Joko Widodo was always going to be the president that his predecessors were not, from his man-of-the-people ways to his love of heavy metal.
This past weekend, he again demonstrated the quality that has inspired in Indonesians so much hope for positive change, when he promised to set up a fact-finding team to probe the shooting deaths of five unarmed Papuan civilians, reportedly by the security forces.
The president was in Papua for Christmas celebrations when he made his remarks about the Dec. 5 shootings in Paniai district.
By most credible accounts, the incident involved police firing indiscriminately into a crowd of unarmed civilians protesting police brutality against a 12-year-old boy. The police chief’s more fantastical account is that “gunmen in the distant hills” fired on the crowd, whipping it up into a violent frenzy and forcing police to act in self-defense.
Joko has done something unprecedented and hugely commendable here: He has refused to take the word of the police chief at face value and instead taken it on himself to ensure that the truth, no matter how painful, comes to light through the unaberrated lens of an independent investigation.
For far too long the security forces have controlled the narrative that the rest of Indonesia and the world have obtained from Papua. That they have long taken a heavy-handed approach to anything deemed a security disturbance is no secret.
Joko’s move is perhaps the first official step by any Indonesian government to bring official accountability to an act of excessive use of force by security officers in Papua. This will be hugely important in clearing the path toward addressing the legitimate grievances that Papuans have long held against the government. Even if that is Joko’s only legacy, it will be a worthwhile one.