For some people in New Zealand, West Papua sounds a land that is full of conflicts, abuses and harassments. The region, they think, does not have any authorities to rule it itself and the Native West Papuans are constantly living under a colonial regime where all public voices are silenced. NZ thinks that West Papuans are far from well-established education and healthcare services. To this end, the last measles outbreak, they think, was a deliberate scenario run by the government of Indonesia to ‘slowly massacre’ West Papuans which they call it a slow-motion genocide.
A David Robie’s story
One prominent proponent of those opinions is David Robie. In the beginning of this May (3/5/2018), he held a public discussion with him became a sole presenter with a presentation titled World Press Freedom Day, Indonesia, and ‘Open Door’ to West Papua.
During the presentation, a professor of AUT and a director of Pacific Media Centre in that university, Robie was firmly explaining that West Papua is truly an unsafe, horrific place to visit due to many problems aforementioned.
Other than accusing Indonesia of any previously mentioned wrongdoings, he also told dozens of audiences that there is no press freedom in West Papua. Journalists are constantly in trouble with the local authorities. He gave examples that some journalists were beaten by the police and some other are blacklisted.
Robie also convinced his audiences that West Papua is a frightening region since it is still under long and brutal occupation. He then mentioned that Indonesia has asked Facebook to censor any information regarding violence (when there is any) in West Papua so the world, especially people in NZ, will not see it.
People have to agree that some problems Robie mentioned are happening in West Papua like violence and less press freedom. However, we do not agree with the nuances the Robie brings in his stances about West Papua.
He continuously tries to convince people that it is only West Papua that is problematic in Indonesia. It feels like only West Papua that suffers from zero free press, lack of education and healthcare services, and also from the presence of military forces in the region.
Pens, books, and the military
Nobody in Indonesia wants any military state. And, both Indonesian civilians and military forces have come to that conclusion since the ‘Reformasi’ era started in 1998. As for the Indonesian military, they have transformed themselves to involve a great deal of humanitarian works in their agenda where Indonesian military is now a completely-politics-free organization. The military has long acquired the paradigm of ‘cimic’ or civil and military cooperation in their job.
(in picture: a army doctor helping with healthcare services in West Papua)
Of course, you all will still see military forces holding arms in both West Papua and other provinces in Indonesia. Because national security is their core task and you see something similar in any other country. But, you probably see more military forces that hold non-armed tools.
Some are holding medical tools, helping people with illness alleviation. Some are holding pens and books, reading stories to West Papuan kids and teaching them how to read and study. Some are holding construction tools, helping West Papuans building libraries, schools and roads. Some are singing, teaching kids how to sing local and national songs. Some are even holding a public meeting to resolve local-tribal conflicts that are still a significant problematic matter in West Papua.
It is just unfortunate that Kiwi media or most of Western media super-rarely, almost never, cover stories like those.
Basically, we agree that West Papua has problems. But we would like to emphasize that other regions in Indonesia also has similar problems. Other regions also have problematic situations with weak press freedom, unequal education and healthcare services, and complicated relationship between civilians and military forces. However, what we mean by problematic is that there are good news and bad news and ups and downs in those and also other areas.
Some parts in the regions have enjoyed quality press freedom, education and healthcare and mutual civilian-military relationship but some other parts have not. The same situation goes to West Papua where parts of it is enjoying the development that is progressing but some other areas have not due to some reasons.
If using a developed-country perspective, what is happening in West Papua is way far from ideal, and so are other parts of Indonesia.
It can be assured that the majority of Indonesians do not value press freedom as much as people in the West including those in New Zealand. Education is key here that low quality and poor equality of education has troubled their access to information and the media, let alone discussing and arguing about press freedom.
(in picture: Eli, a voluntary teacher in West Papua)
But if you come to Indonesia and especially West Papua to study and understand what is happening socially, economically, politically etc., we can assure you that you will develop a new perspective of how to understand Indonesia and West Papua.
So, of the press freedom in West Papua, we have to admit that there are problems with some journalists local, national and international. However, those who are in trouble, which is only a few, cannot justify that press is not free there.
For years, many local, national and international journalists stay and work in West Papua and have been reporting a lot of information covering the bad and the good news.
Even some media that are blatantly criticizing the national and regional government policies in West Papua remain safe and sound there. For years, for example, Tabloid Jubi have been able to report both good and bad news and become one of the most prominent ‘opposition’ media from West Papua. Also, for many times, West Papuans are able to criticize the government freely such as Natalius Pigai.
Of the connection of the government on the Facebook censorship issue, we think that Robie’s accusation will never find a factual basis. What is a fact is that Indonesia has a prolonged problem with the presence of Facebook in Indonesia. Even recently, Facebook representatives were called for a hearing at The House due to their alleged tax evasion and negligence of the spread of hoaxes and fake news on their platform.
The worst part of Robie’s accusation, we believed, though, was when he mentioned that the last measles outbreak was the government’s act of slow-motion genocide in West Papua. We were like, “Oh my God, how could he say that?!”
There are at least two reasons why Robie was already too much with all of his accusations.
Firstly, Robie does not understand the real situation whatsoever especially regarding the outbreak. What he did, instead, was like this young student from University of Indonesia who protested that President Jokowi has been neglecting West Papua in the context of the outbreak.
Unlike Robie who did not get clarification and criticism for his baseless accusation, this young man was soon receiving thousands of stories from many people saying that his protest was baseless and he did not know anything about West Papua, especially about the outbreak and that he in fact has done nothing this far for West Papua and even has never been to the region. If Robie were an Indonesian, he would gain similar reception we believe.
While Robie and this young student are consistently making such accusations, many health practitioners both from civilians and military forces have already been in Asmat, the outbreak area, helping people with the illness alleviation.
Well, West Papua is not like New Zealand who have beautifully well-established road access, so those health workers and practitioners, some of whom are volunteers, had to take long hour trips just to get to the area. The military provided many of their ‘war vehicles’ to help transport the workers. In fact, regardless of the difficult access, the case was handled well and soon the status as an outbreak was dismissed.
People in New Zealand may have heard that some kids have died due to the outbreak. That is true. But what they have not heard, or do not want to hear, is that many have been saved thanks to the quick response from the government and the people.
Of that outbreak handling operation, none of the workers were Kiwi or come from NZ and NZ had contributed nothing to the successful operation. This leads to the second reason why Robie and other Kiwi were already too much with all of his accusations.
So, secondly, if they want to see a better West Papua, they should start considering to take real actions. For many years, Indonesian healthcare and education workers and volunteers both from civilians and military forces have helped the establishments of public libraries, health centres, schools, reading rooms and other public facilities in West Papua.
Some foreigners, unfortunately none from NZ, even took a brave step to build schools that come with international curriculum. Other provide free books for West Papuan kids so they have a better access to knowledge.
The military greatly helps secure the development of thousand kilometres of new roads in West Papua. Some military members even often become voluntary teachers when school teachers are not present.
From the government, many scholarships are provided for specifically young West Papuans to study abroad from their high school level. This scholarship schemes are special only for West Papuan students. In that sense, are other students from other provinces in Indonesia jealous of it? In general no! They understand that education is highly necessary for West Papuans so they think that nothing wrong with that scholarship scheme.
To this end, we would like to recommend that Robie and other Kiwis who have concerns about bettering West Papua, to take fresh approaches to contribute positively to the development of that region.
(in picture: an army soldier helping a West Papuan kid with reading)
Firstly, Kiwis should look at and ask them themselves how far they have contributed to the development of West Papua. They should ask themselves what real impacts they have brought to West Papua. For example, during the measles outbreak, what have they done to help? With the poor education and healthcare services in West Papua, have they contributed to better them? West Papua certainly needs helps to develop and Kiwis can certainly help.
Secondly, New Zealand should proactively seek positive news about West Papua if there has not been enough of good news about it. In our previous article, we have mentioned that there is a sort of lack of capability of Indonesians regarding writing stories in English. We have found that there have been heaps of positive news about West Papua, but most are not in English. So for Kiwis, take some time to dig deeper and make a small step to ask help from people that understand Indonesian to help understand what is really going on in West Papua and also in Indonesia.
Lastly, if there is any discussion about West Papua and Indonesia, please try your best to invite people from different perspectives. Have a listen to different opinion and start thinking clearly and comprehensively about the development in West Papua. Try to seek balanced information about West Papua that you all can rely on.
We agree that West Papua has problems. But we do not agree that that region is full of problems. We can assure you that there are thousands of beautiful, positive stories that come from that beautiful province. (*)
USEFUL LINKS (unfortunately all are in Indonesian)
How hard it is to handle the outbreak and some realities from West Papua
How the military forces are not all about arms. Military doctors in West Papua.
Even though being consistently accused by Kiwis and Robie of slow-genocide and stuff like that, the military keeps sending medical practitioners who are one of the most helpful and sought-after health practitioners in West Papua
A lot of Indonesians have come to West Papua to voluntary help with teaching kids there. Here is the story of Fathony.