Reconstruction in Aceh

A robust nongovernmental sector is generally considered to be an essential ingredient in maintaining a successful democracy.  Three recent USINDO programs brought civil society leaders or partners to the podium to describe the activities of their organizations.  This is one of three reports on these programs.


Dr. Imam Prasodjo, Director, Yayasan Nurani Dunia
Dr. Humam Hamid, Chairman, Aceh Recovery Forum

Two civil society leaders involved in the reconstruction of Aceh cautioned that lasting recovery will not be possible without the active participation of local people and without a permanent settlement of the warfare between the secessionist GAM movement and the Indonesian military that has drained the province for more than 20 years.  Although little has been accomplished in either area, both speakers were optimistic that a new atmosphere of openness in the province and the good will of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as well as the high quality of his top appointees, present opportunities for a “renaissance” in the beleagured province.

The acknowledged that the dialogue required to reach a community consensus on the decisions regarding reconstruction take much time, however, and the pressure for quick action is strong from victims and donors alike.

Dr. Imam Prasodjo, the charismatic founder and leader of Nurani Dunia Foundation, said “We are not merely building buildings in Aceh.  We are building communities.”  The usual response to widespread disaster, he said, is sectoral.  So many school, so many houses, etc.  “But what good is a school if there are no houses nearby?  What good are schools and houses if there are no health facilities, or if people have no jobs?  Our approach is to focus on the community and ensure that reconstruction includes these four elements necessary to a sustained recovery- (housing, education, health and economic empowerment).”

The procedure is through “integrated participatory community development.”   As an example of participatory development, he cited Nurani Dunia’s role in assembling a local community to determine who would be selected to receive new housing.  To the question ‘Who needs a new house?’ the answer was determinted ‘a victim.’ The community was then asked to define ‘victim’ and decided ‘only those whose house was totally destroyed.’  From a community of 415 households the inhabitants themselves selected 74 to receive new houses.  If you give them 1,000 new houses it simply creates jealousy, he said.

As another example of interactive participation, he said that mediation experts are needed to help resolve tensions and conflicts among people who are temporarily housed in tents.  To help prevent corruption, Nurani Dunia asks all stakeholders to sign a document entitled “Integrity Signature Against Corruption.”  “It is a good weapon,” he said, that people can use when asked for money from relief intermediaries.

Once an institution is created through community participation a local foundation is created that provides the mechanism for monitoring and accountability, as well as for fund-raising or income-producing activities (such as a brick factory) that helps the foundation create sustainability.

Nurani Dunia was founded in 1999, Prasodjo said, in response to ethnic conflict in Maluku province, to provide assistance to internally displaced persons.  “We launched a big media campaign,” he said, and received a lot of press interest and  volunteer donations.

The foundation began activities in Aceh in 2003, when it declared an “emergency” in education.  Nine hundred secondary schools were burned down as a result of the conflict between GAM and the Indonesian military.  Schools are a priority of the foundation.  Prasodjo said his ‘dream school’ must have architecture appropriate to local styles and conditions.  (The standard government school, replicated throughout Indonesia, “is the most boring architecture I’ve ever seen,” he said.)  It must have a library, a teacher training component, a sports program, and a program for agriculture, arts and crafts.  So far, Nurani Dunia has built 22 schools throughout Indonesia.

“This is a dangerous time for Aceh,” Prasodjo said.  “If recovery is not successful, the failure will jeapordize the whole of Indonesia.”  For Kuntoro, the well-regarded former minister appointed by President Yudhoyono to coordinate Aceh reconstruction, it is either “the start of his career or the end of his life.”

Dr. Humam Hamid viewed the reconstruction of Aceh in the context of more than twenty years of armed conflict between the GAM secessionists and government troops.  Before the war, he said, it was “hard to find poor people in Aceh.  Farmers had an excellent diet, the province had one of the highest human welfare indexes, corruption was low and the provincial government was clean.  This was all changed by war,” he said.  “Now Aceh is one of the poorest and most corrupt areas.  A lingering feeling of resentment, despair and helplessness prevails among the people.”

He suggested that the second “bitterness,” the overwhelming destruction of the earthquake and tsumani of December 26, 2004, might be a tragedy sufficient to overcome the first bitterness of war.  “Three hundred kilometers of the coast – the distance between Washington and New York – was devastated,” he said.  “After the tsunami the people began initially without outside help.  They cleaned debris, buried the dead and built shelters.  Survivors helped others.  Extended family members took in orphans in the Acehnese tradition.  Within a few days extraordinary outside help arrived.  The response was overwhelming.  The Acehnese are truly grateful.”

In the aftermath of this tragedy, he said, there has been a change of heart in the major protagonists in the war.  The government has reopened negotiations with the GAM.  President SBY is keen for a political settlement. There is a possible rethinking of the military role in Aceh.  “But we need international support for a lasting settlement.  The European Union has taken an early lead in this but there is a role for the United States.  History teaches us that peace after a long conflict is followed by rapid economic growth,” he said.

“In Aceh, our forefathers were traders from Yemen, India, China, Portugal, Turkey and elsewhere.  We have always been open to the outside world.  We will encourage an open form of Islam.  It will be an important counterbalance to radicalism.”

Dr. Hamid is Acehnese, a sociologist trained at Kansas State University and a teacher on the faculty of Syiah Kuala University in Bandah Aceh.  He said that on most Sundays he took his family to the beach.  But on that Sunday, December 26, they did not go for some reason.  When the earthquake occurred, he said, he knew a tsunami might follow and that everyone should head for the hills.  He tried to phone others, he said, but the lines were dead.  His immediate family survived by fleeing to higher land, but he lost nineteen relatives, he said.

Q:  So far, the “dialogue” for Aceh reconstruction has not involved the civil society.  There is a danger that this will create more conflict.

A (Dr Hamid):  I share that concern.  There has been no public input in the massive “blueprint” for Aceh reconstruction issued by Bappenas, the National Planning Agency.  But in fact, the Government of Indonesia did try to include civil society but donors asked for quick action and quick decisions.  Even some Acehnese rejected other suggestions for inclusion.

It’s true there is no phrase in the blueprint about the peace issue or about human rights.  But Sri Mulyani (Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Minister of National Development Planning and head of Bappenas) has said the blueprint is a living document, open to revision.

Q:  The Government of Indonesia has announced it will lift the civil emergency designation for Aceh on May 18.  What is your reaction?

A (Dr. Hamid):  I am glad, because it means that Kuntoro will be in charge.  In civil emergency status the governor is technically in carge, but in reality that means the police.