around 30% of the civil service in 1957 and around 75% in September 1962 on the eve of the Dutch departure.
Special Autonomy has also dramatically increased the amount of government money flowing into West Papua. The World Bank has calculated that transfers from the central government to the territory have risen over 600% in real terms since 2000, with the result that Indonesia’s decentralisation policy has mainly served to increase local level corruption in West Papua. In addition to dispersing an average of US$ 240 million per annum in 2002-2006 under the Special Autonomy legislation, Jakarta has also provided extra funding for infrastructure development. This amounted to US$ 72 million 2006 and US$ 95 million in 2007. Some 60% of Special Autonomy funds are distributed to the two provincial governments and 40% to local district governments but these transfers have resulted in little improvement in health, education and development outcomes in much of the territory. Despite having been largely marginalised since 1963, it seems that Papuan bureaucrats and politicians have learned quickly from their Indonesian colleagues how to enrich themselves via government positions.
Civil servants and local politicians in West Papua have also benefitted from national level reforms that have created new administrative divisions throughout Indonesia under a policy known as pemekaran (literally blossoming or blooming). In West Papua, this process has again been driven by indigenous elites lobbying for the creation of new regencies, districts, subdistricts and villages in order to promote clan interests and gain access to government funds. For instance, local government in the territory had expanded to 38 districts by 2010 from nine districts in 1998. Such new administrative units offer customary leaders the opportunity to occupy newly created positions and to financially benefit from their creation. This has prompted greater competition for power and influence, fuelling tensions between ethnic elites particularly in Ayamaru, Biak and Yapen, as well as between coastal Papuans and those from the highlands interior.
The territory of West Papua was itself also partitioned in February 2003 into the provinces of Papua and West Papua, with a third province also proposed. This division of West Papua into three provinces was also driven by indigenous elite rivalries, and led to violent demonstrations in which several protesters were killed. Whilst the proposed Central Irian Jaya province was later shelved, the creation of West Papua province was allowed to stand as a fait accompli despite the Constitutional Court ruling that this split violated Papua province’s Special Autonomy Law. The establishment of West Papua province stemmed from Papua province’s 1999 gubernatorial elections won by Jaap Solossa. His defeated opponent was Marine Brigadier General (retired) Abraham Atururi, who had been one of the three deputy governors under the previous governor. Whilst both Solossa and Atururi benefitted from Dutch primary and secondary education and subsequently worked with the Indonesian authorities after the sovereignty transfer, ethnic differences characterised their political rivalry. Within the proposed new province of West Papua, Solossa drew support from the Ayamaru and Sorong elites who had been disenchanted with Atururi when the latter was Sorong district head. Similarly, Atururi was backed by other Bird’s Head regional elites dissatisfied with the ethnically Ayamaru district head. As Governor of Papua province, Solossa opposed any partition of the province, whilst Atururi saw the creation of West Papua province as a political opportunity.
Ethnic tensions and competition for resources also shaped the actual composition of West Papua province. For example, new districts such as Raja Ampat and Fak-Fak initially preferred to remain within the rump Papua province since they feared domination by politically savvy Sorong and Ayamaru elites. West Papua’s creation also resulted in the founding of 28 new regencies, among them Teluk Bintuni that hosts the Tangguh liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing plant operated by multi-national BP. Project development began in 1999, and the plant finally started shipping LNG to China, South Korea and the United States in 2009. This US$5 billion scheme gave greater impetus to the creation of West Papua province, which is also home to substantial logging interests around Sorong.
Regional ethnic rivalries over the capture of resource revenues were also visible in the proposed establishment of Central Irian Jaya (Central Papua) province, which was supported by elements in the central highlands and the southern coastal plain who feared domination by the northern coastal elite. Given that this province would contain the Freeport mining operations near Timika, the biggest gold mine and second biggest copper mine in the world, the potential rewards were very high. Clemens Tinal, Timika district head, and Andreas Anggaibak, Speaker of the Regional House of Representatives, lobbied vigourously for its creation, apparently receiving support from Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency. Opposition to the establishment of Central Irian Jaya province came from the Amungme and other Timika ethnic groups, and was closely linked to existing inter-ethnic disputes among communities surrounding the Freeport mine over access to Freeport community support funds and community leaders’ ties to the Indonesian military. When Anggaibak formally announced the province’s creation in late August 2003 riots ensued in which five people were killed and dozens injured.
The rioting over the proposed establishment of Central Irian Jaya province prompted elites from Biak and Nabire to argue that their regions would be a safer choice to site the new province’s capital. This laid bare tensions between northern coastal elites and highlanders over access to revenues from the Freeport mine. Indeed, Timmer (2007) suggests that, “Highlanders and people from the south-coastal regions (Mimika, Merauke) are often consumed with envy about the power enjoyed by northern coastal elites who have a remarkable acquaintance with Indonesian ways of doing politics”. Whilst the local population enjoys greater representation in district governments of the highlands and the southern coastal plain, among Papuans in the provincial bureaucracy those from northern coastal communities in Biak, Yapen, Sentani, Sorong and Ayamaru do indeed predominate. The comparatively low level of development across most of the highlands exacerbates such ill feeling, and presently most violent resistance to the Indonesian state is incubated in the highlands region. As a result, highlanders are known to characterise northern coastal Papuans as collaborators with the Indonesian authorities. This could yet affect political stability in the territory since the proposal to create Central Papua province is now back on the agenda, comprising 14 regencies with Biak as the capital and Dick Henk Wabiser, a retired admiral from Biak as the acting governor.
Indeed, district heads in several regions across West Papua have pushed for their districts to become the capitals of new provinces under pemekaran and decentralisation. They include Merauke, Yapen Waropen, Serui, Biak, Nabire, Fak-Fak and the highlands as the creation of new provinces promises access to power and resources to regional Papuan elites. For instance, Merauke politicians have campaigned for a South Papua province since Merauke is home to West Papua’s largest concentration of Catholics and whose leaders have long felt excluded by the largely Protestant and migrant dominated provincial capital Jayapura. This proposed new province has also been home to locally significant tribal rivalries since Merauke was divided into four districts in 2002.
Whilst the Papuan spring of 1999-2000 seemed to indicate that over thirty years of Indonesian rule had inculcated a genuine pan-Papuan national identity, in contrast to neighbouring PNG, “local support for partition demonstrates that Papuan unity is fragile and the development of a coherent territory wide identity remains a work in progress”. The division of the territory polarised the Papuan elite between those such as former Governor Solossa, prominent Papuan intellectuals and many civil society groups who opposed it and other elites who stood to benefit from the founding of new provinces, regencies and districts. Complicating matters, the security forces have also supported the creation of new administrative units since their establishment has frequently been accompanied by the creation of new military and police commands. Whilst all provincial governors under Indonesian rule have been indigenous Papuans, they have had to tread carefully with the Indonesian military, which has been the single most powerful state actor since the Indonesian takeover. Greater Papuan participation in the public sector has also seemingly destabilised the territory, with the elections for district government heads, in particular, becoming an arena for political conflict. So widespread has this trend become that one analyst was moved to state, “ethnic differences play a significant and sometimes alarming role in land and resource politics”. Just as in other Melanesian states, these rivalries are playing an increasingly visible role in West Papuan politics, not just between different indigenous groups but also between Papuans and Indonesian settlers. These developments indicate that corruption and political instability would be a further challenge for an independent West Papua authority to overcome.
Poor Government Services
The nexus of corruption, ethnic rivalries and chronic political instability, characterised by frequent parliamentary votes of no confidence, greatly undermines Melanesian governments’ capacity to effectively deliver public services. In PNG, resource revenues and international assistance have not translated into better roads, schools and health services. Despite receiving billions of dollars of Australian aid, scant development has occurred and per capita incomes have barely improved since independence in 1975. Particularly during the monsoon season, impassable roads hamper local trade and fuel internal migration into cities and towns. Moreover, evidence suggests that public service delivery is more problematic in multiethnic democracies.
Likewise, West Papua is already suffering from the poor delivery of public services, especially in rural areas where indigenous Papuans predominate, and evidence from its neighbours indicate the delivery of public services would be unlikely to improve after independence. Over the last decade, the indigenous Papuan middle class has benefitted from an expanding civil bureaucracy and increased local government funding under decentralisation and Special Autonomy. However, it is obvious that this newly empowered and enlarged Papuan bureaucracy has little ability to dispense public services. Since educational standards have long lagged behind those in the rest of Indonesia, there is a dearth of sufficiently qualified people and many of these bureaucrats apparently have little relevant education or experience. Indeed, it has even been claimed that primary school teachers without administrative experience are running agriculture departments. At the very least, this illustrates that Papuans badly need better education services.
Those in West Papua who advocate the creation of new administrations argue that it improves public services in hitherto isolated rural areas but there is little evidence that this has actually happened. Instead, pemekaran devours much of the territory’s development budget to pay for office construction and the hiring of the extra staff, with the result that West Papua has the highest per capita expenditure on civil service in Indonesia but with little indciation that performance has improved. Indeed, in 2005 the World Bank found that in parts of Papua province the amount spent per capita on civil servant salaries was 60% above the Indonesian national average. Whilst more Papuans have secured jobs in the civil service, their lack of education and training has also resulted in the recruitment of more Indonesian settlers to shore up the administration of the expanded civil service. The territory’s poor relative performance was underlined in Indonesia’s Regional Economic Governance Index, which surveyed 245 regencies and municipalities across 19 of Indonesia’s 33 provinces in 2011. Districts and cities in West Papua and Maluku comprised nine of the 10 worst ranking units in the survey, with Waropen regency in Papua province rated the worst of all. Interestingly, in a list dominated by districts in Java and Sumatra, Sorong in West Papua province was rated fifth best in the Index.
One of the reasons for the poor performance among indigenous Papuan civil servants is that West Papua has long had the lowest per capita expenditure on education in the country. This is despite it having the highest per-capita revenue of all six Indonesian regions thanks to its resource earnings and small population. In 2006 it was reported that West Papua also had the worst participation rates in education, with enrolment for primary education at 85%, dropping to 48% for secondary school and 31% for high school. Furthermore, some 56% of the population had less than primary education and 25% remained illiterate. These figures cover both migrants and indigenous Papuans across both provinces, and are exacerbated by an unequal distribution of educational resources, concentrated in the coastal towns and cities at the expense of rural areas. Indeed, figures from 2005 indicate that the average distance to junior secondary schools in densely populated Java was 1.9 kilometres whilst in West Papua it was 16.6 kilometres. Government data from 2008 indicated that only 17.63% children in rural Yahukimo district had completed their primary education. Moreover, even indigenous urban residents are still twice as likely as migrants to have little or no formal schooling, a disparity that was first recorded in the 1970s. Newer figures from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) suggest that secondary school enrolment in Papua province is only 60% compared to the Indonesian national average of 91%. Where schools do exist, often there is a serious lack of books and teachers, especially in rural areas of the central highlands since most teachers prefer to live in urban areas.
Health indicators also paint a vivid picture of indigenous Papuan deprivation. In 2004 West Papua had the lowest per capita expenditure on public health in the country, despite its resource earnings.As a consequence, indigenous Papuans also suffer the lowest health standards of any Indonesian citizens. In results published in December 2010, Pegunungan Bintang district in Papua province placed last in the Ministry of Health’s Community Health Development Index, which measures health care across all 440 districts and municipalities in Indonesia. Indeed, of the lowest 20 districts across the country 14 are found in eastern Indonesia, mostly in Papua province. The quality of these health care rankings are based on 24 indicators such as the per capita ratio of doctors, immunisation rates, access to clean water and the incidence of mental health problems. Geographic inaccessibility is undoubtedly a factor in such discrepancies, however.
As with education, health services in rural areas remain very poor, with only a minimal government presence outside of areas with military bases. Whilst health centres have been established in all sub-regencies, these clinics remain poorly staffed and equipped. For instance, in 2006 it was reported that in Papua province the average distance of a household to the nearest public health clinic was 32 kilometers, whereas in Java it was 4 kilometers. In 2009 there were only 12 government hospitals, six private hospitals and 213 clinics across the whole territory. Such inadequate primary health care affects life expectancy, already the lowest in Indonesia. West Papua also has highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country. The UNDP Report for 2010 notes that the territory has the highest per capita rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Indonesia at 2.4%, well above the national average of 0.2%, with aid agencies critical of the government’s lack of response. Malaria and tuberculosis rates exceed national figures also.
As a result of poor government performance in education, health and welfare, West Papua also continues to post the lowest human development index (HDI) scores in Indonesia, along with the country’s widest variation in district HDIs.For instance, in 2004 the central highland regency of Jayawijaya had Indonesia’s lowest HDI classification of 47, whilst the multi-ethnic port city of Sorong scored 73. In 2009 the new district of Nduga in the deprived central highlands scored 47.45, compared to 74.56 in Jayapura, the territory’s biggest city. The HDI also assesses how economic growth in GDP (gross domestic product) translates into improvements in human development by comparing average per capita GDP in each province with its HDI ranking. In 2004 Papua province scored worse than any other Indonesian province since it ranked third in terms of GDRP (gross domestic regional product) but only 29th (out of 30 total provinces at the time) in HDI. Newer data compiled by Statistics Indonesia in 2009 produced a similar outcome, and ranked Papua province as 33rd out of 33 provinces and West Papua province 30th. Whilst it can be argued that much of this disparity is due to the Dutch colonial legacy and the difficulties in delivering basic services in remote areas, the UNDP concluded that these figures are “a clear indication that the income from Papua’s natural resources has not been invested sufficiently in services for the people”.
Given the wide cleavage between the migrant-dominated coastal urban areas and the deprived, overwhelmingly indigenous interior, such disparities in human development become even more marked. The UNDP definition of poverty uses factors such as illiteracy, access to health services and safe water, underweight children and the likelihood of people not reaching 40. Under this definition, the HDI research found that within Papua province some 95% of all poor households resided in rural areas, markedly worse than the national average of 69% and a clear indicator that poverty was concentrated in the indigenous population. The UNDP also found that only 40% of poor households had in excess of five family members, again under the Indonesian average, which reflected higher than average infant mortality rates. Indeed, among children aged under five and classified as poverty stricken, over 60% were malnourished, as opposed to only 24% of poor children in the Java/Bali region. Of these poor households in West Papua, some 69% lacked access to safe water, 90% suffered inadequate sanitation at home and over 80% had no electricity. Half of all poor households in the territory lived in villages accessible only by dirt road, hampering the rural poor’s access to markets. At the same time, some 90% of poor households lived in villages with no telephone, 84% lived in villages without a secondary school and 83.5% lacked access to bank or credit facilities.
Whilst both provinces in the territory continue to post HDI outcomes well below the Indonesian national average, their scores since 1999 have shown an upward trend, although how much of this is the product of rising rates of in-migration is difficult to quantify. For instance, Papua province’s HDI rose from 58.80 in 1999 to 64.53 in 2009, whilst that of West Papua province was 63.7 in 2004 and 68.58 by 2009. By contrast, the Indonesian national average was 64.3 in 1999, and had risen to 71.76 in 2009. Over the border in PNG, HDI figures have been consistently lower than those of West Papua with worse results in all the key indicators of life expectancy, literacy and per capita GDP. Nevertheless, the existence of large rural to urban variations and high numbers of migrants in West Papua make any direct comparisons between the indigenous populations of PNG and West Papua difficult.
In the poor delivery of government services West Papua already shares much in common with its neighbours, particularly PNG and the Solomon Islands. Prior to Australian intervention in mid-2003, the central government in Honiara had lost control of the country and services had largely collapsed. Many civil servants had simply stopped turning up to work, whilst those who did often received no salary. Treasury officials and government ministers were also frequently intimidated at gunpoint. Whilst the situation in PNG has never plumbed such depths, tribal fighting in the past two decades has exacted a heavy toll on public service delivery, especially in Southern Highlands, Enga, Western Highlands and Simbu Provinces. In these populous regions the destruction of schools, medical facilities and other government infrastructure has seriously disrupted development in the affected areas, forcing teachers, health workers, and other public servants to flee to safety. Even in regions not prone to inter-group violence, public service had been widely perceived as inadequate, and even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have voiced concern over poor service delivery. As in West Papua, the civil service is seen as eating up most of PNG’s national budget in salaries and benefits but with precious few results to justify its existence. Delivering sufficient healthcare, education and basic infrastructure will be probably the biggest challenge for an independent West Papua given the present realities and difficult terrain in the remote interior. Nevertheless, the resource revenues that the territory enjoys should make it possible to better tackle these issues, if civil service performance can be improved.
The Asian Development Bank noted in 2010 that, “PNG, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste are finding it difficult to diversify and stimulate growth beyond exploitation of nonrenewable oil, minerals, and forests.” As with West Papua, these economies remain heavily reliant on resource revenues, being hampered by low productivity in agriculture and an almost non-existent manufacturing base. Even tourism, which could provide a much-needed boost to the service sector of these economies, is held back by the fragile security situation in West Papua and its neighbours. Furthermore, the characteristics of resource dependence create distortions that increase vulnerability to external shocks, such as a collapse in commodities prices, and promote inequalities between internal regions and ethnic groups.
The enclave nature of mining and fossil fuel extraction in particular exacerbates the large imbalances in West Papua’s economy and ensures the benefits are not distributed equitably. Indeed, much of these windfall gains are highly concentrated in a few regions to the detriment of the rest of the territory. Moreover, due to the territory’s historically low education budget, relatively few Papuans secure skilled jobs in major projects like BP’s LNG processing plant or Freeport’s gold and copper mine. Thus, despite its resource wealth, West Papua suffers from Indonesia’s highest poverty levels. Government data from 2010 indicated that around 35% of the territory’s population still lived below the poverty line, compared to the national average of around 13%, with income disparities also the widest among Indonesia’s six regions. In 2002 a mere 34% had access to clean water and 28% to adequate sanitation, whilst just 46% were on the electricity grid, the lowest level in all of Indonesia. In 2005 Indonesia’s Ministry for the Development of Disadvantaged Regions classified 19 of 20 regencies across Papua province as underdeveloped.
A large underground economy is another feature of a failing state, and in both PNG and West Papua the growing Asian presence in resource extraction, hotels and other commercial enterprises has resulted in rising levels of corruption and organised crime.
Illegal logging is particularly lucrative since New Guinea is home to the world’s third largest tropical forest, surpassed only by the Amazon and Congo Basins. As such, it is home to the last undisturbed large-scale forest in the Asia-Pacific, and as commercial timber stocks in Sumatra and Borneo are increasingly depleted the Indonesian and Malaysian logging industry has turned its attention towards West Papua and PNG. A senior official at Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry conceded in 2010 that around 25% of West Papua’s forests have fallen to legal and illegal loggers since the late 1990s, with the forested area falling from 32 million hectares to 23 million hectares. In PNG it is widely estimated that some 70-90% of all the country’s logging is illegal, much of it due to the Malaysian firms that dominate the country’s timber industry.
Most logging operations in West Papua, PNG and the Solomon Islands are socially, environmentally and economically unsustainable since land custody is central to the survival of indigenous rural communities. Logging often damages the self-sufficiency of such communities since their opportunities to grow food, to hunt and to catch fish are reduced. Drinking water sources and materials to build houses are also lost or degraded. Given that government-led development is conspicuous by its absence in many rural areas, local communities are vulnerable to logging company promises of roads, schools, health clinics, and revenues. Aside from arterial roads to transport logs, most of these promises usually go unfulfilled. Instead, spoiled land and polluted water are the most visible legacy of logging operations across Melanesia.
Special Autonomy has added to the regulatory confusion in West Papua as swathes of overlapping and contradictory regulations issued at the national level, provincial level and district level have facilitated the increase of both legal and illegal logging. Local timber elites take advantage of the many loopholes to secure many small-scale licenses, ostensibly to benefit local residents but in actuality for the profit of timber firms. These elites can include Papuan community leaders, politicians, civil servants, military and police officers. These same local elites are also thought to be responsible for the increase in illegal logging in West Papua province, often in collusion with Malaysian, Korean and Chinese logging companies now present in the territory. China, having already reduced its own logging due to environmental concerns, is the biggest market for Papuan timber. Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry estimated in 2004 that over seven million cubic metres of timber were being smuggled out of West Papua annually, equivalent to 70% of the total volume of timber leaving Indonesia illegally each year. The situation in West Papua is thus reminiscent of a pattern that has been repeated across Melanesia whereby, “Assignment of the right to sign logging contracts to tribal chiefs or ‘big men’ has led to a situation where rights to harvest are granted by landowners in return for a pittance, in terms of their share of the revenue in excess of logging costs” Indeed, corruption in the logging industry has become embedded in post-independence Melanesian politics as it provides significant revenues for local leaders to distribute to their supporters.
The Indonesian security forces are also heavily involved in legal and illegal logging in West Papua, and it is a particularly lucrative sideline since even the lowest ranks can earn money from it. The military and police are often employed by logging firms to deal with local communities angered by displacement from their customary lands and environmental damage. Wasior in West Papua province has been the scene of particularly violent conflicts between timber companies and locals protesting the lack of compensation, which has resulted in retaliatory action by elite police paramilitary brigades that forced around 5,000 locals from their homes. Moreover, several forestry concessions are part owned by military foundations, and leaked US Embassy cables reveal the private concerns of American officials over the military’s role in West Papua. An October 2007 US Embassy cable quoting an Indonesian foreign affairs official stated that, “The Indonesian military (TNI) has far more troops in Papua than it is willing to admit to, chiefly to protect and facilitate TNI’s interests in illegal logging operations.” An earlier cable from 2006 cites a PNG government official as saying that the TNI is “involved in both illegal logging and drug smuggling in PNG.” Indeed, the removal of the Indonesian military from West Papua would constitute a major improvement in the lives of most indigenous Papuans.
The need for foreign exchange has also ensured that logging in the Solomon Islands has greatly exceeded sustainable levels in most years since 1981, and began with collusion between Malaysian logging firms and individual government ministers. At present logging composes around 70 to 80% of the country’s exports by value but recent estimates suggest that forestry reserves will be depleted by 2014. The inevitable collapse of the logging industry in the Solomon Islands could likely result in an economic shock to the fragile state and might even lead to another uprising, as in the late 1990s. As such, logging is a major source of political instability in the Solomon Islands, and similar tensions are visible in West Papua too, with many local communities resentful of logging firms and their Indonesian settler staff.
Addiction to foreign aid is another characteristic of a dysfunctional economy, and many of West Papua’s neighbours exhibit symptoms. For example, in recent years foreign aid has constituted over 60% of the Solomon Islands’ development budget, and it was one of the world’s top three aid dependent countries between 2005 and 2007.Foreign aid to the country in 2007 made up some 47.1% of gross national income (GNI), much higher than the low income country average of 7.7%, although this figure was inflated by the large Australian presence attempting to reform the country’s law and order institutions. Whilst the disparity between the Solomons and other low income countries in aid dependency had reduced somewhat by 2009, the latest year for which data is available, the figures below indicate only a marginal improvement. Likewise, PNG and Vanuatu, both classified as lower middle-income countries by the World Bank in 2011, each receive proportionally much more foreign aid than the average for lower middle-income economies, as does Fiji, which was recently upgraded to upper middle-income status.
Despite its oil and gas revenues, Timor-Leste also remains heavily reliant on foreign assistance to feed its population.
Regional Aid Dependence in 200980
Aid has also been compared to the resource curse whereby large revenue inflows encourage political rent seekers and retard development outcomes, a fact recognised by the Asian Development Bank (ABD) in its attempts to promote policy reform in the Pacific. The ABD acknowledges its biggest challenge has been how to overcome a paucity of political will for reform in the recipient country, the lack of which severely limits the impact of aid. Aid also offers legitimacy to corrupt and incompetent regimes, enabling them to cling to power even when they have lost popular support. Employing empirical data from some 108 recipient countries over a 40 year period, another study argues that, “since most foreign aid is not contingent on the democratic level of the recipient countries, there is no incentive for governments to keep a good level of checks and balances in place”. These findings suggest that foreign aid weakens democratic rules and corrupts political institutions in recipient countries. This does not bode well for the consolidation of democratic institutions in an independent West Papua since it is likely the nascent state would also be reliant on various forms of development assistance, at least in the short to medium term.
Aid agencies would undoubtedly play a role in any emerging Papuan state and a critical issue would be land ownership. In Timor-Leste international agencies such as AusAID (Australia’s overseas aid programme), USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the World Bank have been strongly advocating land commercialisation through robust titles and registration. Anderson (2010) notes that AusAID has also been the most vocal agency encouraging land reform in Melanesia where it has strongly promoted the Australian land title model. However, he argues that in many former colonies such commercialisation of customary lands has frequently displaced communities from their land and damaged local food security and distribution networks. The vast majority of land in Melanesia, and to a lesser extent Timor-Leste, is still held under customary laws, not officially registered or even written down. This is because at independence most Melanesian constitutions enshrined customary land holding systems and little of this land has been sold or leased as yet. On the other hand, powerful regional actors such as Australia and the United States argue that the commercialisation of customary land through central registration increases agricultural productivity and spurs economic development. Melanesian notions of customary land have also been under siege from loggers, miners and other investors, in addition to corrupt local and national interests. Citing the case of post-colonial Kenya however, Anderson suggests that central land registration may actually fuel land disputes, instead of securing tenure as its proponents argue, since elites often claim more land that they have rights to under customary laws. As in West Papua, commercialisation can also disadvantage uneducated or powerless rural communities since they are vulnerable to fraud and deception in which their traditional lands can end up registered to someone else. Even in fully transparent registration cases, secondary traditional owners such as wives and sisters frequently do not get listed in the land register.
Proponents claim there are numerous advantages to customary land tenure such as widespread employment, ecological management, cultural maintenance, social cohesion and local food security. However, rapid population growth in West Papua and across Melanesia means that whilst subsistence production remains essential for rural communities, current methods of production are not enough to satisfy contemporary national requirements. Whilst it is possible that small farming in Timor-Leste, West Papua and across Melanesia might be sustained it needs better infrastructure to support local markets, to enhance rural health and education services, and to balance the raising of export crops alongside traditional subsistence production. However, the trend in many parts of Indonesia since 1997 has been to pursue cash crop production and land rationalisation, which often displaces and marginalises small-scale agriculture.
West Papua has not been immune to these changes sweeping through Indonesia, and almost fifty years of Indonesian rule have resulted in parts of the territory having a very different system of land tenure than its Melanesian counterparts. Moreover, it is highly likely that an independent West Papua would face many of the same land title disputes that have beset Timor-Leste since 1999 as it has transitioned from being an Indonesian province to an independent state. A pre-existing lack of clarity in land titles was exacerbated by Indonesian military orchestrated violence immediately after the country’s vote for independence, which destroyed much of the new nation’s infrastructure, buildings, and land tenure documents. As in Timor-Leste, resolving land conflicts bottled up by many years of Indonesian rule would also be a major undertaking in an independent West Papua.
Breakdown of Law and Order
In the last decade Australian military and police have intervened in the fragile states of PNG, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste to counter a downward spiral in law and order. For instance, the Australian presence in the Solomon Islands has resulted in the removal of around 25% of the Solomons police force, with a large number of those charged with criminal offences. The withdrawal of Indonesia’s repressive security apparatus would invariably leave a vacuum in an independent West Papua, and would quite likely require the dispatch of international peacekeepers as in Timor-Leste. A homegrown security apparatus in West Papua would be much smaller than that of Indonesia. Developing a competent Papuan police force would be one of the first challenges to address since the only positive legacy of the suffocating Indonesian security presence has been to keep a lid on some of the law and order issues that have beset neighbouring PNG. Anecdotal evidence suggests that guns are much easier to obtain in PNG than in West Papua and the country is increasingly lawless. This is demonstrated by the increase of jail breakouts in recent years, and it has long been unsafe to walk the streets of Port Moresby and other larger towns at night. Even staff at the country’s Bomana high security prison have aided and abetted the escape of particularly dangerous prisoners. Much of the breakdown in law and order has been attributed to the proliferation in illicit firearms, resulting in escalating violent crime rates, the increased deadliness of tribal disputes, and a worsening delivery of essential services. “Largely as a consequence of the ready availability of small arms, Papua New Guinea is widely identified as the tinderbox of the south-west Pacific.”
Indeed, the situation in parts of PNG represents a warning for any independent West Papua across the 141st meridian east. Even though the actual number of guns in PNG is less than in other violent societies, such illicit firearms are reportedly two to five times more likely to be used in homicide in PNG’s Southern Highland province than similar weapons in the other high-risk countries such as Ecuador, Jamaica, Colombia and South Africa. Moreover, the social effect of firearms in PNG, the Solomon Islands, and to a lesser extent Fiji, can be significant, with markets suffering, school attendance dropping, and an exodus of development agencies, health professionals, and civil servants occurring. Particularly in PNG’s Southern Highland province where the colonial regime left relatively little trace, tribal fighting has become increasingly widespread and increasingly deadly in the last 20 years due to an easier availability of guns, which have replaced traditional weapons such as bows and arrows and spears. Frequent tribal feuding has inculcated a gun culture, which further ingrains lawlessness and even glorifies criminal behaviour in times of inter-group fighting. Even the hiring of mercenaries has been a feature of clan conflict in this region of PNG. Modern weapons have thus altered the nature of conflict, and rendered unworkable the traditional mechanism of paying compensation in pigs. The origins of violent conflict in the highland provinces are multifaceted and include land disputes, competition for state resources, traditional animosities and sequences of revenge and retribution that extend back decades. Similar factors also cause armed group violence in Timor-Leste, which periodically surfaces in both urban and rural areas. The breakdown in law and order across PNG, especially in the populous highland region, is also due to greater human mobility and the upheaval caused by large-scale resource extraction. One result is that the PNG police have disavowed their responsibility for policing tribal warfare, which is now seen as a ‘traditional’ activity even when deaths are involved.
Police inaction has permitted an increase in gangsterism and criminal activity, particularly roadblocks and robbery, which have seriously compromised the delivery of essential public services in many highland areas of PNG. A further contributory factor to crime and gangsterism has been the ongoing monetisation of the local economy, along with population growth that fuels disputes by simply placing people in greater proximity to one other. Indeed, one of the reasons for the increase in crime and disorder across Melanesia is demographic change. A growing population compounded by rising numbers of unemployed youth in urban areas results in greater crime and lawlessness, which in turn further dissuades investment and results in a vicious circle of fewer opportunities and rising crime. Melanesia is currently experiencing both the highest population growth rates and the fastest urbanisation rates in the whole Pacific. Even though average population growth is some 2% per annum, the urban population growth rate is 4.7% per annum, meaning that the region’s urban population is now doubling every 17 years as their total populations double every 30 years. Over half of Melanesia’s population is 24 or under.
In the last decade population growth in West Papua has outstripped that of Melanesia as whole. Whilst Indonesia’s 2010 census found that the whole country’s population had increased at an annual rate of 1.49% since the previous census in 2000, the annual rate of increase for Papua province was 5.48% and for West Papua province was 3.72%. This made them the fastest and fourth fastest growing provinces of Indonesia respectively. The combined yearly growth rate of the two provinces was 5.09% between 2000 and 2100, meaning that since 2000 the combined population increased 64%, more than any other province in Indonesia. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the pace of growth by 2010 had surpassed the yearly average of 5.09%, meaning that the rate of migration into West Papua could be continually rising. Given West Papua’s relatively small population in comparison with Indonesia as a whole, even relatively low levels of migration from other regions can deliver dramatic demographic change. Whilst most of the population increase is due to rising levels of Indonesian migration, the latest census also counted the territory’s fertility rate at 2.9, higher than the national average of 2.3. Therefore, population growth, increasing urbanisation and a looming youth bulge constitute further challenges for policy makers in West Papua to grapple with.
Another result of increasing lawlessness and poor governance is the loss of state authority and legitimacy throughout much of Melanesia. Indeed, state weakness seems ingrained throughout the region, the deep lying reasons for which would likely be replicated in an independent West Papua. Lacking long traditions of centralised authority, the institutional foundation of the modern nation-state remains a somewhat alien imposition that rests uncomfortably on these relatively new nations. Being among the most linguistically and socially diverse in the world, this region represents the antithesis of the imagined community. Consequently, Melanesian states have never been able to impose the centralised authority that is at the core of the modern nation-state, with central governments often having minimal or no presence outside their capitals. Where the nation state is visible it is often poorly regarded, particularly in rural areas of PNG. As with Freeport in West Papua, in many remote areas across Melanesia the church or mining companies have replaced the government by serving as surrogate states that provide public services and infrastructure like health, education and roads. Furthermore, in many towns and villages Christianity offers links to regional and global communities that eclipse the moral authority of the state. In West Papua’s case, the most visible state presence in many rural areas is a military one. Viewed from this perspective, Melanesian countries have not been experiencing state collapse but the absence of actual state formation. Indeed, some anthropologists have even questioned the very necessity of the state in Melanesia in light of its poor performance and the region’s long history of largely autonomous local communities.
The absence of a common national identity has been a feature of Melanesian states since independence. State legitimacy is thus usurped by regional identifications, usually to ethnic group, island or province, links that are seen as more authentic and responsive. The nation state thus remains irrelevant to most people in these numerous micro-polities, a reality closely bound to the colonial legacy of arbitrary boundaries and a general lack of presence outside of larger urban centres. Perhaps the most visible evidence of state existence throughout much of Melanesia are elections which, in parts of PNG for example, are increasingly plagued by a regularisation of illegality which exacts a further toll on state legitimacy. In PNG’s highland provinces such practices include multiple and underage voting, vote buying, manipulating electoral rolls, violence, voter intimidation, and the stealing of ballot boxes.94
This lack of legitimacy has resulted in the violent rejection of state authority in PNG’s Bougainville region, where a separatist movement emerged in the 1970s but remained largely dormant until 1988 when the pro-independence Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was established. Violence escalated when BRA leaders proclaimed Bougainville’s independence in 1989, and formed an interim government. The Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) was dispatched to crush the rebellion, and plunged the vertical conflict into full-blown civil war. In January 1991, the Solomon Islands government brokered the Honiara Declaration but the ceasefire but did not hold and fighting soon re-erupted. In addition to the PNGDF, this conflict involved both pro-PNG and pro-independence Bougainvilleans, and cost an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 lives from 1988 to 1997. Despite receiving assistance from Australia, the PNGDF proved unable to militarily defeat the BRA. This prompted PNG Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan in 1996 to contract Sandline International, a private military company that also supplied mercenaries to conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The ensuing scandal resulted toppled the Chan government and renewed efforts towards peaceful conflict resolution – culminating in a peace agreement and much greater autonomy for Bougainville. Some BRA leaders have since been involved in the post-peace process Autonomous Bougainville Government.
Bougainville island is much closer geographically, ethnically and environmentally to the Solomon Islands than PNG, and BRA leaders themselves argued that the island is ethnically part of the Solomons. Bougainville and its surrounding islands were formerly known as PNG’s North Solomons province, and Bougainville’s southernmost tip lies only seven kilometres from the northernmost point of the Solomons, whilst being around 500 kilometres away from New Guinea itself and almost 1000 kilometres from Port Moresby. Bougainville is also rich in copper and gold, and in the early 1970s a large mine was opened on the island by Bougainville Copper, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto. As one of the biggest gold and copper mines in the world, it dominated the island’s economy in the 1970s and 1980s, and during this period the firm’s tax and dividend obligations contributed roughly 20% of PNG’s total national budget. However, concerns over the mine’s financial benefits, its environmental affects, and resulting social impact had been voiced since the 1970s, and BRA leaders claimed that Bougainville received scant reward from the mining operations. Indeed, whilst Port Moresby reaped a 20% share of the profits from the mining venture, Bougainville itself received only 0.5% – 1.25%. There remain no sealed roads throughout the island. Incidentally, the BRA was lead by Francis Ona, a former surveyor with Bougainville Copper, and the parallels with Freeport in West Papua are stark. Papuan nationalists have consisted called for the closure of Freeport mining operations since they began in 1972. Whilst vertical conflict has been ongoing between the Indonesian state and Papuan nationalists since 1963, an independent West Papua might have to cope with horizontal conflict between ethnic and religious groups, the likelihood of which will be considered in the next section.
Whilst PNG and the Solomon Islands, in particular, have experienced a breakdown in law and order in recent years, these episodes tend to be localised and do not escalate into conditions of civil war, which is defined as a minimum of 1,000 battle-related deaths per year. This is largely because Pacific island countries have much smaller populations than other low-income countries where civil war is concentrated. Indeed, Chauvet et al (2007) found that although 27% of all countries are islands, only 5% of all civil wars occurred in such states. These statistics suggest that an independent West Papua has a relatively low risk of experiencing civil war but the territory’s delicate demographic balance between indigenous Papuans and Indonesian settlers is a cause for concern given the recent history of racial and ethnic tensions across both eastern Indonesia and Melanesia.
The fall of Suharto, and the subsequent decentralisation of local government, was accompanied by greater competition for state resources and frequently erupted into ethnic violence in eastern Indonesia. These six separate communal conflicts affected the provinces of West Kalimantan (twice), Central Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, Maluku and North Maluku, and can be broadly categorised into violence either between indigenous and migrant groups or between Christians and Muslims. They accounted for around 9,000 deaths in the years 1996-2002. Van Klinken (2007) finds that all these communal conflicts in Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Maluku were led by politically active individuals from the lower middle class in provincial or district capitals, places that were heavily reliant on state funding.
The first of these conflicts to erupt was in West Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo, between indigenous Dayaks and recently arrived settlers from Madura island off Java. It began in December 1996, and seems particularly prescient for West Papua since the demographic makeup of Kalimantan had been transformed by an influx of both official transmigrants and self-funded migrants from other provinces seeking opportunities in the island’s booming resource sector. A second round of Madurese expulsions occurred in West Kalimantan in 1999, this time perpetrated by the indigenous Malay community. Dayak massacres then spread to Central Kalimantan province in early 2001, and resulted in most Madurese being expelled from the province. As in West Papua, many rural Dayak communities have also been displaced from their customary lands by the Suharto regime’s granting large forest concessions to logging firms, many of which had close links to the Suharto family, the military or crony capitalists. As with indigenous Papuans, there is widespread belief among Dayaks that other Indonesian ethnic groups look down on them as ‘uncivilised’ and ‘backward’. However, the Dayak and Malay massacres in both provinces were not directed against all migrant groups in response to environmental destruction or demographic marginalisation since the Madurese were the only target in all three instances. Indeed, other migrant groups, especially the Javanese and Banjarese, outnumbered the Madurese community in Kalimantan. Moreover, East Kalimantan province remained peaceful despite having received more migrants than West and Central Kalimantan, as did other religiously diverse provinces such as North Sumatra.
The Dayaks and Malays who perpetrated the violence in Kalimantan apparently perceived the Madurese as being culturally arrogant, more financially successful and the beneficiaries of police protection. It seems that some Dayak leaders and factions mobilised cultural stereotypes to single out a powerless minority in order to secure new government posts created by the decentralisation and regional autonomy process. With close parallels to West Papua under pemekaran, Dayak groups in West and Central Kalimantan had been demanding since the early 1990s that district heads be indigenous, and after the violence subsided many more Dayaks were appointed to these positions. As in West Papua, this was usually accomplished by establishing more positions by partitioning existing districts into two or more parts. The Malays, having dominated the provincial government of West Kalimantan until then, felt threatened by this Dayak political resurgence and thus repeated the same formula of targetting Madurese settlers. Likewise, in many districts the government responded by sharing and balancing political appointments between Dayaks and Malays.
The other horizontal violence in eastern Indonesia during this period largely coalesced around religious rather than purely ethnic struggles. As in Kalimantan, the episodes of violence in Maluku and Sulawesi also concerned communal control of local administrations whose influence was increasing under the decentralisation and pemekaran process. These reforms enabled local parliaments to elect district heads, provided these district heads with enhanced financial autonomy, and allowed resource-rich areas to retain more of the revenues accrued. As a consequence, they also offered much greater monetary inducements for local elites to capture key posts in local government. During the Suharto period winning support from Jakarta-based elites had been crucial in securing local government appointments but in the power vacuum that followed Suharto’s resignation grassroots political competition increased markedly. Thus there was a much greater temptation for corrupt local elites to appeal to ethnic and religious identities. This resulted in sustained violence in Maluku and Sulawesi where previously harmonious communities of Christians and Muslims fought each other for control of state resources. Between 1999 and 2002 the conflicts in Maluku and North Maluku displaced more than 700,000 people, whilst in Central Sulawesi province as many as 143,000 residents were displaced from their homes.
The mobilising of religious identities during this period of political opening and uncertainty could have potentially serious ramifications for any independent West Papua. As in other Melanesian societies, most indigenous Papuans are Christian since European and American missionaries made significant headway during the Dutch colonial period. Missionary activity intensified after World War II as part of the Dutch strategy to strengthen their administrative control and to ward off Indonesian irredentist claims. In response to the territory’s subsequent annexation by Muslim-majority Indonesia, Christianity has become increasingly intertwined with Papuan nationalism. Continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia threatens to enflame tensions between Papuans and migrants, which have periodically erupted into violence.
In fact, both Christianity and Islam play increasingly significant roles in contemporary West Papua, especially in urban areas, where religious leaders are influential opinion formers. Particularly in the coastal towns and cities, religious institutions are playing an increasingly key role in dispensing a range of vital services to their members, such as healthcare and education. As in Timor-Leste, churches have become central to Papuan civil society, and since 1998 have been increasingly involved in publicising human rights abuses perpetrated by Indonesian security forces. As a result, Christian organisations are suspected of actively supporting West Papuan independence and are subject to surveillance by Indonesian intelligence agencies. Political censorship of Christian publications cataloging human rights abuses in West Papua also fuels religious polarisation and Papuan anxieties of Islamisation. Likewise, Muslims worry that a West Papua with greater self-determination would threaten Muslim communities, and they can point to March 2007 when Manokwari’s local government attempted to pass laws to strengthen Christian values among its residents. Whilst it was not implemented, due to fierce resistance from Muslim and some Christian community leaders, it did reveal latent religious tensions between Christian Papuans and Muslim settlers from Indonesia.
The rising tensions between Muslims and Christians in certain parts of the territory are largely due to the arrival of more fundamentalist brands of both religions and the increase in Indonesian settlers since 1998. The spread of mobile phone video technology has also played a role in disseminating atrocities carried out by both Muslims and Christians in Sulawesi and Maluku, and further afield in Iraq and Afghanistan. Christians in Papua see a creeping rise in Muslim intolerance across Indonesia, manifested in numerous attacks on churches elsewhere in the archipelago, whilst Muslims are sensitive to their minority status in some areas. One of the causes of communal violence in Sulawesi, the source of many spontaneous migrants to West Papua, was increasing Muslim assertiveness in the late Suharto period against Christians who had previously constituted the majority in many districts of Central Sulawesi province. Greater Muslim in-migration to Central Sulawesi altered the demographic makeup of the province and ensured Christians became a minority in Poso district, one of the province’s main population centres. As members of the national majority religion and now a majority in Poso itself, it appears that Muslim elites felt, “entitled to dwell anywhere in the district and control its political and business fortunes”. For Aragon (2007) the conflicts in Central Sulawesi and elsewhere in eastern Indonesia during this period were caused by a nexus of “bureaucratic corruption, ethnic inequities, migration patterns, land alienation, changes in global markets for cash crops, religious proselytising, and partisan media narratives”. This process might be repeated in West Papua given that the creation of new administrative divisions under decentralisation has already increased the risk of divisive communal mobilisation.
Whilst attacks on migrants by Papuans have sporadically occurred they have never been on the scale and frequency as in Kalimantan, Maluku or Sulawesi. Nevertheless, for an independent West Papua the Solomon Islands ‘tensions’ might also be prescient, where in late 1998 militants from the main island of Guadalcanal violently targeted migrant settlers, most of them arrivals from more densely populated Malaita island. Eventually around 35,000 migrants were expelled from their homes around the capital Honiara, as competition between indigenous Guales and Malaitan settlers over land and employment opportunities around the capital spilled over into violence. Whilst undoubtedly some of the violence was fuelled by criminality and individual greed, the social, cultural and economic affects of internal migration and the disruption triggered by resource development schemes on Guadalcanal were also factors. Analysts also consider the narrative of relative deprivation another key explanatory factor since the Guale militant leaders all hailed from the underdeveloped Weather Coast, where strong feelings of inequality and injustice regarding the benefits accruing from resource extraction on Guadalcanal persist. The echoes of similar tensions and jealousies resulting from uneven development can be heard throughout Melanesia, most audibly in the PNG highlands, and have been a key factor in both the Bougainville conflict and in Papuan resistance to the Freeport mine.
Another demographic factor that is commonly thought to increase conflict risk is a comparatively large youth population, otherwise known as a youth bulge, the exact definition of which varies between different researchers. This theory posits that territories with rapidly expanding populations and relatively large numbers of young adults (15-29 years of age) frequently have to deal with high youth unemployment where young men are more easily recruited by rebel, criminal or terrorist organisations. Developing countries lacking strong political institutions are considered the most likely to suffer youth bulge-related violence and social unrest. Indeed, in civil conflicts between 1970 and 1999, around 80% occurred in places where 60% of the population or more were under the age of thirty, and most countries with youth bulges continue to experience higher than average levels of unrest and violence.
Other historical upheavals associated with youth bulges include the eighteenth-century French revolution, where rapid population growth resulted in food shortages, inflation and social unrest. The rise of Hitler and Mussolini coincided with youth bulges, as did the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Iran was also experiencing a youth bulge prior to its 1979 revolution, when mass demonstrations by young people helped overthrow the monarchy. The uprisings of the 1970s and 1980s that occurred across Latin America have also been attributed to large numbers of disaffected, unemployed youth in the region, particularly since guerilla activities tapered off as the proportion of young people decreased. More recently, the civil wars in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Congo have corresponded to periods of youth bulge in each country. Nevertheless, researchers continue to debate whether it is the youth bulge itself that determines levels of conflict risk or whether the other pressures that these territories face are more likely causes of violent conflict. Whilst many analysts agree that a youth bulge by itself does not trigger violence, countries and territories with large youth populations are usually subject to other pressures that increase conflict risk. For example, Urdal & Hoelscher (2009) cite a lack of democracy, stagnant economic growth and low secondary education attainment in males aged 20-24 as having more explanatory power than merely the existence of a youth bulge. It appears that a large young population is one more factor that exacerbates conflict risk in developing countries where migration patterns, poor governance, slow economic growth, a high share of resource exports in GDP, and low education levels also contribute to the outbreak of vertical or horizontal violence.
Along with the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific is one of the three regions in the world considered most susceptible to youth bulge-related instability. This threat is exacerbated by the rapid urbanisation that the region is undergoing. As in the Solomon Islands, urban migration can inflame communal tensions because cities across the developing world generally lack the infrastructure, resources, or employment opportunities to cope with an inpouring of rural workers. Statistics published during the renewed outbreaks of violence in 2007 indicated that Timor-Leste’s total population was increasing some 3.7% per annum, with those aged 15-39 likewise growing some 3.74% each year between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, more than half of Melanesia’s population is aged 24 or under. Likewise, in Papua province some 1.53 million of its 2.83 million population were in the same age group in 2010, whilst in West Papua province the same cohort totalled almost 381,000 from a population of almost 744,000. The fertility rate across the territory was calculated at 2.9, higher than the Indonesian national average of 2.3, suggesting that West Papua might also face a heightened risk of internal conflict from a youth bulge in conjunction with other risk factors already present across the territory.
Conclusion and Discussion
State failure imposes significant costs globally, and this paper has outlined some of the pressing governance and development issues being faced by West Papua and its neighbours PNG, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands, all three of whom have been labelled as failing states in the past decade. These issues include chronic political instability; rampant corruption; dysfunctional economies; collapse of government services; breakdown of law and order; internal conflicts; and loss of state authority and legitimacy. Whilst some of these problems can be partly attributed to the colonial legacy, the political establishment and the civil service have also woefully underperformed since independence, despite the fact that military takeovers have only been confined to Fiji. Since it is already exhibiting many similar symptoms of state failure as its neighbours, an independent West Papua might become even more vulnerable, especially since numerous communal conflicts erupted across eastern Indonesia during the post-Suharto transition. Empirical research also indicates that failing states in the Pacific seem to suffer greater loss of GDP than failing states elsewhere. However, just as the level of violence and human rights abuse in Timor-Leste has diminished with the departure of the Indonesian security apparatus, it would be expected that most indigenous Papuans would benefit from a similar removal.
Indeed, a decade ago it appeared that West Papua might follow Timor-Leste, formerly another territory in eastern Indonesia whose annexation was highly controversial, in finally achieving statehood. The Papuan Spring of 1999-2000 was significant because it demonstrated that a genuine pan-Papuan identity had apparently been formed in response to the harshness of Indonesian rule. Whilst the Dutch cultivated a Papuan elite and helped construct a pan-Papuan identity separate to that of Indonesia, Papuan nationalism has since been consolidated among historically disparate ethnic groups to an extent not apparent in neighbouring PNG. Thus, almost fifty years of Indonesian control has ensured that West Papua is quite a different society from PNG, which is still riven with tribal conflict and discord. Centrifugal weakness in Jakarta in 1998-2001 presented an opportunity for a widely representative group of Papuan political leaders to push for the territory’s independence under the banner of pan-Papuan nationalism. However, Indonesia’s subsequent co-opting of indigenous leaders through the decentralisation and regional autonomy process has seemingly heightened intra-Papuan ethnic rivalries indicating that, “regional and tribal interests remain politically salient”. Further consolidation of a cohesive pan-Papuan identity would be vital for any nascent West Papuan state to avoid the some of the nation-building issues that have beset its neighbours, in particular PNG, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands.
Whilst Indonesia has strengthened its grip on the territory since 2000, South Sudan’s recent referendum on independence will give some succor to those who have campaigned for a similar outcome in West Papua, particularly since the two cases have numerous historical parallels. Enmity between the north and south of Sudan goes back hundreds of years to the exploitation of African slaves from the south by northern Arab slave traders. Likewise, Arab and Malay traders took slaves from coastal West Papua from around the 15th century until the Dutch arrival in the mid-19th century, and Biak became an island staging post for the eastern slave trade, similar to Zanzibar during the same period. Colonial policy also cemented regional cleavages in both Sudan and West New Guinea. In 1924 the British essentially divided Sudan into two separate territories, along rather arbitrary lines of latitude, accompanied by laws that limited people movement between the two zones. The north comprised a largely Muslim Arab population, whilst the south largely consisted of a predominantly animist African population where Islam was making significant inroads. This division restricted Arab and Islamic influence from the north, and under British tutelage European and American missionary activities expanded. Likewise, in West Papua the spread of Islam was limited to a few coastal settlements, notably Fak-Fak, which had contact with the Maluku archipelago. The subsequent Dutch colonial presence effectively quarantined New Guinea from further Muslim influence as Christian missions expanded throughout the territory, among which American evangelists became the most prominent.
The decolonisation of both South Sudan and West Papua also offers numerous parallels, since southern aspirations went unheard during the process that led to Sudan’s independence in 1956, and were largely marginalised by subsequent governments. Likewise, no Papuan representatives were consulted during the negotiations that sealed the New York Agreement of August 1962 and the territory’s transfer to Indonesia. By the early 1960s there were very few Papuans who advocated union with Indonesia given that any prospect of a federal state had vanished in 1950. Meanwhile, Sudanese independence in 1956 was ruined by a brutal civil war between north and south, which lasted from 1955 to 1972, triggered by the Arab-led government reneging on promises to create a federal system. The 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement finally granted the south considerable autonomy and a relative peace lasted until 1983 when Khartoum imposed new Islamic laws on all of Sudan, including the south. The second civil war officially ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and specified that a referendum be later held to determine whether South Sudan should separate from Sudan. Almost 99% of votes cast were in favour.
The internationally brokered Sudan peace process was the first time other African states, long fearful of similar secession movements within their own borders, countenanced the partition of colonial successor states on the continent. Thus, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement can be seen as a long-overdue effort to repair one of the most troublesome postcolonial borders, and the ramifications might extend far beyond Africa. Numerous other states in Asia and the Pacific are also colonial creations whose borders often cut arbitrarily across tribes, ethnicities, religions and traditional alliances. As a result, across Africa and the Asia-Pacific long-standing enemies have sometimes been forced into the same nation states, whilst official boundaries have also divided clans and families across different countries where they speak different colonial languages. In the case of New Guinea the invisible border between PNG and Indonesia is not recognised by many of the indigenous people living there who cross it regularly as part of their subsistence farming lifestyles.
If the partition of Sudan brings lasting peace to one of the world’s most fractious conflict zones, it is a solution that the international community could conceivably apply in other disputed conflict zones. However, plebiscites and acts of self-determination can also foment new problems as they did in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s when independence declarations by some of its constituent parts lead to civil wars as Serbian minorities within these new states fought to re-establish Serbian sovereignty. Since the Papuan Spring of 1999-2000 the numbers of Indonesian settlers in West Papua have grown so fast that indigenous Papuans recently became a minority in their homeland. Given this population balance, any referendum would have to be handled very delicately. If allowed to vote, it is highly likely that Indonesian migrants would scupper any chance of independence by voting for continuing union with Indonesia. During Timor-Leste’s referendum in 1999, Indonesian migrants were excluded from the voter registration process at a time when they constituted around 10% of the territory’s population. Even if it were possible to screen out more than 50% of the population, a vote for Papuan independence would likely provoke a violent retaliation from pro-Indonesian societal forces. Moreover, Indonesian migrants in West Papua now constitute the backbone of the local economy and any moves towards independence would therefore involve some capital flight from the territory. Given West Papua’s history of human rights abuses and militia organising, it would be surprising if the military remained neutral, especially since many veterans of the destruction of East Timor have since done tours in West Papua. Given the costs and risks associated with independence it is perhaps worth exploring other options for the territory, at least in the short to medium-term.
Even if West Papua were not to realise its independence anytime soon, Aspinall (2006) argues that a well run, democratic Indonesian state might still be able to accommodate Papuan aspirations within a properly implemented local autonomy package. This ignores the fact that such an Indonesian state has yet to emerge, and progress towards such an outcome appears stalled. Nonetheless, many Papuans initially welcomed Special Autonomy enthusiastically, although these hopes have been largely dashed and human rights abuses remain common. Despite a decrease in state coercion in most of Indonesia since the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime in 1998, many Papuan cultural symbols remain banned, Papuan civil society remains under tight surveillance and around 100 Papuan political prisoners languish in jail. Even though West Papua now receives much bigger revenues than under Suharto, Indonesia has missed an opportunity to build trust among the indigenous population with its half-hearted approach to implementing other aspects of Special Autonomy.
To win greater support among Papuans the Indonesian state should sincerely respond to some of their grievances. In 2009 the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) unveiled the ‘Papua Road Map’, which aims to address Papuan grievances while keeping the territory inside Indonesia. The proposal blends four approaches, namely recognition, development, dialogue and reconciliation. The first recognises Papuans as traditional ‘owners’ of the land, a long held grievance but one in which other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand could offer a model. Papuan cultural symbols and traditions must also be properly recognised, as part of Indonesia’s rich multiculturalism. The development aspect should involve some form of affirmative action and education to stimulate a Papuan business class. Programmes that attempt to close the gap between migrant and indigenous Papuans in health and life expectancy are also vital. Both sides must also sincerely pursue dialogue, preferably with an international mediator. Although Jakarta has long been wary of internationalising the Papua issue, a precedent does exist in the Aceh peace process, which involved two separate international mediators and culminated in a successful conclusion. As in Aceh, reconciliation is likely to be the biggest challenge in any efforts to peacefully consolidate West Papua within Indonesia although the Aceh peace deal has many lessons that can be applied to West Papua.
A symbolic first step towards reconciliation in West Papua would be to grant amnesties to political prisoners, particularly to those who were demanding welfare improvements rather than independence. Many Papuans have served prison terms for peacefully protesting corruption in West Papua, which has increased as decentralisation and Special Autonomy have resulted in much larger state revenues. Another essential move would be to properly apply the rule of law, particularly with respect to the military who continue to enjoy virtual impunity in the territory. Any officials proven to have been complicit in human rights abuses would at least need to be removed from their posts, and preferably jailed. The Aceh peace agreement also mandated the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission that intended to acknowledge victims and their suffering. Whilst such a move would undoubtedly promote reconciliation with Indonesia among Papuans, backsliding has prevented its proper implementation in Aceh. A gradual military withdrawal would also dramatically improve human rights in the territory, and would be crucial in repairing Indonesian rule. Indeed, the 2005 Helsinki Peace Agreement offers a useful template for conflict resolution as it specified the removal of non-organic military and police forces from Aceh. However, peace in Aceh was forged in the crucible of an unprecedented humanitarian disaster under much international scrutiny. The foreign aid and assistance that flowed into the province gave the military a clear financial incentive to back the process, having undermined previous efforts at a negotiated solution.
Reconciliation is the most challenging aspect of the Road Map since the largely unreformed military is the most powerful state actor in West Papua and it would view any drawdown as an extreme loss of face. Whether the result of independence or genuine autonomy within Indonesia, a structured military withdrawal is central to improving the lives of ordinary Papuans. Large swathes of the territory remain under de facto military control, which retains an official presence throughout Indonesia through its territorial system that effectively operates a parallel administration alongside the civilian bureaucracy. In West Papua, far from central control in Jakarta, this system feeds abuse, exploitation and environmental catastrophe for the indigenous population, and makes a mockery of the territory’s Special Autonomy. Whilst military reform has enjoyed some gains since Suharto’s fall, the territorial system still exists as does the military’s corrupt business apparatus whereby the Indonesian security forces are deeply involved in resource exploitation across Indonesia. In West Papua’s case this takes the form of direct ownership of logging concessions and other business activities or through lucrative protection services provided to extraction companies such as Freeport and BP. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former general, has shown little appetite for susbstantive military reform since ascending to office.
Despite the apparent success of the Aceh peace process, few Indonesian officials seem willing to address the points raised in the proposed Papua Road Map, especially since the independence remains weak and unable to command much international support. However, recent events in South Sudan might force their hand. As throughout Africa, the Indonesian state has displayed a remarkable commitment to maintain its inherited colonial borders, however illogical or artificial those boundaries may appear in West Papua’s case. Unlike Jakarta’s claim to Timor-Leste, which never had a solid basis in international law, its case in West Papua had appeared much stronger. Since Timor-Leste’s departure, the borders of Indonesia have exactly mirrored those of the Netherlands East Indies, to which Indonesia sees itself as the legitimate successor. The principle of uti possidetis juris, whereby independent successor states replicate the borders of the colonial territories that they replaced, has been well grounded in international relations and diplomacy since decolonisation began after World War II. Therefore, the Indonesian establishment sees little basis for any discussion of West Papua’s status. Furthermore, if Jakarta were to countenance independence for West Papua it fears that other provinces might also agitate for separation, potentially heralding the break up of the Unitary Republic. South Sudan thus sets a worrying precedent since a threat to one colonial boundary can be construed as a threat to colonial boundaries the world over.
West Papua is also much more important to the Indonesian state, and large multinational interests, than Timor-Leste ever was. The Freeport copper and gold mine is Indonesia’s largest single revenue earner and a showpiece of the country’s vaunted resource wealth. The OPM and other Papuan nationalists have consistently demanded its closure. The Tangguh project is now Indonesia’s second largest LNG processing plant, fixing the puncture created by soaring domestic demand and declining output at other major LNG plants. International capital is also increasingly involved in palm oil investments throughout the territory, the status of which would be uncertain in an independent West Papua. In addition to their financial importance, these projects are symbolic of Indonesia’s importance to the wider world and loudly demonstrate the efficacy of foreign investment in a country that has seen a precipitous decline in it since the mid-1990s. Moreover, many active and retired military officers, senior state bureaucrats and other government officials hold lucrative logging concessions or other business interests in the territory, in a pattern reminiscent of Indonesian rule in Timor-Leste. In tandem with the substantial tax and royalties accrued by the state, these interests constitute a powerful motivation for Indonesia to keep West Papua in the fold, by force if necessary.
The OPM has been unable to muster the kind of sustained armed resistance that characterised the conflicts in South Sudan, East Timor and Kosovo, whilst West Papua’s independence movement has also lacked a charismatic leader around whom local and international support can coalesce. This is in marked contrast to Timor-Leste, for whose independence struggle Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Ramos-Horta is the country’s current president, whilst current prime minister Xanana Gusmão is another charismatic personality who commanded the Fretilin armed resistance. In West Papua’s case the independence movement has long been fractious, riven with ethnic divisions and lacking similar strong leadership. This has particularly been the case with the OPM, which has conducted the most persistent resistance to Indonesian rule. In addition, the OPM has been unable to muster the kind of sustained armed resistance that characterised the conflicts in South Sudan, East Timor and Kosovo. Such a situation is a concern considering that Indonesia’s democratic transition has been plagued by violence between competing ethnic groups, often between indigenous groups and migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. Whilst vertical conflict, that is between the state and separatists, has been occuring since 1963, West Papua has not yet witnessed large-scale horizontal conflict between migrants and indigenous groups. However, the religious divide between the mostly Muslim migrants and mostly Christian indigenous Papuans has increasingly threatened to spill over into violence since new hardline versions of both religions began arriving and proselytising in West Papua after 1998. Christian Papuans are especially concerned that Jakarta appears to be leaning towards a less tolerant vision of Islamic orthodoxy, a trend that has negatively impacted Christians elsewhere in Indonesia. Whereas many Muslim migrants firmly support of central rule from Jakarta, many indigenous Papuans believe that Special Autonomy is just window dressing and has not been implemented properly.
Therefore, it seems that the chief hope for independence, or even a more meaningful form of self-governance, is international pressure. For an independence or secession movement to succeed it is crucial for it to gain traction within influential foreign states that support the cause on moral or other grounds. South Sudan was able to secure independence largely due to pressure from the African Union, the European Union and the United States. Timor-Leste’s annexation by Indonesia in 1975 was never recognised by the United Nations. However, there is no question of ASEAN pressuring Indonesia, whilst the attitude of the major powers towards West Papua remains essentially the same as it was in the 1960s. Despite evidence to the contrary, Indonesia is still seen as too large, too powerful and too important to antagonise. In a communiqué back to London in 1968, the British Embassy in Washington considered it unimaginable, “the US, Japanese, Dutch or Australian government putting at risk their economic and political relations with Indonesia on a matter of principle involving a relatively small number of primitive peoples”. The donor community has since had many opportunities to press Jakarta on West Papua, particularly during the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, but has taken no meaningful action. Moreover, the Indonesian military response to Timor-Leste’s independence vote demonstrated that a large multinational military intervention would likely be needed in West Papua too, and the squalid role played by the United States and the United Nations in the Indonesian takeover constitutes another major obstacle to international support.
Nonetheless, causes for optimism do exist. For Matsuno (2011) the cases of South Sudan, Kosovo and Timor-Leste “suggest that state and morality are seen more related to each other than before, and this explains the fact that what’s happening within the borders of a sovereign state is increasingly under international scrutiny”. As such, they also indicate that a normative shift in international thinking on rights issues has taken place since Rwanda in 1994, as evidenced by the emergence of the responsibility to protect (RtP) doctrine and a greater willingness to intervene in humanitarian crises. However, the international community has proven unable to apply RtP to economically or politically powerful states, such as Russia and China, highlighting the limits of the doctrine and raising doubts over its implementation against Indonesian misrule in West Papua. Indonesia in 1999 was reeling from the effects of the Asian economic crisis and a difficult transition from authoritarianism, whereas now it appears a much more stable inclusive state that was even elected to chair the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in 2005. The continuing plight of Papuans in their homeland underlines concerns that the RtP doctrine is only applied sporadically and selectively to the highest profile cases in weak states. For instance, both of Sudan’s civil wars combined cost 2.4 million lives and displaced another four million people in one of the worst conflicts since World War II, whilst an estimated 300,000 Timorese died due to Indonesian misrule (1975-1999), from a population of around 850,000. The 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili was filmed and photographed by foreign journalists, reminding the world of the largely forgotten East Timor conflict. Likewise, the Aceh peace deal was forged under unprecedented international scrutiny in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The independence movement in West Papua has not had any comparable events that have captured the world’s attention, despite the fact that Indonesian misrule has resulted in around 100,000 Papuan deaths since 1963. An estimated 30,000 of these died prior to the territory’s formal incorporation into Indonesia in 1969, and whilst unlawful killings still occur in West Papua they are on smaller scale since the fall of Suharto in 1998. Nevertheless, various analysts have described the effects of continuing military operations and Papuan demographic drowning as genocide, and other rights abuses remain common.123 If charges of Indonesian genocide against Papuans become more accepted then Indonesia will likely face greater outside pressure over West Papua.
Indeed, Matsuno has identified another factor that is becoming increasingly relevant to questions of secession in West Papua and elsewhere, namely a failure in governing a disputed territory. This moral dimension behind self-determination, what the author terms a “shift in construction of sovereign responsibility” apparently worked in favour of Timor-Leste. Thus, Matsuno argues that, “the world now tends to see the issue of self-determination not in terms of its original legality alone but more in terms of contemporary situations of functioning morality within the state borders”. He draws parallels between the present reality in West Papua and Timor-Leste in the late 1980s, in which, “There were serious human rights abuses, the area was closed to foreign media, (an) influx of migrants was marginalising locals and causing simmering resentment, local leaders began to think that the government policies had failed, and there was an emerging young generation of locals who were educated under the Indonesian system as Indonesian children (who) nonetheless refused to identify themselves as Indonesians”. On the other hand, however, it should be recognised that Timorese independence was not wholly due to international pressure but more of a miscalculation by Habibie that his interests would be better served by granting a referendum, which the maverick politician fully expected Indonesia to win.
Despite the problems that an independent West Papua would inevitably face, South Sudan is in a much more precarious situation as most of its villages have no electricity or running water, and few sealed roads exist anywhere in the country. Moreover, West Papua’s neighbours PNG, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu have so far remained intact, despite the difficulties in governing ethnically diverse and geographically scattered populations. One of the arguments advanced by Jakarta and its supporters against Timor-Leste’s independence was that Indonesia’s then 27th province was economically unviable and incapable of governing itself. Whilst independent Timor-Leste has suffered setbacks and remains fragile, the situation has improved markedly since the Indonesian military left. A similar outcome in West Papua, whether the result of independence or within a properly implemented autonomy package, would be a major breakthrough for ordinary Papuans given that Timor-Leste’s indigenous population are now doing much better than their Papuan counterparts.