What is at stake in the new provinces of West Papua?
On April 12, the Indonesian parliament announced its intention to create three new provinces in West Papua. Currently, the western part of the island of New Guinea consists of two provinces: the province of West Papua and the province of Papua. The plan is to break down these two administrative regions into five, with the addition of South Papua Province, Central Papua Province and Central Papua Highlands Province.
These conceptions of proliferation have ramifications far beyond changing arbitrary lines on a map. The creation of new administrative districts implies the need to establish a government apparatus, set up military posts and build new infrastructure – all of which could exacerbate violent conflicts in the region.
Not so long ago, General Andika Perkasa, recently appointed Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, proposed a new “humanistic” approach to managing political conflicts in West Papua. Rather than cracking down more harshly on armed fighters with gunfire, he declared his goal to gradually resolve the conflict through “territorial development operations”, involving the deployment of personnel to carry out education, health and building infrastructure to build relationships with local Papuan communities. , hoping to divert them from the cause of independence.
That so many indigenous West Papuans have voiced their disdain against the renewal of Special Self Rule…is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.
Apart from the fact that relations between the Indonesian armed forces and the Papuan people may have already deteriorated beyond repair, what is omitted from Perkasa’s plans is that these operations require much more troops than those currently stationed in West Papua. Just a month after his appointment, Perkasa announced plans to establish eight more military district commands (Kodi) in the region, an increase from 22 to 30. It is estimated that each Kodi consists of 700 to 900 personnel, or 6,400 additional armed troops in what is already Indonesia’s most militarized area.
Therefore, the establishment of new provinces could also lead to the proliferation of new military regions (Kodam) at the provincial level to coordinate the many Kodi on towns and regencies, which means that even more military personnel are needed to fill positions at all the different administrative levels. While under the new strategy these troops are expected to perform mostly civic duties instead of engaging in physical combat, the number of armed conflicts between the Indonesian army and the West Papua National Liberation Army increased in recent years, along with the growing number of troops. deployed in West Papua.
Arbitrarily divided administrative regions could also exacerbate what have been recognized by Papuan political activists as violent conflicts between local tribes.
From a purely technocratic point of view, the division of the region into smaller and more manageable administrative zones is presented as a catalyst for promoting good governance and inducing development. Proliferation plans have already been introduced by amending the Special Papuan Home Rule Bill in 2021. Among other changes, the amendment will increase the Special Home Rule Fund allocation to Papuan provinces from 2% to 2.25% from the National General Allocation Fund (GAF). The government has also extended the revenue sharing framework for oil and gas companies in West Papua, where local government receives 70% of revenue, from 2026 to 2041.
Since the special autonomy law for Papua (Otsus) was introduced in 2001, the region has indeed seen noticeable improvements. Although the 2021 Human Development Index still ranks the provinces of Papua (60.62) and West Papua (65.26) as the lowest in the country, their overall growth from 2010 to 2019 exceeded the Indonesian national average of 0.53 points per year. The gap between development in West Papua and the rest of the country was very large initially, but it has caught up.
Yet the grievances of the Papuan indigenous people go beyond these quantifiable improvements. At its peak, the 2001 Otsus has been dubbed the “prosperity approach”, where the central government of Jakarta funded projects in the region by mainly building infrastructure, such as roads. However, these funds ended up fueling tensions as the military presence became even more pronounced in its role of protecting construction works and commercial ventures such as mining and plantations.
Furthermore, the implementation of the Special Home Rule Act has largely ignored West Papuan political rights to self-government. One of the key aspects of the original bill was the formation of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), a coalition of Papuan tribal chiefs charged with arbitration and speaking on behalf of indigenous Papuans. While the MRP’s role has been largely advisory over the years, it claims to be left out of talks on the creation of the three new provinces. by Jakarta, for Jakarta”.
Seeing that the Indonesian government has largely circumvented the mechanisms of representative democracy it set itself, protests against proliferation have erupted in major Papuan cities such as Jayapura, Wamena and Timika. Two people were killed in Yakuhimo regency while six others were injured when security forces opened fire in March 2022. Earlier this year, a petition rejecting the Otsus The amendment was circulated among local residents of Papua and managed to collect 718,179 signatures.
That so many indigenous West Papuans have expressed disdain for the renewal of the Special Self-Government Status, even with its huge increase in the allocated regional budget, is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong. Broadly speaking, this means that there is a fatal disconnect between how the Indonesian government perceives its treatment of the region and how those actually affected by such treatment perceive the arrangement.