Some international communities and media recently widely praise Benny Wenda and his organization the ULMWP as they are deemed to hold leadership and representativeness of any struggle to free West Papua. These figures’ comments were suddenly very sought after as their voices are thought the most valid to represent West Papuans. However, in a recent interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur, Benny Wenda’s random comments about West Papua showed that he has been having no clue about what has been happening in the region. One should ask, though, have West Papuan freedom fighters been picking the wrong person to be a leader? Has Mr Wenda been too smart so he can trick the innocent fighters with his meandering comments this far?
Benny Wenda recently attended an interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur on the HardTalk program. He spoke as the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua or ULMWP, an organization that has been outspoken for West Papua’s issues internationally. His interview was broadcasted by the BBC on 9 September 2019 and can still be accessed today.
If we look at and listen to the interview carefully, the dialog unexpectedly disassembles Mr Wenda’s construction of his longstanding arguments about the Free West Papua movement. Instead of giving straight answers, the internationally acclaimed ‘free West Papuan movement leader often comes up with wishy-washy sentences. Mr Wenda’s arguments seem to lose their grip on what the issues are about because they are simply rhetoric and not evidence-based.
There are at least five aspects that Benny Wenda severely failed to clarify. As a leader of the freedom movement, at least as some entities claim, he seemed lost when evidence is asked. One can see how this recent Mr Wenda’s appearance continues to let down ordinary, innocent people who still believe in the freedom of West Papua.
Fabricated claim over military leadership
Firstly, Benny Wenda’s command over West Papuan freedom struggle is never confirmed by any faction of freedom activists in West Papua. He is not even accepted and recognized by the OPM fighters who, in reality, have been the ones struggling and fighting against Indonesian security forces. Many interviews with ordinary West Papuans who live in the region have shown that they also do not know who Benny Wenda is.
During the BBC’s HardTalk interview, Stephen Sackur openly challenges Mr Wenda’s claim that he is a political and military leader of the free West Papua struggle. Sackur then stated that a statement of the OPM leader, Jeffry Bomanak, has been widely talked about as OPM refused the military leadership of Benny Wenda and never want to accept his authority. Why?
Mr Wenda gave an unclear answer. Benny Wenda seemed to keep dodging the question by providing information about random matters. Instead of answering yes or no, he kept commenting about what he thinks the Indonesian government has done to West Papua. He repeatedly made comments about the alleged genocide and illegal annexation, as well as meandering remarks about the current divisions within the body of West Papuan freedom fighters. But why his leadership is turned down, he has no answer to that.
Secondly, Benny Wenda failed to elaborate his comment about the alleged genocide in West Papua and how half a million people killed there emerged. Stephen Sackur questions the authenticity of data about the deaths of the 500,000 West Papuans that has been in almost all Mr Wenda’s remarks.
Unfortunately, Benny Wenda could not show the evidence and kept saying that some investigation results are coming out. The problem is that he has made speeches about half a million deaths for years, which of course made Sackur intrigued to seek clarification. Instead of giving convincing answers, Mr Wenda kept accusing the Indonesian government of closing international media access to West Papua.
To some extent, the claim over closed access for journalists to West Papua is somewhat problematic. Because, the Indonesian regulation about this matter emphasizes on such a lengthy procedure to follow before any foreigners can come to Indonesia, including West Papua. If we follow the steps, though, chances are we will be let in.
Recently, many young foreigners came to West Papua to help teach the kids there and empower West Papuan youths. They lived there safe and soundly and West Papuans welcomed them very well. As for journalism matter, last August 2019, the BBC’s Heyder Affan gained access to visit West Papua, was welcomed there, and able to cover the killing of street workers in Nduga directly.
Thirdly, it just does not sound right when Benny Wenda keeps claiming that he has military control over the military groups in West Papua, but he did not admit the killing of road construction workers in Nduga by one of the group. At this point, our team at the Wawawa Journal starts to feel disgusted by the comments Mr Wenda made and thinks that his comments are ridiculous.
Stephen Sackur questioned the massacres carried out by the West Papuan armed groups and asked where Benny Wenda’s responsibility is as an alleged military leader. As he kept giving meandering answers and explanations, Wenda ridiculously tried to put himself away from any responsibility by stating that the murders were nothing but all propaganda by the Indonesian government.
Benny Wenda’s comment about the murder is sharply contradictory to the statement made by the OPM fighters that they were responsible for the killing. They brutally killed the workers because they thought they were military personnel which in the end they failed to prove that.
Fourthly, when asked about the recent development in West Papua, Benny Wenda did not recognize it. Looking at his gesture, it is more accurate to say that Mr Wenda has no clue about what is going on in the region as he has left it for years and lost connection with the recent generations.
Stephen Sackur stressed that current Indonesian President Joko Widodo had made efforts to build roads, bridges, repair buildings, and fight poverty to let the region advance. But Mr Wenda stressed that holding a referendum is more important than improving the welfare of the people of West Papua. In contrast, many West Papuans are thankful for the improved attention of the government to develop the region. Even though admitting that what has been done is still limited, they are confident that West Papua now is far better and will be better in the future.
But, according to Benny Wenda, achieving independence is a top priority rather than freeing West Papuans from poverty.
Finally, Benny Wenda keeps refusing that he is responsible for the various acts of violence in West Papua. Stephen Sackur questioned the multiple acts of violence and conspiracy carried out by the freedom fighters that are under the leadership of Benny Wenda all this time. But, instead of giving clear arguments, Mr Wenda continued to argue that he was a peace fighter.
Mr Wenda repeatedly claimed that he is a peace fighter and all killings in West Papua are a scenario made by the Indonesian government. In reality, though, it has been evidently confirmed that the armed group he led recently killed at least nineteen innocent workers. It was unbelievable to see how Mr Wenda could not show even a little sympathetic gesture to people who lost their family members due to the barbaric killings. Pathetically, he seemed to take the brutal murders lightly.
The world may forget that before fleeing overseas, Mr Wenda and his group in West Papua had repeatedly carried out violent acts. This violence includes the fact that he fled from Indonesia after mobilizing a mob to burn the Abepura police station, West Papua, which caused six deaths in 2002.
Crippling West Papuan dreams
To this end, it a big puzzle and question to answer whether West Papuan freedom activists and supporting media have been picking the wrong figure to rely on. Benny Wenda has always been in the center of attention when some outbreak happens in West Papua. But thanks to BBC’s HardTalk, the world now can think twice and revisit the way they see Mr Wenda.
What Mr Wenda has been doing is crippling the dreams of West Papuans to advance. Many people, including the young generation of West Papuans, are now working hard to improve many aspects in West Papua including education, health, and the economy. They want West Papuans to be free from illiteracy, health-related outbreaks, and poverty. They optimistically work hard on making West Papua a safe and sound place so people can visit and contribute to the development there. Meanwhile, it is saddening to see how entities and figures like Mr Wenda keep on making comments about how West Papua is a hopeless, violent place. (*)