This academic webinar was presented by Dr. Jason MacLeod, lecturer on nonviolent resistance at the University of Queensland.
Watch the webinar below:
1. Introduction of the Speaker: 00:00- 01:00
2. Presentation: 01:02 – 39:00
3. Questions and Answers: 39:29 – 58:50
In this webinar, Dr. MacLeod will talk about why civil resistance praxis is clear that unarmed civilians can go outside conventional political processes to overthrow dictatorships and usher in policy change. But the evidence is less encouraging when it comes to anti-occupation and secessionist movements, which this webinar collectively refers to as self-determination struggles. When comparative data on success rates of civil resistance struggles against states is de-segregated, self-determination struggles fail far more often than they succeed. This is not good news for people waging anti-colonial struggles in places such as West Papua, Palestine, Tibet, Kanaky (New Caledonia), Bougainville, Maohi Nui (French Polynesia), Nagaland, Western Sahara and elsewhere.
What would it take for self-determination movements to increase the likelihood of success? Drawing on 14 years of action research with the West Papuan struggle for freedom, Dr. McLeod explores a framework for nonviolent self-determination struggles. While the webinar draws on the specifics of the West Papuan struggle, the generalised framework will be of great interest to activists, leaders, strategists, educators and researchers of other self-determination movements.
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Further Participant Questions
Questions not addressed during the webinar recording itself.
Participant’s Question: My country Cameroon actually is made up of English speaking and French speaking Cameroonians due to colonialism. Actually the English speaking part of the country feel they are economically marginalized even though they possess 90% of the country’s resources and think self-determination is the best way to resolve this issue. But the ruling French government is very aggressive and always reacts with violence to any action that tries to call for any secession. Due to this, most of those who try to talk about this issue are only those in the diaspora. Can this struggle be a success in which only those in the diaspora can speak out?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: Thanks for your question. I know very little about the situation in Cameroon so I am reluctant to say much. But you have roused my curiosity and I am interested in learning more. French colonialism is also a big problem in the Pacific and the countries of Kanaky (New Caledonia) and Maohi Nui (French Polynesia) are also struggling to free themselves from French rule. Perhaps there might be value in linking up with activists from those struggles and sharing knowledge and learning?
Certainly a deep understanding of the context – including the history as well as geo-political and socio-economic conditions – are essential for any effective civil resistance movement. A struggle may begin with the diaspora. The diaspora might also play an important leadership role in the struggle for liberation. But at some point people inside the country will need to take the lead. If repression inside the country makes speaking out difficult then addressing people’s fear will be a key place to start. See my recent article in the Journal of Resistance Studies for dealing with repression (MacLeod 2015). Of course there will also need to considerable debate about different approaches to change. The pros and cons of armed struggle, unarmed resistance, diplomacy, and terrorism may need to be debated at length, and if necessary, more clarity sought about the pros and cons of different approaches to change. It is clear to me the most promising way forward, at least for the West Papuan struggle, is a combination of civil resistance and diplomatic/conventional political work at different levels. People will need to talk about what they want, what stops that, as well as discussing vision, goals and strategy. For sure, the diaspora, with a greater degree of freedom, can play an important role in that discussion. People from Cameroon who live outside the country, particularly in France, will also play a very important role in influencing public opinion inside France, which I imagine is key source of the French government’s power in Cameroon. However, I don’t see any evidence to support the claim that the diaspora by themselves, or with minimal involvement from people inside the occupied territory, can win a self-determination struggle. It is people inside the occupied territory who really need to drive the struggle. At the same time the movement needs to build power inside the territory of the occupier and in the international community focusing in particular on countries that support the occupier elite or places where the occupier elite is trying to extend their sphere of influence. But in summary, the active participation of the majority of the indigenous population inside Cameroon will be essential to craft a finely grained strategy and tactics.
Participant’s Question: One of the greatest challenges for anti-occupation struggles seems to be the power imbalance between the occupied and occupying populations. For example, in the Tibetan self-determination struggle, the size and power of China creates a hopelessness among Tibetans that is the greatest obstacle for us. Is there a way to turn the power imbalance into a strength for the resistance, by some kind of political jiujitsu or reframing the discourse? Is there a way to transform this weakness into a weapon?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: I am so pleased to read this question. I agree with your analysis 100%. The power asymmetry you describe in Tibet is exactly the same challenge for West Papuans. And that sense of hopelessness and being overwhelmed by the power and numbers of the occupier state you describe is also present in West Papua. Actually, it is one of the factors that drove this research. People need hope and a sense of how to move forward. As you describe a key challenge is how to win over support from key social groups inside the occupier state, which in the case of Tibet is mainland China and in the case of West Papua is Indonesia. And I think you are right reframing the discourse and developing campaigns around intermediate goals is one way forward.
In the case of West Papua, Papuan university students studying in Indonesia regularly talk about the need for allies. They often complain that progressive Indonesian students will support protests against the Freeport mine, a massive gold and copper mine jointly run by Freeport McMoRan (a US based company), Rio Tinto and Freeport Indonesia. Papuan students also talk about how Indonesian students will join with them when they call for demilitarisation but will not join them in demanding a referendum for independence. Papuan students regularly bemoan the fact that Indonesian students do not seem to care about historical injustices that happened in the 1960s. And of course, psychologically it will always be difficult for Indonesian students to support Papuans wanting to address historical grievances or campaign for independence. Their understanding of history is too different from Papuans. The emotional attachment to a unitary Indonesian state of even the most progressive Indonesian student runs deep.
So what to do? How do movements build power inside the occupier state in order to undermine support for the occupation? One Papuan leader I spoke to in the course of the research urges Papuan students to find out what Indonesian students are passionate about. ‘Perhaps it is the environment, or corruption, or anti-militarism. Find this issue and then work together,’ he said.
Of course, this highlights a strategic conundrum for Papuan activists. There is a perception that working for intermediate objectives – anything less than full freedom – means ‘selling out’ the long-term goal of independence. Yet to build Indonesian support for West Papuan aspirations and to apply pressure on the government requires framing campaigns around intermediate objectives like freedom of expression, environmental protection, cleaning up corruption, sustainable development, universal access to education and health services, accountable government and human rights. This does not mean giving up on larger goals like independence, but rather looking to a process of Papuans building their power through reaching out to potential allies and winning more limited campaigns. Such campaigns can simultaneously strengthen Indonesian democracy and build Papuans’ international reputation. Winning intermediate campaigns will leave Papuans in a better position to realise larger aspirations.
I am not sure what framing, issues and intermediate objectives would work in the case of Tibet but I think you are right, finding shared interests between Tibetans and Han Chinese and building joint campaigns of nonviolent action around will help build support for Tibetan aspirations inside mainland China. So in that sense, yes, I think that challenge you talked about can be turned into an opportunity. That is difficult and essential work.
Participant’s Question: Would tagging to other issues, such as the current fires burning and creating toxic hazes in Singapore, be a useful means of gaining media or support from other nations in the area?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: In the case of West Papua, sure. There is also an opportunity for Papuan leaders to link the two issues: climate change (exacerbated by massive forest fires which for the first time are raging in West Papua) and an end to the occupation of West Papua in order to reach and draw in new audiences and resources. That link can be made given the Indonesian military and police forces’ role in legal and illegal logging and palm oil plantations.
Participant’s Question: How does diaspora population have an impact on self-determination when the country or part of the country is occupied. I assume some members of West Papua campaign live in Australia. Also, how can, for example, the Australian diplomacy help the West Papua movement?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: Another great question. Yes, there are many Papuan leaders based in Australia. Two of them, Mr Jacob Rumbiak and Mr Rex Rumakiek are part of the 5 member executive of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Sadly, in recent times both sides of politics have backed the Indonesian Government. In fact the Australian Government is actively supporting repression in West Papua. For example, they arm, train and fund Detachment 88, a counter-terrorist police unit, responsible for the extra-judicial killing of scores of unarmed Papuan activists. However, that can change. In the late 40s the Australian government supported West Papuan to be part of the South Pacific Community. Into the 1950s they were encouraging a process that would lead to self-rule. In the case of East Timor the Australian government went from aiding the Indonesian occupation to actively supporting the referendum and then peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding operations. In other words, the Australian government’s is pragmatic and their position will change in relation to geo-political environment and domestic pressure. For solidarity activists based in Australia the task is to build a powerful solidarity movement that compels the Australian government to support freedom in West Papua. Self-determination movements need to wage the struggle in three domains: inside the occupied territory, inside the territory of the occupier and in the international community.
Participant’s Question: How did the people of West Papua decide on nonviolent struggle as a means of working for self-determination?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: That is a great question. My short answer is to buy my book J, I have a whole chapter on that very question (all proceeds go back to the movement, by the way). It is not so much that West Papuans decided collectively to pursue nonviolent struggle, although young urban based actors have definitely actively embraced civil resistance as a strategy of choice, primarily because it is more effective and enables more people to participate in the movement than armed struggle. Having said that there has been a range of mechanisms at work underpinning the transition from armed to unarmed resistance, a process which is still ongoing. Within the movement – both armed and unarmed groups – these mechanisms include:
- A strategic reassessment of how to wage conflict by a number of key leaders
- Aging leadership of the armed struggle and growing fatigue over the high cost of armed resistance
- Pressure from social allies (church leaders and from human rights activists)
- Civilian-led diplomacy to armed groups, particularly by ELSHAM, the Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights in West Papua
Then there were a range of external factors outside the West Papuan movement’s control. These included the democratic transition in Indonesia precipitated by the fall of Suharto in May 1998 and a momentary opening up of political space inside West Papua which was seized by unarmed civilians.
The Indonesian state has also negatively and positively affected transitions in West Papua. In some cases, like the assassination of Kelly Kwalik or attacks on the National Federal Republic of West Papua, repression has led to renewed armed resistance (Goliat Tabuni’s group for instance). In other cases repression has led to a deeper commitment to civil resistance.
At the international level there has also been a lack of foreign support for armed struggle. No state is willing to provide Papuans with either training or sanctuary. In fact state sponsorship of armed liberation struggles has been steadily declining after the end of the cold war.
Simultaneously Papuans are searching for new allies. They are also emulating successful international models, including East Timor as well as struggles in Thailand and South Korea, pro-democracy struggles that received prominent coverage inside Indonesia.
Finally, there has also been cross-border transmission of skills and knowledge about civil resistance.
Participant’s Question: Who are some of the key allies around the world in the West Papuans’ struggle?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: At the moment the states that openly support West Papua are Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. There has also been significant support from the FLNKS (the Socialist Front for National Liberation of Kanaky), a group that has full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which is an important sub-regional fora that is part of the Pacific Island Forum. There is also growing support from within Polynesia and Micronesia.
Through the International Parliamentarians for West Papua there are a growing number of parliamentarians who support the struggle. Encouragingly that now include a cross-party group in Westminster. Then there are a range of non-government and civil society allies. A key one is the church. The regional body, the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches have also taken up the issue. So too have parts of the Catholic Church. Solidarity groups around the world certainly play a vital role. These are growing in strength in the Pacific, Europe and the United States.
Participant’s Question: How did they find/develop those allies?
Dr. Jason MacLeod: Another good question. It depends on the group. Sometimes an external ally played a critical role in drawing in others into the struggle. For instance in the Solomon Islands the Pacific Conference of Churches hosted a workshop that re-invigorated solidarity in the lead up to the 2015 Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Honiara. At the MSG Leaders’ Summit the Melanesian countries (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the FLNKS) accepted the United Liberation Movement for West Papua as Observers. In Europe, the United States, and Australia, the presence of West Papuans seeking protection and who have continued to struggle in exile, have stimulated significant solidarity. In other cases visits either to West Papua or from West Papuans have energized people’s activism.
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the webinar. I presented some of what I have learnt from the West Papuan struggle for liberation. In doing so I am mindful that I didn’t tell many stories about that struggle. With the benefit of feedback, next time I will begin by telling something of story of the movement then, through narrative, illustrate the draft conceptual and practical framework for self-determination that has emerged from working with the movement. I think my nervousness about presenting got in the way of telling more of the story. For those who want to hear more about the recent struggle please read my article at Waging Nonviolence. ‘A new hopeful chapter in West Papua’s 50-year freedom struggle’ at http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/new-hopeful-chapter-west-papuas-50-year-freedom-struggle-begins/. You can also – shameless publication warning coming up – buy my book, Merdeka and the Morning Star: civil resistance in West Papua.
I also want to acknowledge West Papuans who have contributed to the research and many other people around the world who have stood in solidarity with the West Papuan struggle for freedom who also contributed to the research process. My involvement in the movement over the last 14 years has been primarily as an active participant accompanying West Papuans in their search for justice. Throughout that time it has been a privilege to be trusted as a receiver of stories, analysis and knowledge from Papuan friends, colleagues and interlocutors, who I thank deeply. I have tried to make sense of these gifts as best as I have been able. To what I have received I have added my own analysis, insights from the literature, and my own research. The webinar is one small part of a process of presenting the results back to the movement. Another part is through writing and speaking about the movement. The major work of contributing to the movement I have been studied has been through capacity strengthening work with the movement that I have undertaken with my colleagues from Pasifika, the West Papuan Project and the wider solidarity movement. That work continues.
There are many Papuans inside the country who have assisted the project who I can’t name because they live inside the country and it is not safe to name them. These include not only interviewees and participants in workshops but also people in government, civil society organisations and the resistance movement who enabled the research through their contacts, encouragement and practical assistance. In addition a number of Papuans from the diaspora helped: Andy Ajamiseba, Benny Wenda, Herman Wainggai (who participated in the webinar), Jacob Prai, Jacob Rumbiak, the late John Ondawame, John Rumbiak, Leonie Tanggahma, Octo Mote, Om Zachi, Nicolas Jouwe, Nancy Jouwe, Oridek Ap and his family, Paula Makabory, Rex Rumakiek, Ronny Kareni, Seth Rumkorem, and the late Viktor Kaisiepo. I also want to express my appreciation to John Rumbiak and Benny Giay who have been important friends and mentors to me and remain a source of inspiration.
Jason McLeod, November 21, 2015
Jason MacLeod, Ph.D., is conducting research on the viability of nonviolent strategies and tactics to enlarge the prospects of the self-determination in West Papua. He teaches civil resistance at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland and in the master’s course on nonviolent action in the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University. He also taught at the University of New England, Christian Heritage College and was an honorary research fellow at Monash University. H He obtained his doctorate from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia where he examined the viability of civil resistance strategies to enlarge the contours of self-determination and political freedom in the Indonesian occupied colony of West Papua. He is author of several articles and book chapters on West Papua and nonviolent struggle.