“Fighting for the right thing has to be done in the right way.”
That is the life principle of a Franz Albert Joku, a prominent figure and leader in the Papuan custom. He has been known worldwide as a West Papuan liberation fighter from Indonesia since the 1960s. But in 2008, he decided to return to Indonesia.
Born in Sentani, Papua, on February 20, 1953, Joku became one of the fighters for the welfare of his native land, Papua, or you wish to call it West Papua, as part of the Republic of Indonesia. Joku also became an important figure who helped with overseeing the implementation of Special Autonomy in Papua. He passed away at the age of 66 on February 28, 2019, in Jayapura.
Joku spent his elementary and junior high school years in Jayapura, Papua.When he was 17, he joined his family in Papua New Guinea (PNG) because the security situation back then was considered not conducive in Papua.
While in PNG, Joku had been working as a reporter in the PNG Post Courier media for 17 years (1975-1992).But then he switched his career as a journalist eventually to get involved in at the Prime Minister’s Office as the presidential secretary for a year which then led him to be appointed as Chief of Staff.In 1997, he worked with two deputy Prime Ministers and three cabinet ministers in PNG.
Until the early 2000s, Joku was an important figure in the Papua Presidium Council, then-quite-famous organization which was led by Theys Eulay whose voice was one of the most heard by the international community regarding the struggle of Papuan independence from Indonesia.
Joku and Eulay visited many countries and attended conferences to campaign for the goals of the organization.One of the figures they managed to meet was New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke in 2001, in Wellington.
Until finally in September 2007, the Governor of Papua, Barnabas Suebu made an official visit to PNG and asked Joku to return to his homeland along with other Papuans. And, the request was accepted.
The seriousness of the Indonesian Government to improve development in Papua made Joku and a number of Papuan leaders who had been living in exile abroad decide to return to West Papua. Nicholas Jouwe and Nick Messet were among the other figures that also accepted the offer to get back to West Papua.
These figures stated that their decision to return was their belief that Indonesia had undergone a transformation.One of the efforts of the Indonesian government they appreciated was the implementation of Special Autonomy for Papua.
Regarding the recent Free-West-Papua related actions and movements, Joku saw, as Solomon Star News wrote, that the current struggle has unfortunatelyshifted to political statements.He was convinced that such a method would help nothing but benefit only certain parties.
“The problem of West Papua (whether it has to be free or not)is not new.It’s been on the agenda for years.Unfortunately, today’s campaign is based on political statements.I believe we need to see this problem by getting beyond political terms.We need to find a way to capture opportunities for cooperation because political statements do not help anyone,” he explained.
After 40 years being a foreign citizen and becoming a West Papuan freedom fighter or some call it as ‘OPM’ (Papuan Independence Organization) abroad, on February 23, 2008, Frans Albert Joku had officially become a citizen of the Republic of Indonesia. On that day, his citizenship certificate was handed over directly to him by the Special Staff of the Vice President RI, Alwi Hamu at Ondofolo Hall (Dhaikhelebhey Obhee), on Jalan Ifar Gunung No. 2, Felavauw Sentani, Jayapura.
When Joku officially was back to being an Indonesian citizen, he delivered his speech with enthusiasm that he was sure that the Indonesia alongside its Papua would be going forward better, safer, brighter and more dignified. This showed that he and Nick Messet had ended their long, exhausting phase of such a pursuit of West Papuan welfare, both physically and psychologically.
Joku often said that the situation in West Papua today is far better than in the New Order period.He mentioned that West Papua and its people should never be used by foreign NGO’s, especially by the European Union, which brought human rights issues into Papua just for the sake of their programs without bringing any actual benefits to the people of Papua.Furthermore, Joku urged that it was the time for all elements to work together to develop Papua.
The spirit of fighting for the development of West Papua through Special Autonomy keeps flaring. Joku and other figure members of the Foundation of Independent Group Supporting the Special Autonomous Region of Papua within the Republic of Indonesia (IGSSARPRI) seem to never get tired of fighting for Indonesia through Papua.
Joku and IGSSARPRI keep supporting all the efforts torevise and improve the Papua Special Autonomy Law.Although there were still some inadequacies, Joku accepted the presence of the Law because it was a political compromise at its best between the government of Indonesia and the Papuans.He assured that this was a more concrete and wiser effort than the other options.
The true meaning of ‘Free West Papua’
Franz Albert Joku and other former OPM fighters believed that the Papuan people must be more advanced in the current democratic era.It is far different from the times they were having before.With the Special Autonomy, the Government of Indonesia, despite its shortcomings, has shown and opened the way for progression for Papua.
As his colleagues including Henk Joku revealed, Joku saw a lot of serious changes in the direction of the 1998 reform.One of the most important milestones he noticed was the formation of Special Autonomy, which he believed as a golden momentum to build Papua to advancement. With Special Autonomy, the bridge has been widely offering for opportunities to be built, such as building up the human resources, infrastructure and superstructure.
Joku believed that Papua can only change when Papuans, especially their leaders, can sit together to discuss the progress of economy, education, and other important sectors mattered as well. As speaking of the freedom of Papua, the so-called independence means the urgency of improving the human resources of Papua as well as its aspects of life such as health, economy and education. For its younger generation, what has been done, sending them abroad to strengthen their perspective, thinking and fighting spirit to reform Papua, is the right thing Papuan leaders are now doing and he believed that is quite necessary.
For Joku, the ones that claim they are fighting for West Papua, like ULMWP, TPN-OPM, Benny Wenda, and others, they only referred to their tribal ego.
To Joku, they are just fighting for their personal interests, not the interests of the whole Papuan community. None of them thinking of to let the younger generation to prepare Papua to keep looking forward. In fact, according to Joku, Papua really needs the energy of youth mastering science and technology, economics, education and being able to talk about the treasures of their identity and their ‘Indonesianness’ at the international level.
However, when they returned to the village, they are expected to engage, discuss and share the experiences they get with their community to make improvements for their home land.
Joku acknowledged that the current Special Autonomy is not an ideal achievement.However, the current economic and political situation and developments in West Papua are the best that can happen to the region.According to him, this is a realistic result of the best political compromise that should be acceptable to anyone.
In order to spread the spirit, Joku and Messet routinely traveled to various countries campaigning for what they fight for. In the past 2018, they went to several cities and universities in New Zealand, speaking at several forums at three different aspired universities.
They were speaking up about their belief about the development of West Papua that the presence of the West Papuan special autonomy is such a political compromise the best available choice the region has at the moment.
For him, immediate choice was needed to be made, so West Papuans can soon focus on the development of West Papua in the future. Some regard that Joku and other former West Papuan independence fighters have left great legacy to the West Papuan today’s generation that West Papua will and should be prosperous.
Indonesians, especially West Papuans, have to keep believing there will be figures like Franz Albert Joku that are full of optimism and bravery to voice human rights, uphold cultural values and fight for the development progress and welfare of West Papua.
“Fighting for the right thing has to be done in the right way.”
Way to go, West Papua!