Settler colonialism in West Papua: The logic of Indonesia's transmigration program

Crawford School of Public Policy
Photo by Jessica Jones on Wallpaper Flare

Event details

ACDE Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 19 May 2020


Online via Zoom


Lachlan McNamee, UCLA

During the late 1900s Indonesia resettled 300,000 farmers to the restive province of West Papua, transforming its demographic composition. Such resettlement, or ‘transmigration’, was limited until the mid-1980s, and restricted to only certain areas of West Papua. What accounts for the incidence of transmigration? Using a panel of all transmigration, ethnic cleansing and demographic change data in each regency of West Papua during 1964-2000 compiled from confidential government sources, I show that, after an aborted Papuan uprising in 1984, Indonesia cleansed and settled its border with Papua New Guinea to forestall cross-border insurgent activity. I then show that after the Grasberg gold mine was opened in 1990 Indonesia cleansed and settled the area around the mine. This paper provides the strongest evidence yet that transmigration has been strategically used by Jakarta to defeat secessionist insurgents and to secure control over Papua’s rich resource base. I draw out the implications for our understanding of settler colonialism more generally.

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