A traditional market in Papua. (Antara Photo/Iwan Adisaputra)

Amplifying the Good News From Papua


OCTOBER 04, 2019

Recent riots in West Papua and Papua, the two easternmost provinces in Indonesia collectively known as Papua, have put the spotlight of the international media on Indonesia in recent weeks. A prosperous Papua free from human rights abuses again seems like a pipedream. 

Political activists such as the pro-Papua independence leader Benny Wenda and human rights lawyer Veronica Koman have gained worldwide media attention for their persistent effort to report abuse cases.

Nevertheless, there are also good news coming out of Papua that unfortunately attract very little media coverage.

Racist taunts against Papuan students in Surabaya had stoked up violence across West Papua and Papua that has resulted in dozens of deaths.

Some have seized the moment to bring back to the table the thorny issue of an independence referendum for the Papuans: will they stay with Indonesia or secede?

Activists like Benny and Veronica are now highly sought after by the international media to give an account of what is really happening in Papua.

Organizations like Amnesty International Indonesia is also in the spotlight for its consistent effort to expose human rights abuses in the region.

Their criticism of Indonesia focuses on the alleged failure of the government to deliver its promise to resolve human rights violations in Papua.

But deeper than that, the Papuans' protests are rooted in the historical dispute of whether or not Papua's integration into Indonesia was carried out legally according to international law. 

Special Autonomy in Question

Even with speedier development recently, Papua still has a lot of problems with nary a solution in sight.

The current special autonomy law was thought to be a "master cure" for lagging development in Papua. 

According to the law, only native Papuans can become regional and local leaders. The law also secures a vast amount of government cash transfer to the region to boost development.

Nevertheless, the law has also come in for heavy criticism. 

According to J. Kristadi, Papua still suffers from chronic overlapping of policies and regulations.

The government cash transfer, for example, provides ample space for self-government and policy innovations, but regional policy initiatives are often not in line with central government policies.

It is not rare for the Papuan administration to overrule regional policies set by the central government.

The massive presence of military and police officers in Papua is also a huge problem.

Human resource development in Papua should be done by increasing opportunities for teachers and health workers to work in Papua, not by boosting the number of military and police officers stationed in the two provinces. 

Fortunately, individuals such as Sigit Arifianto, Amalia Usmaianti and Billy Mambrasar, and some charity organizations have taken initiatives to improve education, the health service and economy in Papua. 

Good News From Papua

Sigit came to Papua in 2017 as a volunteer teacher under a program called Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teaches). He ended up teaching Papuan kids at a local elementary school for a full year.

There are many other volunteer teachers in Papua who came from different parts of Indonesia. Aside from Indonesia Mengajar, other programs such as SM3T, administered by the Education and Culture Ministry, also sends volunteer teachers to Papua.

Amalia is a doctor who served in Papua under a program called Nusantara Sehat organized by the Health Ministry.

A story of Amalia walking for hours with one of her Papuan patients to reach the nearest hospital went viral last year.

Billy is a native West Papuan who invented Kitong Bisa, a social enterprise with a focus on providing entrepreneurial training for young Papuans.

The organization also provides information on scholarships and employment opportunities for them.

Most recently, Kitong Bisa invited young leaders from around the world to share their experiences with Papuan youngsters.

What Sigit, Amalia and Billy are doing complement the efforts of activists like Veronica and Benny.

The social activists believe what Papua needs is to develop its human resources by improving education, economy and the health service. The human rights activists believe a better Papua can only be realized when past and present human rights abuses are resolved and Papua exists as an independent country.

Amplify the Good News

These days the media seems to give more portion to human rights-based perspectives on Papua. We need to make the effort to amplify the good news from Papua, such as the stories of what happened to Billy, Sigit and Amalia.

The objective of amplifying the good news is not to cover up the dark and complicated past of the region or the tumultuous relationship between Papua and Indonesia, but to give more options for people who want to help to develop Papua. 

Papua's special autonomy law has so far failed to encourage Papuans to improve their skills.

By amplifying the good news from the region, a more encouraging discourse on improving Papua's human resources may become a new focus of the media.

As one Papuan woman writer said, the region needs more teachers and medical workers than soldiers.

Muhamad Rosyid Jazuli is a researcher at Paramadina Public Policy Institute