Jun 23, 2018 Last Updated 7:44 AM, Jun 18, 2018

Profiting from displacement

Published: Jul 26, 2007


Lorraine V. Aragon

In search of honest, well-designed aid for people displaced by the Poso conflict

Until the mid-October 2003 village attacks, some of which were led by Javanese Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI) members, Jakarta leaders gave little thought to Poso. In their minds, the Malino Peace Accord orchestrated in December 2001 by Haji Yusuf Kalla, Coordinating Minister for Peoples’ Welfare, had solved the region’s conflicts.

The Malino Declaration, signed by Muslim and Christian counterparts, did lead to reduced levels of mass violence, and the initiation of several types of aid programs. However, low level violence continued, and much aid money continues to be siphoned off by wealthy businessmen handling development ‘projects’. It is also pilfered by under-funded and largely unregulated security troops, and even by some religious leaders who turn aid distribution into a seedy and personally profitable business. This endemic corruption, fuelled by poorly regulated aid and military funding, makes the region conducive for criminal operations and their unholy alliances with ideological extremists.

Newly built stores, facilities, and houses are ‘re-burned’ so that builders can win more lucrative contracts. A few church leaders re-sell rice allotments, housing plots, or even books and cassettes authored by conflict heroes, all for escalated prices. Military checkpoints skim fees from passing drivers. Soldiers demand food, supplies, and sometimes sex from ‘hosting’ villagers. Even civilian government officials find themselves intimidated by officers appropriating aid supplies. Those who dare to complain about such matters may find themselves forever silenced.

Some Internally Displaced People (IDP) have received absolutely nothing from government aid programs, while others are making ‘aid re-sale’ a lucrative career. Some IDPs register and collect aid in more than one village, while others are not registered at all and so dare not ask for anything. While there are government and religious leaders who truly are doing their best to ensure that basic aid such as rice and housing materials go to those most in need, others buy new cars and land from profits made through the commodification of conflict and aid.

As local villagers, IDPs, and many non-government organisation (NGO) leaders see it, Poso has become simply a big business project that simultaneously exploits and morally damages an already emotionally traumatised population. Many residents feel they can trust neither the central government that has repeatedly failed to protect them over the last five years, nor the local politicians and religious leaders who used ethnic and religious affiliations as a means to further their own interests.

The diasporapa

Between December 1998 and the end of 2002, an estimated 100,000 Christians and Muslims fled their villages in the wake of physical attacks and threats of further attacks. In some cases, volunteers working with the Protestant Crisis Centre team, whose goal and accomplishment was to save lives, evacuated civilians and even military troops from the crossfire. The leader of this team, Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, is currently in jail on a trumped up weapons charge. It seems Reverend Damanik has aggravated people in high places by complaining that his team was doing dangerous work that should have been undertaken by the security forces deployed before and after the Malino Accord.

Christians generally were evacuated south from Poso to Tentena, a virtually all-Christian highland lake village developed by Dutch missionaries in the late 1800s. They also fled to other Christian majority regions such as Manado or Napu. Muslims caught in fighting south of Poso were evacuated north to the southern border of Poso City, and were then directed by security forces to the now virtually all-Muslim coastal capital of the district, Poso City. Muslims also fled to Muslim-majority regions such as Palu, South Sulawesi, and Java, if they had family connections in these locations.

About 15,000 Christian IDPs still live in the sub-district around Tentena. At least 3,000 of them reside in small houses that they built from local forest resources on a former mission airfield presently owned by the Central Sulawesi Protestant Church (Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah or GKST). Environmental conservation specialists note the negative impact this dense settlement has had on local forests, Poso Lake, and nearby watersheds.

Several hours drive north, thousands of Muslim IDPs live scattered along the east-west road running through Poso, some in longhouse type barracks built by army soldiers at government expense. There are also an undetectable number of IDPs who just took refuge in the distant private homes of family or economic patrons. Many of these ‘privately distributed’ IDPs have less incentive to return to the Poso District. Many continue to believe that Poso is still ‘on fire’, just as it was when they first began their traumatic exodus. Some are damaged, potentially vengeful people.

Going home

Data from two IDP assessments made in June and September 2003 generated a clear pattern indicating which particular refugees, by religion and IDP location, wanted to return to their pre-conflict villages. Simply stated, those whose losses, however great, were only material property are far more eager to return ‘home’ than those whose relatives were the victims of physical violence.

‘Why’, many IDPs asked me, ‘have Poso District officials never come to major IDP locations to invite us back to our home areas?’ Is it because district leaders are still unable to guarantee safety and the rule of law? Or, is it really because they don’t want some ethnic or religious groups to return and undo the ‘ethnic cleansing’ and religious territorialisation that resulted from the regional warfare?’

Some people think that their leaders are afraid to visit displaced people who might shame them into admitting that government officials have rarely taken seriously their duty of care for all populations in the increasingly multiethnic Poso District. Personal invitations to IDP groups, perhaps even apologies, from district leaders would not be such a difficult or costly step for the Indonesian government, should it be brave enough to confront the needs and demands of local villagers.

Peace building

After nearly five years of violence, local communities, both Christian and Muslim, are utterly fatigued with violent non-solutions and ruined lives. Most Poso people are now far more aware of how their religious devotion and ethnic alliances were abusedÜby political and religious leaders. Yet a small minority have been drawn into violent gangs, including jihadist ones, that promise power and solutions based on religiously or ethnically exclusivist views of the region.

Although NGO activists working in the district sometimes have trouble agreeing on their respective turfs and funding priorities, they have been at the forefront of Muslim-Christian inter-religious dialogue and local pro-peace activities. Activists have been brave enough to facilitate discussions about issues important to locals, such as drunkenness, late-night dance parties, neo-feudal politics, cultural revitalisation, and the ideological bases for recent religious tensions. Along with the Malino mediation efforts of Haji Yusuf Kalla and some Malino participants, these young men, and increasingly women, deserve much credit for the rise of peaceful activism based on pluralism. They make insightful local assessments of IDP and surrounding villagers’ needs, and generally manage their organisational activities without acceding to the religious and ethnic identity politics.

Local needs in Poso and for IDPs are clear. As one IDP put it, ‘we don’t want continual aid. But given the limits on available land, we need other appropriate work so we can support ourselves. We need schools for our children. And we need real security, so we can get on with our lives without the constant fear of bombs and mysterious shootings’.

Besides local work opportunities, IDPs are asking for their destroyed schools to be rebuilt and re-staffed, with a temporary reduction in school fees for those too poor to attend. There are still gaps in medical aid and post-trauma psychological services.Clean water projects are still lacking. Most IDPs still await the government-promised help with housing costs and one-off cash awards that could help them leave the camps and return to their former villages. Some IDPs have been forced to take ‘underground’ private loans at scandalous interest rates.

Central Sulawesi locals ask why they cannot be hired to rebuild the region’s destroyed houses and infrastructure, why it is always the army or outsiders who are hired and trained to oversee local ‘cash cow’ activities. Many, for example, would be eager and capable of participating in cooperative businesses that produced and marketed something needed locally, such as school desks. Planning of such work projects, however, should include potential local workers from a wide variety of religious and ethnic groups, plus NGO consultants to assess priorities and impacts on sustainable resources, human rights, and the future of inter-group cooperation.

Lorraine Aragon (aragon2@email.unc.edu) is a cultural anthropologist and adjunct Associate Professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina.Until the mid-October 2003 village attacks, some of which were led by Javanese Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI) members, Jakarta leaders gave little thought to Poso. In their minds, the Malino Peace Accord orchestrated in December 2001 by Haji Yusuf Kalla, Coordinating Minister for Peoples’ Welfare, had solved the region’s conflicts.

The Malino Declaration, signed by Muslim and Christian counterparts, did lead to reduced levels of mass violence, and the initiation of several types of aid programs. However, low level violence continued, and much aid money continues to be siphoned off by wealthy businessmen handling development ‘projects’. It is also pilfered by under-funded and largely unregulated security troops, and even by some religious leaders who turn aid distribution into a seedy and personally profitable business. This endemic corruption, fuelled by poorly regulated aid and military funding, makes the region conducive for criminal operations and their unholy alliances with ideological extremists.

Newly built stores, facilities, and houses are ‘re-burned’ so that builders can win more lucrative contracts. A few church leaders re-sell rice allotments, housing plots, or even books and cassettes authored by conflict heroes, all for escalated prices. Military checkpoints skim fees from passing drivers. Soldiers demand food, supplies, and sometimes sex from ‘hosting’ villagers. Even civilian government officials find themselves intimidated by officers appropriating aid supplies. Those who dare to complain about such matters may find themselves forever silenced.

Some Internally Displaced People (IDP) have received absolutely nothing from government aid programs, while others are making ‘aid re-sale’ a lucrative career. Some IDPs register and collect aid in more than one village, while others are not registered at all and so dare not ask for anything. While there are government and religious leaders who truly are doing their best to ensure that basic aid such as rice and housing materials go to those most in need, others buy new cars and land from profits made through the commodification of conflict and aid.

As local villagers, IDPs, and many non-government organisation (NGO) leaders see it, Poso has become simply a big business project that simultaneously exploits and morally damages an already emotionally traumatised population. Many residents feel they can trust neither the central government that has repeatedly failed to protect them over the last five years, nor the local politicians and religious leaders who used ethnic and religious affiliations as a means to further their own interests.

The diasporapa

Between December 1998 and the end of 2002, an estimated 100,000 Christians and Muslims fled their villages in the wake of physical attacks and threats of further attacks. In some cases, volunteers working with the Protestant Crisis Centre team, whose goal and accomplishment was to save lives, evacuated civilians and even military troops from the crossfire. The leader of this team, Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, is currently in jail on a trumped up weapons charge. It seems Reverend Damanik has aggravated people in high places by complaining that his team was doing dangerous work that should have been undertaken by the security forces deployed before and after the Malino Accord.

Christians generally were evacuated south from Poso to Tentena, a virtually all-Christian highland lake village developed by Dutch missionaries in the late 1800s. They also fled to other Christian majority regions such as Manado or Napu. Muslims caught in fighting south of Poso were evacuated north to the southern border of Poso City, and were then directed by security forces to the now virtually all-Muslim coastal capital of the district, Poso City. Muslims also fled to Muslim-majority regions such as Palu, South Sulawesi, and Java, if they had family connections in these locations.

About 15,000 Christian IDPs still live in the sub-district around Tentena. At least 3,000 of them reside in small houses that they built from local forest resources on a former mission airfield presently owned by the Central Sulawesi Protestant Church (Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah or GKST). Environmental conservation specialists note the negative impact this dense settlement has had on local forests, Poso Lake, and nearby watersheds.

Several hours drive north, thousands of Muslim IDPs live scattered along the east-west road running through Poso, some in longhouse type barracks built by army soldiers at government expense. There are also an undetectable number of IDPs who just took refuge in the distant private homes of family or economic patrons. Many of these ‘privately distributed’ IDPs have less incentive to return to the Poso District. Many continue to believe that Poso is still ‘on fire’, just as it was when they first began their traumatic exodus. Some are damaged, potentially vengeful people.

Going home

Data from two IDP assessments made in June and September 2003 generated a clear pattern indicating which particular refugees, by religion and IDP location, wanted to return to their pre-conflict villages. Simply stated, those whose losses, however great, were only material property are far more eager to return ‘home’ than those whose relatives were the victims of physical violence.

‘Why’, many IDPs asked me, ‘have Poso District officials never come to major IDP locations to invite us back to our home areas?’ Is it because district leaders are still unable to guarantee safety and the rule of law? Or, is it really because they don’t want some ethnic or religious groups to return and undo the ‘ethnic cleansing’ and religious territorialisation that resulted from the regional warfare?’

Some people think that their leaders are afraid to visit displaced people who might shame them into admitting that government officials have rarely taken seriously their duty of care for all populations in the increasingly multiethnic Poso District. Personal invitations to IDP groups, perhaps even apologies, from district leaders would not be such a difficult or costly step for the Indonesian government, should it be brave enough to confront the needs and demands of local villagers.

Peace building

After nearly five years of violence, local communities, both Christian and Muslim, are utterly fatigued with violent non-solutions and ruined lives. Most Poso people are now far more aware of how their religious devotion and ethnic alliances were abusedÜby political and religious leaders. Yet a small minority have been drawn into violent gangs, including jihadist ones, that promise power and solutions based on religiously or ethnically exclusivist views of the region.

Although NGO activists working in the district sometimes have trouble agreeing on their respective turfs and funding priorities, they have been at the forefront of Muslim-Christian inter-religious dialogue and local pro-peace activities. Activists have been brave enough to facilitate discussions about issues important to locals, such as drunkenness, late-night dance parties, neo-feudal politics, cultural revitalisation, and the ideological bases for recent religious tensions. Along with the Malino mediation efforts of Haji Yusuf Kalla and some Malino participants, these young men, and increasingly women, deserve much credit for the rise of peaceful activism based on pluralism. They make insightful local assessments of IDP and surrounding villagers’ needs, and generally manage their organisational activities without acceding to the religious and ethnic identity politics.

Local needs in Poso and for IDPs are clear. As one IDP put it, ‘we don’t want continual aid. But given the limits on available land, we need other appropriate work so we can support ourselves. We need schools for our children. And we need real security, so we can get on with our lives without the constant fear of bombs and mysterious shootings’.

Besides local work opportunities, IDPs are asking for their destroyed schools to be rebuilt and re-staffed, with a temporary reduction in school fees for those too poor to attend. There are still gaps in medical aid and post-trauma psychological services.Clean water projects are still lacking. Most IDPs still await the government-promised help with housing costs and one-off cash awards that could help them leave the camps and return to their former villages. Some IDPs have been forced to take ‘underground’ private loans at scandalous interest rates.

Central Sulawesi locals ask why they cannot be hired to rebuild the region’s destroyed houses and infrastructure, why it is always the army or outsiders who are hired and trained to oversee local ‘cash cow’ activities. Many, for example, would be eager and capable of participating in cooperative businesses that produced and marketed something needed locally, such as school desks. Planning of such work projects, however, should include potential local workers from a wide variety of religious and ethnic groups, plus NGO consultants to assess priorities and impacts on sustainable resources, human rights, and the future of inter-group cooperation.

Lorraine Aragon (aragon2@email.unc.edu) is a cultural anthropologist and adjunct Associate Professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina.

Inside Indonesia 77: Jan - Mar 2004

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