West Papua: A Grassroots Perspective on Micro-enterprise Development and Civic Participation

Drug store in Indonesia. (jogales/Flickr)
Drug store in Indonesia. (jogales/Flickr)

Patricia McEwan, Trickle Up Program, West Papua

General History

West Papua (Irian Jaya) is the twenty-sixth province in Indonesia and occupies the easternmost region of the archipelago. West Papua, then known as the West New Guinea, was colonized by the Dutch in the mid 1800s then coming under the Dutch East Indies administration in 1910. Whilst the remainder of Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, West Papua continued to be under Dutch control.

During the post World War II era of de-colonization the Dutch were placed under increasing international pressure to give up West Papua. The Dutch therefore started to begin the process of making West Papua an independent state, including the preparing of locals as the new administrators and the production of a National anthem and the West Papuan flag, that was raised for the first time on 1 December 1961. However, the Indonesians believed that because West Papua was a Dutch colony it was rightfully theirs and therefore attacked West Papua in an attempt to secure it from the Dutch. In 1962 the Indonesians and Dutch signed the New York Agreement to end their dispute regarding West Papua. This agreement placed Indonesia in a caretaker role to assist the people of West Papua to proceed with self-determination and obtain independence. The role of this agreement was seen as a face-saving device for the Dutch, who had promised independence to the West Papuans but also a means of stabilizing the United States' position as a super-power in the region and protecting the economic interests of multinationals.

In the five years between 1962 and 1969, as a part of the Suharto New Order regime and in response to the high population growth in other regions of Indonesia, large numbers of Indonesians were shifted to West Papua. Also during this period there was a large military presence in West Papua, with the military being responsible for large numbers of human rights abuses including intimidation, rape and killings of local West Papuans. At a human rights tribunal in Papua New Guinea in 1981, the first governor of West Papua testified that 30,000 Papuans were murdered between 1963 and 1969 by the Indonesian military. In 1969, a United Nations-supervised referendum was held - "Act of Free Choice" - to determine whether the Papuans wished to stay with Indonesia or not. 1025 of the 700,000 local Papuans were handpicked [by the Indonesian government] to vote in this plebiscite which voted overwhelmingly to keep West Papua with Indonesia.

Since Indonesia's occupation of West Papua, the Papuans have been subjected to processes of "Indonesianization". This is a process of acculturating the Papua-Melanesian as the "uncivilized"community into the supposedly more "civilized" Indonesian community. This process has been carried out through the use of the education system, media, transmigration and economic development. The aim of this process is to strengthen national unity that then allows for greater exploitation of natural resources. The impact of this process has been the marginalization of both urban and rural Papuans from their own land, natural resources and economic development. This has resulted in the Papuans becoming second-class citizens in their land especially in regards to employment and economic status, and denigration of Papuan culture and psychological self-worth, leading to a high level of animosity towards the Indonesian government, Indonesians and multinationals.

This animosity is reflected in the high level of community support for the Papuan pro-independence movement. The pro-independence movement can be seen to have emerged out of two features of West Papua's socio-cultural history. Firstly, it has emerged out of millenarian myths and cargo cults that served as a form of resistance to the repression and oppression inflicted by Dutch, missionary, Japanese and Indonesian domination over the Papuans. These cults projected a "faith in a better world, free from oppression," that were transformed into secular political movements. Secondly, the pro-independence movement is a direct continuation of the striving for self-determination that began during the Dutch colonial period. The pro-independence movement is made up of a number of key groups which sometimes overlap in their visions, but at the same time are some what fractionalized.

Trickle Up Program


Since 1979, Trickle Up has worked with local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to alleviate poverty by supporting micro-enterprise development. The program currently operates in 31 countries. Trickle Up targets people at the lowest income levels with business capital in the form of conditional grants of $100 that is disbursed in two $50 installments. The grant is targeted at the poorest and most disadvantaged families, who do not qualify for loans, are risk-averse, or live in communities where there are no credit alternatives to the local moneylender. Trickle Up's micro-enterprise program is delivered by local partners - indigenous NGOs or CBOs who provide development services to their communities.

Trickle Up in West Papua

Trickle Up has been coordinating a micro-enterprise project funded by USAID ($538,000) in West Papua since November 1999. During this period Trickle Up, with the assistance of 15 local NGOs / Project Partners, has helped 3,000 West Papuan families to either start or expand a small business. The two main goals of the project are to increase the capacity of local Papuan NGOs and the level of civic participation of the Papuan community through micro-enterprise development.

At the beginning of the project, a network of 15 locally based Project Partners from the Jayapura, Jayawijaya, Biak, Manokwari and Merauke regions was established. This network meets in Jayapura every three months to evaluate and develop strategies to improve project implementation and receive specialized training in micro-enterprise development techniques, including business management, establishing savings and loans groups, marketing and feasibility studies. In addition the Project Partners also received training in organizational development topics such as fund raising, financial management and community organizing. Strategy planning workshops have been conducted since September 2000 in preparation for the end of this project

The Project Partners are responsible for implementation of Trickle Up's micro-enterprise development program. The NGOs have learned to select and train clients using a poverty assessment tool, disburse grants for business start-up, track progress through client monitoring, and report on results.

Relationship of Micro-enterprise Development to Civic Participation in the Current Socio-Political Situation.

An example can be drawn from the program participants to illustrate the link between these issues. Nico Wanggai was a part of a pro-independence group of Papuan intellectuals who held a non-violent demonstration with the raising of the West Papuan flag in December 1988. The police broke up this demonstration, arresting and detaining the protesters. Thirty-seven of the protesters, including priests, public servants and university lecturers were charged with subversion. Nico Wanggai was sent to jail from 1988 to 1996. Whilst in jail he learnt how to make handicrafts such as bags and wallets from tree-bark. On coming out of jail, he was dismissed as a public servant and was thus unemployed, so he used these skills to start a business. However, almost 2 years ago Nico suffered a stroke that has left him incapacitated, so now his wife and son have learnt his skills and are continuing the business. They did not receive any financial support until becoming participants of the Trickle Up Program (TUP). The TUP grant has enabled them to buy more materials to expand their business and use part of their profits to cover transport costs to travel to other regions in Papua to sell their handicrafts.

West Papua receives the highest amount per capita in development subsidies in Indonesia. However, this has primarily resulted in high expectations and dependency on the part of Papuans especially in urban regions. One example is the recent government "crash program" that was designed to assist with community development programs. During the period when these funds were being disbursed to the community there were queues of Papuans waiting for this new "hand out." Despite a high failure rate of similar programs in the past, no training or support was offered to the recipients of these funds. Whilst there was an enthusiasm on the part of some, others were suspicious and said the program was yet another means of the Indonesia government "buying the Papuans." Such programs have also received much criticism from local NGOs because not only have they created a system of dependency or raised suspicion amongst the community in regards to development programs, it has also led to the demoralization of the community because of the high failure rate.

One of the Project Partners that works with the Trickle Up Program - YPPWI (Yayasan Pengembangan Prakarsa Wirausaha di Irian Jaya) has been attempting to do micro-enterprise development in West Papua with the Papuan community for the past four years, by setting up a number of community banks. According to the Director, however, their attempts have been largely unsuccessful. He attributes the high failure rate to the challenges resulting from past government community development programs and to the fact that they have been providing the target communities with credit, not a grant as with Trickle Up. Since using the Trickle Up model, that is the provision of a conditional grant and guided support and training, they have experienced a far greater success rate. He has drawn the conclusion that the Papuan community is not ready to receive credit as the first step towards business development. The Trickle Up grant provides the local NGOs with an opportunity to assist the community in learning to manage funds, develop their confidence and create self-reliance.

An example can be drawn from one of the Trickle Up grant recipients from YPPWI - Seli Diwara. Seli has been selling vegetables in the Abepura market in Jayapura for years. After receiving the TUP business grant and business training she was provided with opportunity to learn to manage her business/finances. After this she was able to have enough money to make savings. Whilst BPR (Bank Pekreditan Rakyat) community bank) has been working in this market for the past three years, Seli never felt confident in becoming a client. However, since joining Trickle Up she has opened a bank account and made enough savings to take out a loan equivalent to $1,500 (one and a half thousand dollars) that she used to connect electricity and water to her house and start a pig-raising business. Seli has now become a role model to the other women in the market to learn to make savings.

Trickle Up is having a positive impact on West Papuans in several ways:

  1. It is encouraging business diversity, as many clients start a separate business alongside the first enabling them to build savings and assets.
  2. Through the efforts of some Project Partners, links are being created between Papuan wholesalers and retailers, for example farmers selling to vendors, where before, Papuan retailers would have no choice but to buy from Indonesians. Business opportunities for some Papuans are thus improving.
  3. Business skills are improving in areas such as record keeping (and not selling on credit).
  4. The clients are learning to manage small sums of money and have begun saving regularly for the first time. Many have opened bank accounts.
  5. Some clients have been able to improve their standard of living, for example, in terms of improved housing.
  6. Women clients have been given access to business capital, enhancing their economic self-reliance and confidence.
  7. Papuans develop the skills to be able to compete against the Buginese and Makassans who control 80% of the small businesses in West Papua - therefore strengthening their economic security.
  8. The Project Partners use Trickle Up as an entry point for their other programs - on human rights, gender, and environment.

One of our Project Clients, Martha, summarised our program's impact the best when she said "Since joining Trickle Up, I've learnt financial management skills that have meant that I manage my money better. I've used the business grant and profits, and have been able to borrow money from my savings and loans group to increase the stock in my business; now I'm competing with the Indonesian shop keepers in my community". It is hoped that such efforts, as illustrated by the Trickle Up program may contribute to reducing political tension and conflict, enhancing peace and security in the region.