The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, July 11, 2024



It's a hoary oldie publicity hook: Imagine something improbable  and feed off the controversy.

Launching a balloon’s a common tactic in domestic politics to see what might distract voters, but here we're talking about Indonesia and the big chessboard .

Foreign affairs is a discipline so multi-layered that even expert writers know their imagination will rarely blow hard enough to get their toy airborne. No matter - they'll get a reputation for innovative thinking.

Sam Roggeveen is director of the Lowy Institute's International Security Program. A former Office of National Assessments senior analyst, he has credibility and a go-to reputation.

In his latest Australian Foreign Affairs essay (The Jakarta Option) that  costs $25 to read, he argues that an Australia-Indonesia alliance is "necessary". Really?

The Interpreter website he founded spruiks the long write and a weird notion - that we’re lucky to have Indonesia as a neighbour and that relations could have been worse.  That’s an  assumption impossible to test.

Why now? Having a cashiered former general reinstated and promoted to four stars taking over the Republic from a civilian in October will mean seismic policy shifts.

But the coming avalanche doesn’t stir Roggeveen’s pro. Curiously absent is any reference to the  president-elect, the ultra-nationalist Prabowo Subianto who’ll be shaking up Indonesia.

The author ponders possible alliances with Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines -  rejecting Japan as too distant.

So to stop US-China rivalry in the region - a most worthy ambition - he settles on Indonesia ”to move military matters to the background of regional relations”.  Possible?

No, Sir.  But that doesn't mean we can't get to know each other better using trade, tourism, education and all other means apart from sharing the killing of strangers.

Hands are for shaking, not gripping an AK-47. Fingers are for picking noses, not squeezing triggers.

This old joke is apt. One man tells his mate: "You see that guy?  I hate him." The friend asks: "Why? You don't know him."  The response: "That's why I hate him."

 Here’s Melbourne University Law Professor  Tim Lindsey and colleague Dave McRae:

“There are no two neighbouring countries anywhere in the world that are more different than Indonesia and Australia. They differ hugely in religion, language, culture, history, geography, race, economics, worldview and population.”

 Indonesia has about 400,000 men and 30,000 women in uniform, and an equal  number of reservists. About 88 per cent of the general population are  Muslims so a similar figure among the forces is likely.

Australia's figures are 57,000 and 32,000, faiths unknown. It seems crazy that anyone might think we have invasion ambitions, but like uranium the residue of colonialism has a long life.

One survey showed a third of Indonesians see Australia as a security threat, hardly the basis for an alliance. Meanwhile, we worry about Islamophobia.

John Howard’s reported brag in 2000 that we’re “America’s deputy sheriff”  hasn’t been forgotten.

Roggeveen reckons that because our neighbour is a growing economic power that's "successfully negotiated a remarkable transition to democracy" (a claim worth challenging with more space),  we should march together to dissuade threats.

Conspiracy theorists would see a pact as a plot to make Indonesians front-line fodder in any East-West war. The author concedes that “Jakarta is often prickly. There’s been tumult and tragedy”.

Indeed. In 1965 the army organised militias to slaughter maybe half a million citizens in a purge against real or imagined Communists,  a genocide irrefutably exposed by Australian academic Dr Jess Melvin.

The most recent crimes include allegations of prisoner torture in shuttered Papua where thousands of well-armed troops are failing to quell tribal dissidents and rescue a NZ pilot taken hostage in early 2023.

This month it’s alleged that soldiers killed a Sumatran journalist and his family for exposing officers' gambling.  Roggeveen tries to sidestep these issues by arguing any pact would only involve the Navy and Air Force.

Impossible. They’re all together in the  Tentara (armed forces) Nasional Indonesia (TNI) with overall leadership often rotated through the services.

The Republic is mightily hostile to pacts, stressing its  “golden mean … mendayung antara dua karang (rowing between two reefs) principle:

“Indonesia’s foreign policy is independent and active …because Indonesia does not side with world powers.”

Roggeveen claims that a “wealthy Indonesia engaged in a close military partnership with Australia would be a major security asset for Canberra.”  

Maybe for the hawks, though not the doves as human rights activists would  alert the public to  Prabowo’s troubled past and his alleged threats to democracy.

The world’s fourth largest nation (after India, China and the US) is critically positioned at the end of the South China Sea, so of strategic interest to the PRC and the US.

Both have been wooing Indonesia to get onside. So far China is ahead; that doesn’t mean a forthcoming marriage but there’s been more bromance than hostility.

Since being first elected in 2014 Jokowi has met Xi Jinping eight times, but Donald Trump and Joe Biden half that number.

The New York Times reported  former Trade and Investment Minister Tom Lembong:   “Many Indonesian business and political elites believe China is the relevant superpower and the US is in relative decline — and, geographically, far away”.

Prabowo, who is in business and politics, went to Beijing after winning this year’s February election though not to Washington.  For many years he was banned from the US (where he got military training) and Australia for alleged human rights abuses.

If Prabowo returns  the last century dwi fungsi (two functions) system of the military commanding the police, and puts retired generals into running the public services, a military dictatorship will evolve.

Then the  idea of the ADF working with the TNI would vanish..

Writing on foreign affairs is largely dreaming aloud, so let’s try a nightmare:  Should the US help Taipei if Beijing attacked, Canberra might send a gunboat.  

In a world of few certainties here’s one:  There'd be no Indonesians among the crew.


First published in Pearls & Irritations, 11 July 2024:






Friday, July 05, 2024



\Indonesian politicians are getting in a righteous tizzy over child protection. Their target is online pornography and gambling, and their condemnation is absolute. Curiously absent is another kiddy-harming vice that reportedly takes more than 200,000 lives a year.  

Next time you hand over a fifty to fuel a filthy habit, you'll wonder where to get coffin nails cheaper without getting caught in a Melbourne gang war.

Ponder no longer, dear reader.  We’re here to help. Nirvana’s next door.

You can indulge, avoid guilt from reading ghastly health warnings and have a splendid holiday.  And all before your next visit to an oncologist.

Addicts’ paradise is close - a bit over three hours if you live on the west coast, far less if flying from Darwin.

Once you've cleared Immigration and the money changers (tip - rates are better outside the airport)  taxi  to any convenience store and spend up.

For a pack-a-day person,  a two-week supply will cost around forty to fifty Oz bucks depending on the brand - and there are more than 3,000.

That's a saving of $700 - the cost of getting there. The bad news is importing. Oz Customs will sniff out your load.

Other expenses will be hotel and food between hacks, but also a fraction of Australian prices.  We only die once so why not enjoy, then come home to a cancer ward and covered by Medicare?

Political scientists should also make the journey north to witness the power of big baccy much of it overseas owned.  It makes the Australian fossil-fuel lobby look like the  CWA.

Tobacco control in Indonesia is as sensitive as gun control in the US. Proposed reforms get stymied.  Armageddon is threatened with every hint of public health trumping corporate profits.

Indonesia is supposed to be the only country in the world allowing ads for fags. The chair of the National Commission for Child Protection, Arist Merdeka Sirait, has been quoted :

 "The cigarette industry has defied Indonesian law. The government has been defeated by the cigarette industry."

 Ads show lads having grand adventures, scaling mountains, abseiling, and bush camping with mates.  In the pictures and videos, they're all young sporting heroes, ripping fit, clearly never touching the product they're promoting.

Some images show handsome professionals at laptops, struggling with ideas for a mighty project, then finding their creativity fires up with the snap of a lighter.

The cheekiest twist our slogan in English:  NEVER QUIT  often shows a sweating sportsman supposedly winning.

A favourite has a stack of white coffee cups with the top one steaming.  This flicks away the prohibition of showing the white stick.

Bans on the word 'mild' get bypassed with clever typography:  MLD is printed with the upright stroke on the L made bold.

To protect the kiddies no ads on TV till 9.30 pm.   So they’re shown on huge street screens at school route intersections, starting at 6 am.

There's a health message as a footer, usually a small photo of an ancient with a tracheotomy.  But we can't hear him gasping for life and don't know his name.  Could be an AI hoax.

Although there's some small text about the dangers its drowned by images of fun and success.  Occasionally a pretty woman peeps from behind but she's there to admire and reinforce.  Smokers get the gals, right?

A few trendy metro ladies light up to show they can keep up, but in this depressing story here's something positive: In Indonesian culture, a woman fingering a fag, however proper her appearance and morals, is reckoned to be a prostitute.

Advocates for women’s equality will rightly be enraged by this gross generality, but the reality is that the slur is effective; less than four per cent of adult women smoke.

The figure for men,70 per cent for over 14s, shows warnings aren't working.  Why should they?  In any group bonding with baccy, no one will know of anyone with a hole in their throat.

On the contrary, nearby will be an oldie with egg yolk fingers who's never been sick in his life - so here's proof that smoking doesn't kill. When Allah calls time's up. No need for an autopsy to find cause.

A few health-conscious cities ban smoking ads,  bravely forgoing the revenue raised by taxing  displays.

Overall the industry gives the government about AUD 13.6 billion. This year the excise ramped to Rp 1,193 a stick - about nine Ozzie cents.  

In Australia it’s almost $1.30, apparently making smokes in our country the dearest in the world.  The idea was high prices would force users to quit.  Instead it has created a new criminal industry flogging cheaper imports.

There’s a black trade in Indonesia selling leaf from small farmers seeking a better return on their crops. The government’s response has been even bigger billboards warning of penalties for selling black baccy.

These feature stern old men in uniform and oceans of text.

They’re no match for the leaping studs selling a clear and simple message:  Your life is humdrum, you’re locked into poverty and boredom.

Seeking  escape?  Just cough up the cash - three lousy bucks.

PS: While in Indonesia inhale some of the culture and taste real adventure.


First published in Independent Australia, 5 July 2024:,18744









Thursday, July 04, 2024



Joe Kirk doesn’t use the words foreigner or bule’ the slang term in Java for Caucasians. Some consider it racist because centuries ago it meant an albino buffalo.

I prefer ‘international citizen’ - that covers everyone, the East Java Friends founder said in his Malang home where he runs the network of  330 people from 22 separate nations.

The top three nationalities are the US, Australia and the Netherlands. Some are retirees, others work for international companies.  Many are married to Indonesians.

Newcomers raise their needs, queries and concerns. Top of the list isn’t security or health  but traffic and space, or rather its absence. This bothers people raised in the Australian outback or American prairies.

“I tell them straight - this is how things are.” said Kirk. “The locals aren’t going to change so you need to adjust. OK, the road rules are different  and not always followed as in the West. Don’t complain, adapt and enjoy.

‘We’re outsiders, privileged to be in this extraordinary country. There’s so much to see and learn, including the language and lifestyle. If that’s not what you want, head home.

Apart from the city’s famous boulevard Jalan Ijen and the central street Jalan Basuki Rachmat, 78 years ago the citizens of the second biggest metropolis in East Java inherited some splendid buildings, particularly churches and government offices.

But these standouts are surrounded by a spaghetti of narrow alleys left by the departing Dutch colonialists.

They weren’t  bad planners but constrained by the deep gullies and twisting tributaries of the Brantas River and the encircling hills and mountains.

It’s these geographical features that make the cool hilltown 444 metres above sea level the place where Kirk loves to live and expects to die - though that’s not planned for anytime soon as there’s too much to do - and it’s all his own making. He reckons being busy is a virtue.

When he spoke to Indonesia Expat the one-time soldier, accountant, company manager and businessman was preparing for the EJF’s annual carnival, the first since Covid restrictions were lifted.

The idea is to “meet your community neighbours” by sharing food and games played on the grounds of an international school.

Together with his Indonesian wife Ratih,  Kirk was gathering flags and posters and assembling a schedule of events to keep the show moving and ensure much intermingling.  

This takes some organising, a skill Kirk has in abundance largely because of his rich background.

He grew up on a cotton farm in Mississippi and put himself through a four-year university course by working four jobs.  He eventually joined the army..

Out of uniform, he scored a job with an international tobacco company. He doesn’t smoke but learned how to test for taste and quality.  He did so well that the directors sent him to Jakarta, a city he’d never heard about.

 He arrived in mid-May 1998, glanced out of a Jakarta high-rise at the streets below, saw the demonstrators  as second President Soeharto quit office, and told his colleagues to leave - and quickly.

Hearing of the disorder from the safety of the US should have been enough to convince Kirk there were better places to employ his talents.  But his company wanted him to manage a run-down tobacco factory in Malang.

He took the job on his terms, expanded output and turning the business into profit. He did this not by buying costly new machines from overseas which would have displaced operators and distressed many, but by responding to the needs of the 600 staff.

That included an early-opening canteen to encourage on-time starts, hygienic toilets and worker-friendly schedules, approaches he’d garnered over the years from being a hands-on manager and student of human behaviour.

At that time a German couple was publishing a quarterly newsletter in English. When they returned to Europe Kirk took over, dumped the magazine and expanded the organisation. He found small groups of expats “living in bubbles of work or religion, not mixing.

“I didn’t like that. We need to mix with the locals, support each other in adjusting to Indonesian laws and culture and solving everyday problems. Some involve dealing with government agencies, like Immigration where the staff have always been very helpful.

“This is a go-along to get-along society. People are tolerant and accepting and usually interested in who we are. But we must always be respectful.

“We meet weekly for lunch and have monthly family gatherings and special occasions. I put out a news bulletin every afternoon and forward security alerts from the US consulate-general in Surabaya.

“We’ve assembled a directory of recommended services, like clinics and repair shops. Members share their experiences and offer advice.

“Whenever I see an international citizen I don’t know, in the street or shopping malls, I invite them to join EJF - there’s no fee. We have to encounter newcomers, and make them welcome.

“Whatever their background I want people to feel they are part of Malang and be happy here.


 First published in Indonesia Expat, 4 July 2024:


STOP TELLING, START LISTENING:  Owen's Guide for Do-Gooders

The 1998 Jakarta riots, the fall of President Soeharto and his 32-year-old authoritarian Orde Baru (New Order)  rule and krismon (the Asian financial crisis) were social and political earthquakes.

Emerging from the rubble the idealists wanted changes;  according to the Australian-educated economist Boediono who later became vice president (2009 - 2014) they  sought “economic recovery,  improved governance, supremacy of law, and  democracy.”

Pushing the swing hard was an Australian - little known in his homeland but a central figure in Jakarta.

Owen Podger, good governance advocate, corruption fighter and democracy defender wasn’t always a chart-topper with the Indonesian elite he worked with for more than 30 years.

This had nothing to do with his professional skills, overseas education or personal traits.  He was a modest, personable Ozzie administrator married to an Indonesian and fluent in the language.

But here's the hassle: Owen wouldn't tell his employers what they wanted to hear unless it was the truth. So his reports often revealed discomforting facts suggesting painful solutions.  When bureaucrats dig in to defend against advancing change, admiration for a stirrer is hard to hear.

Owen, 80,  died in his sleep on the remote island of Sumba on 6 June. Last year he posted this academic paper in his continuous campaign to get the outside ‘experts’ to ask the locals and glean their wisdom.

Owen trained as an architect at NSW University in the 1960s, later shifting  to town planning and then to public administration:

In 2012 he organised a seminar in Jakarta led by Boediono for bureaucrats advising ministers' advisors, implementing good government policies without getting snared by politics and corruption.

Copies of The Role of Departmental Secretaries, (ANU E-Press)   were distributed to all new civil servants trying to shake off the old bad practices.

The author was Owen's younger brother Andrew, a former federal Public Service Commissioner and an ANU Professor.

He recalled that Owen's love of Indonesia began in the early 1970s when he travelled through the country after completing a master's degree at UCLA.

“He spent many of the decades since  living in Indonesia involved firstly in advising on urban planning and then, in light of first-hand experience with corruption and poor management, in bureaucratic reform.”

Owen wrote: “I  changed my career from just urban development to governance reform: particularly policies to improve performance of democratic, decentralized and accountable government, with emphasis new mindsets to respond to and anticipate disasters.”

Owen stressed the need to decentralise power and get the regions to recover their responsibilities and take on local government.

That happened, though piecemeal.  Some provinces are now stronger and more innovative.  Last century controls killed initiatives; it sometimes seemed regional bureaucrats had to entrain to Jakarta for permission to empty ashtrays.  

In 2004 Owen was the first international adviser to the new Regional Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah Republik Indonesia) DPR.With University of  Indonesia lawyers he helped draft laws on regional government and villages.

Overseas advisors are now becoming rare in Indonesia.  During the early years of Soeharto's 32 years in power, the so-called 'Berkeley Mafia' of economists from the University of California had a major influence.

This waned as they were replaced by new generations of local-born experts often educated overseas. The role of outsiders now tends to be confined to specific tasks with aid agencies directed by Indonesians.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Aceh in 2004 the the disaster was too big for the nation to handle alone, so needed international help.

 Said Andrew:  Owen worked with the local governments there not only to help them address the immediate response but also to develop longer-term sustainable redevelopment plans

He was disappointed that the central government, and international aid agencies including AusAID, failed to listen to the local communities and tended to impose external ‘solutions’.

 This experience added to his long-held view that much democratic and bureaucratic reform needs to be based on local communities.

‘While continually disappointed by the slow progress of reform in Indonesia and the failure to successfully combat corruption, Owen remained positive about Indonesia’s future.”

The Republic has been running its international aid agency since 2019. In nine months last year, it disbursed Rp 140.45 billion (AUD 13.5 million) in grants for 28 global humanitarian aid activities, including for Palestine.

In many ways, Owen's passing marks a shift in the culture of international aid programmes and the role of outsiders. But even in his early days as an advisor, his work shows he was always backing local wisdom against imported solutions.

He was buried alongside his late wife Helena in a tomb at the front of the family’s Sumba house - a tradition in the Eastern Indonesia archipelago that’s largely Christian.


  First published in Inside Indonesia 4 July 2024:














Saturday, June 29, 2024



It’s been argued that Indonesia’s next President may be good for Australian interests; for domestic progressives that’s doubtful.

It’s not just computer apps that get updated. Indonesian President Joko ’Jokowi’ Widodo is fiddling with the future by rewriting history and binning the past.  It’s a task made easier by voter ignorance.

The remake started when Jokowi made Prabowo Subianto - his main rival in the 2014 and 2019 elections - Minister of Defence.  That gave the loser a public platform as part of the government.

Some saw this as a political masterstroke based on the writings of Chinese General Sun Tzu  (probably 544–496 BC) of keeping friends close but enemies closer.

The move pruned Prabowo as the only real thorn, for by then Jokowi had recruited small parties into his coalition.

Prabowo’s promotion also gave the notoriously inflammable wannabe poli something to do.  He could now openly talk guns and bombs with men in uniform as he did before he was cashiered.

That was amid the 1998 revolution which saw the authoritarian Soeharto - also a former general - quit the presidency after 32 years of despotic rule.

The revival of democracy wasn't a good year for Prabowo. He was stripped of his ribbons for alleged insubordination after Soeharto's replacement Vice President Bacharuddin Jusuf (BJ) Habibie took control.

Prabowo then fled to exile in Jordan following his divorce from Soeharto's daughter Siti. He returned in 2008 after his former father-in-law died and tried to get into politics failing at every attempt to join an established party.

So he started his own and called it Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement). It now has 86 seats in the House of Representatives where it’s the third largest party and its leader president-elect.

 It’s labelled right-wing by the Western media but that’s too facile. It’s certainly bombastically nationalistic and carries a whiff of  fascism.

In this year's February election, Prabowo won convincingly against two opponents with 55 per cent of the popular vote.  (The Constitution prevented Jokowi from standing again for a third term.)

Now Prabowo’s backers are erasing mentions of his alleged human rights abuses that saw him refused entry to the US and Australia earlier this century.

The bans have been quietly lifted. Other subtle changes are underway, particularly descriptors of  Prabowo as ‘general, retired’, even used by the supposedly neutral academic journal The Conversation.

Wikipedia now calls him a 'retired honorary army general.' In the partisan Indonesian media this title has become commonplace with no mention of past villainies, like the seizure of 13 student protesters by his commandos and never seen again.

Since 2007 their parents have protested silently every Thursday before the State Palace in Jakarta demanding to know what happened to their sons.  Jokowi once promised an inquiry.  That hasn’t happened.

Prabowo responds that he’s never been charged, which is true, and that it’s time to focus on the future. That’s the standard line for all who want no probe into their past.

Now Jokowi has gone further, reinstating his successor as a four-star honorary general. When kicked out of the army in 1998 he had three stars.

NGOs have taken legal action to rescind the award but neither Prabowo nor Jokowi fronted the court.

Next came the police with their highest honour, Bintang Bhayangkara Utama (star of meritorious service ) “awarded to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to advancing the Indonesian National Police, going beyond their duties.”  

Curious praise: A 2022 survey showed the police ranked as the least trusted of all law enforcement bodies. Last century the army ran the police.  Separation has been incomplete; soldiers can often be seen with cops acting as security at sporting events.  

How can all this happen in a society with easy Internet access to Prabowo's bio?   It's a question also being asked in the US of Trump, where Republican diehards ignore his lies and failings to win power.

It's not that bad yet in Indonesia.  One theory about support for Prabowo blames 32 years of bibliophobia when Soeharto ruled;  rote learning at schools and widespread censorship led electors away from critical thinking and into blandly accepting party propaganda.  

As Orwell wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future.”

Completing 12 years of education for 50 million students is supposed to be mandatory,  six at primary and three years each at middle and high school.

Public schooling is allegedly free for the first two stages but uniforms and subtle add-ons make education expensive. Many kids drop out in the mid-teens to work or help their parents.

A 2018 report by the Lowy Institute claimed the system had been a "high-volume, low-quality enterprise that has fallen well short of the country's ambitions for an internationally competitive system".

It blamed not enough money and poor management but "most fundamentally a matter of politics and power."

There’s little evidence the situation has improved, though the public may be ahead of their leaders. A Kompas newspaper survey claimed more than 88 per cent of respondents agreed that "political education was crucial to be pursued as a section strengthening democracy.”

By the time Prabowo,73, is inaugurated on 20 October the world's third-largest democracy will welcome its eighth president.  By then the embarrassing version will have been erased.


  First published in Pearls & Irritations, 29 June 2024:

Friday, June 21, 2024


There’s nothing profound about the Biblical quote; variations are embedded in many religions and cultures.  

So it needs no prophet, seer or conman to make this prediction:  After a war like the current one in Gaza has cooled, the survivors will be bent on revenge.

The ancient tragedy is underway just next door in Papua, bleeding now and  for years to come as the hate goes on.

Canberra expresses its horror at the Middle East conflict 14,000 km distant and calls for peace, but looks away from what’s happening in the neighbourhood just 250 km to the  north.

Last year the late NZ journalist John McBeth reported that Papua independence leader Egianus Kogoya’s  determination to fight for freedom started after his father, Daniel Yudas Kagoya (correct) was killed by Indonesian troops.

Many in his group of armed partisans have become guerrillas for the same reasons.

They're now old enough to confront those they blame for the slaughter of their parents, relatives and friends and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods; so they've started killing and are getting killed.

The ore-rich province with the world’s fifth largest gold mine reserves has been a simmering low-level civil war zone since Jakarta took over the western part of New Guinea from the Dutch colonialists.  That was in 1969 following a staged ‘referendum’ using 1,025 hand-picked voters who unanimously supported integration.

One estimate has half a million indigenous Papuans dying in the past half-century through starvation and resisting Indonesian control.

No one knows if the figure is correct as journalists are banned.  Thousands of soldiers from across the archipelago are in Papua. How many is not publicised though last year it was reported that 'an additional 2,355 military members' had been deployed.

The conflict shows no signs of lessening.  In 2014 when President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office he told the Australian media he intended to give  Papua “special attention”.

It was benignly assumed that this meant peace talks because Jokowi was not a gung-ho militarist but a civilian, his wife Iriana had been named after the island’s old title and his visits were regular and friendly.

However his “special attention” was infrastructure, not independence: Roads, health services and education - all necessary, but secondary to the self-rule the rebels demanded.  Pacifying the insurgents and listening to their emotional concerns wasn’t on the agenda.

In 2022 Jokowi  started carving up the territory confusing locals and outsiders by amplifying bureaucracy and control. The four new provinces are Papua Selatan (South Papua), Papua Tengah (Central Papua), Papua Pegunungan (Mountain Papua) and Papua Barat Daya (South-West Papua).

For this story, we'll use ‘Papua’ to cover all.  The population of 4.4 million is largely Melanesian and Christian. However transmigration programmes bringing in poor farmers from Java who are mainly Muslim, has been diluting the indigenous population for decades.

Jokowi's predecessor, former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he’d  “take quick and appropriate steps to deal with Papua” after violent clashes.  His ‘solution’ was force.  More died but little changed.

At the time the SMH reported that “(SBY’s) money and good intentions were squandered by corruption, cronyism and bureaucratic dysfunction.”

After a decade in office, Jokowi's legacy is  "a better armed, better resourced, more coordinated pro-independence insurgency,"  according to a Jakarta research group the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. 

“(There are) higher civilian casualties; and the failure after a year to secure the release of a New Zealand pilot held hostage by the guerrillas.”

 (Phillip Mehrtens, then 37,  was seized on 7 February last year and his Cessna used for ferrying construction workers and  owned by an Indonesian company was torched. It’s believed he’s still alive.)

The IPAC report said Jakarta’s approaches can be characterized as: “Get them to like us”, “Hit them without mercy”, “Divide and rule”, “Give them money”, “End their isolation” and very occasionally, “Talk to them”. 

It recommends that "(Jokowi's) successor needs to radically change course."  But that's Prabowo Subianto a general who served in Papua before being cashiered for insubordination in 1998 and fleeing to exile in Jordan.

In his new leadership role he's offered to send a peacekeeping force to Gaza if there’s a ceasefire.  

The idea is saturated in irony: Indonesia has no relationship with Israel. All remnants of Jewish life during the Dutch era - including cemeteries - have been trashed. Most troops are Muslims, and Prabowo has allegedly committed human rights abuses on the island last century.

Veteran Australian journalist Hamish McDonald, author of Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century has written that in 1984 Prabowo "led troops from Kopassus, the army's Special Forces Command, across the border into Papua New Guinea to search for fighters from the Free Papua Movement Organisasi Papua Merdeka - OPM.

"In 1996, he led a Kopassus operation to free World Wildlife Fund hostages taken by the OPM. The mission was controversial because soldiers travelled via a white helicopter previously used by Red Cross negotiators"

Indonesia is still far from winning the hearts and minds of its Papuan citizens or erasing its image as a ruthless neo-colonial power.  It’s treating the OPM much as the Dutch handled the Javanese partisans during three centuries of European rule - split, discredit, threaten, arrest, kill.

That didn’t work and Indonesia is now an independent republic, largely because the Western world - including Australia, turned against the colonials and demanded change.  Weapons and money were denied to a Netherlands weakened by World War II.

That's unlikely to happen in Papua in the lifetimes of our readers.  The mines are too rich and involve influential international players. Indonesia is the world's fourth-largest nation with more Muslims than any other country.

Australia speaks strongly about human rights but does little; there’s a deep reluctance to advocate a break in the circle of violence in Papua and infuriate Jakarta.

Much like the situation with Jerusalem and the Gaza war.


First published in Pearls & Irritations, 21 June 2024: