Nested on the easternmost of the Indonesian map, Papua inhibits the largest land compared to other provinces. Since its inclusion in the Republic of Indonesia, Papua indeed has changed and evolved. This article addresses the long winding road of developments in Papua, seen from the historical, political, and socio economic aspects.
Even after the Indonesian independence in 1945, it took quite long for Papua to be free from the Dutch occupation. During this time, it gained a new name, Irian.
Due to the international pressure and also the New York Agreement, it was on 1st May of 1963 that Dutch finally handed over Papua to the Indonesian government. Since then, the name Irian officially became Irian Barat (West Irian).
Under the supervision of the United Nations, the Indonesian government conducted the Act Free Choice (Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat) in 1969 with the final result that Irian Barat remained as a member of Indonesian provinces.
In 1973, under the rule of Soeharto, Irian Barat obtained another new notorious name, Irian Jaya. It was the fourth President Abdurrahman Wahid who returned the historical name of Papua in 2000.
Since 2003, Papua has become into two provinces, namely Papua province (for the eastern part) and West Papua or Papua Barat province (for the western part). Jayapura is the capital city of Papua province, while in West Papua is Manokwari.
Papua and West Papua have their respective governor as the head of regional administration. It continues to further administrative divisions, ranging from Regency (Kabupaten) [an autonomous city of Jayapura and a municipality of Sorong] to a district (distrik/kecamatan) and to villages (kelurahan/desa). There is a future potential that new cities or regencies are emerging.
Following the Law No. 21 of 2001, the government grants Papua and West Papua with the Special Autonomy Status. It means they have the authority to publish local rules and regulations that will further specify the law execution. The status also comes with monetary resources to be allocated for the sake of native people.
The people directly elect the governor and also the regional legislature members of People’s Representative Council (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Papua).
In 2005, the central Government founded the what-so-called Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua). As the only government organization in Papua, it serves as an alliance with the chiefs of Papuan tribes and has the task of mediation and speaks on behalf of the customs of Papuan tribes.
Two indigenous people in Papua are the inland Papuan (mountainous people) and the lowland Papuan (coastal people). They consist of numerous ethnic groups like Asmat, Dani, Biak, Sentani, and other tribes. Immigrants from Java, Maluku, Bugis, and nearby islands make up the rest of the population.
Papua and West Papua stand on a prosperous land that offers the enormous potential of natural resources like mining, gas, forestry, agriculture, fishery, and tourism. Freeport is the most influential company in the Papuan mining sector, whereas Raja Ampat gains its international stardom as a tourist destination.
The starting journey to open a way in Papua was the significant infrastructure development plans. In the 1970s, during Soeharto’s ruling, a road construction project succeeded in connecting the Sentani-Genyem which allowed access to more isolated remote areas. There were about eight further road constructions accomplished.
Those projects led to other economic opportunities related to livelihoods, trade, land clearing for farming or plantations, and the famous transmigration program.
Soeharto relayed the development baton to his successors. The third president, B.J. Habibie came with the Trans-Papua plan, the special autonomy status during Abdurrahman Wahid presidency, and the completion and continuation by President Jokowi.
The mega-project Trans-Papua Highway focuses on connecting 12 remote areas in Papua and West Papua provinces, stretching from Sorong to Merauke. Other accompanying projects are bridges, ports for sea toll project, airports, and pioneer flights. More infrastructure programs continue to the construction of power plants and electricity infrastructure, as well as the internet connection.
The developments are also expected to touch the human resource area, more especially to improve the Human Development Index. It covers education or knowledge, longevity, health quality, and a decent standard of living.
Papua is widely known as a paradise island blessed with its wealth of natural resources, isolated and challenging geographical landscapes, as well as its time-honored cultural, tribal, and linguistic diversity.
Papua and West Papua have indeed witnessed surprising progress, economic growths, poverty reductions or even human development. Unfortunately, those achievements are still considered low compared to other provinces in Indonesia.
The development gap also can be seen between the urban and rural areas, especially regarding poverty. Some reasons contribute to the condition are, among others, the challenging remote landscapes, human resources or even volatile political atmosphere.
Along with developments, there are also potential threats to native tribal cultures, environment, and ecology. In other words, Papua still has a lot of homework to do to be able to catch up and grow. The journey indeed has not finished yet.