Internet shutdown in West Papua by the Indonesian government has been widely seen as detrimental to the current situation there. Some even argue that the somewhat information circulation lockdown endangers democratic processes there. The shutdown, though, is the product of the Indonesian democracy and should be handled and seen carefully and wisely. Condemning it won’t help. Strengthening locals’ capability and horizontal cohesion will.
On the media, especially the international ones, the internet shutdown is seen as a form of oppression by the Indonesian central government in West Papua. Information that was needed and sought-after during critical moments when the outbreaks happened could not be delivered. People were left without credible news about what was happening and what they should and could do.
Serious critique to the info lockdown
From the ground, it has been confirmed that people were startled by the information lockdown, especially during the riot in Jayapura dan Wamena, the Papua Province. The circulation of choppy info feared West Papuans, and of course, the shutdown did not help but intensifying people’s grievances over Jakarta’s policies in West Papua.
On one occasion, info about a mosque being burned down was stealthily circulating through the cellular network. No pictures could confirm the incident, but people, while seeking the truth, were already somewhat provoked.
But, social resistance was there. It was critical that when people lost information access, they tried their best not to be too concerned about the setback. Some of our West Papuan friends said that they were disappointed by the shutdown but instead of condemning the situation, they worked hard on appeasing the vulnerable moment by spreading the news that some negative info like the burned down mosque was not right.
The shutdown was widely criticized but in fact the policy was taken by the central government who was chosen through democratic processes. During the shutdown, local West Papuan Governments have fought for the situation because it was instead to some extent detrimental to not only the social but also economic conditions there.
We strongly condemn the internet shutdown in West Papua. It is deemed to be detrimental to the region’s development for sure. However, it is hard to admit, but the shutdown policy to some extent is the product of the current democracy in Indonesia. West Papua gave the current government a significant portion of votes during the last two elections. But, the protest was not effectively counted on. To this end, stronger advocacy and negotiation counteractions should be better planned and developed, but through democratic processes.
For example, West Papuan governments should focus more on recruiting the best Native West Papuan talents to be the local governments’ negotiators. Through the Special Autonomy Law, many West Papuan youths have been having international exposures, and some have gone back to the region. These talents, for example, should become the next generation of West Papuan bureaucrats that can advocate the regions’ rights and needs both with Jakarta and the international community.
Indonesians and international communities should help the young generations of West Papua to improve their skills and knowledge, so in the next decade, they can become the ones that can rule the region better. This is just one alternative to better the situation in West Papua, instead of just spreading complains and protests that, in fact, do not do anything good to the region. To some extent, it means that these complaints and protests are just putting West Papuans as an object of the discourse, just like how they accuse the government of Indonesia of doing so. In other words, while protesting the GOI, these protesters, which most international media and individuals, are acting just like who they oppose.
During the riot in West Papua, several updated info sources like the Informasi Kejadian Kota Jayapura suddenly could not be counted on. They could not receive and spread information because of no info circulation found.
But like mentioned above, several people decided to stand up for the grieving situation. Circulating counter info should be done through the cellular network, even though slow was the only option, and fortunately, it worked. Young West Papuans from various ethnicities worked together to calm down the anger by sharing the right info.
Social resilience and cohesion
If you go to West Papua now, lives are already back to normal, despite some of the exoduses, which is everyone deems unfortunate. But, shops are now open like it used to and people transport and go to schools, markets, and government offices just like usual. In some national media reports, it has been reported that many organizations work hard to strengthen the social resilience in the region to bring West Papua back to normal like Kids able to go to school and people can shop at the market.
Other organizations and individuals, like Indonesia Mengajar, Wahana Visi Indonesia, Kitong Bisa, and Numbay Researh Center also work on strengthening social cohesion, which is deemed to be the core strength of West Papuan society. West Papua is seen as the most tolerant society in Indonesia, where prejudice over minorities is rare.
They understand that some people still look down upon West Papua, but instead of condemning those arrogant parties, they work hard on improving West Papuan society’s skills, knowledge, and capability in the hope that the region will surely advance and probably be more prosperous than other provinces in Indonesia.
Those who think they help but don’t
It is unfortunate that instead of amplifying the social resilience above, some entities including some individuals and the international media tried to use the critical situation as their communication commodity. Instead of coming up with potential solutions, they blamed whoever they could blame. They discredit whoever they can discredit. Some parties who have been blamed of course, the central government and Indonesians in general.
While on the ground, they help nothing. None, but leaving their discrediting news they bring to the world. We are regretful to what international people and media’s responses to the recent situation in West Papua which is always pessimistic. They could have shared story about what West Papua needs to recover and provide feasible recommendations to keep the region on the track to gain its prosperity.
They have reported and informed the public about things about self-determination efforts and the struggle of a few people who hope for the independence of West Papua, which is fine. In fact, we also appreciate the struggle of those people, primarily how they are determined by their principles. However, West Papua is a large region and has a vast population full of great talents. These talents have helped developed positive hopes and social resilience and cohesion there. (*)