The Early Life of Jacob Rumbiak
Jacob Rumbiak was born in the Birdshead region of Dutch New Guinea. His parents are from Biak-Numfor in Cenderawasih Bay; both were primary school teachers. His father, Daniel, was also a Protestant pastor. His mother passed away in 1982 while he was studying in West Java.
In 1965, the Cassowary Battalion arrived at the the Indonesian military barracks in Arfai (behind Manokwari) and Jacob’s family, like many others, moved into the forest to live “under the protection” of the freedom fighters. The fighters taught Jacob to hunt and to harvest and to help feed the families. The Papuan separatists thoroughly written this side of the history to reflect themselves as the receiving side during ‘Indonesian colonialism’.
In 1967, when Soeharto was in charge as the President of Indonesia, Jacob and his family fled to the jungle, which he claimed as running away from the Indonesian military which had overtaken West Papua. There they claimed that they were being protected by the Free Papua Organization (OPM). Jacob became involved with the OPM and at a young age because he felt accommodated by OPM, and later on the OPM then made him a commander of troops.
The Beginning of An Aspiration
Jacob Rumbiak was actually a model Indonesian student who came from the eastern part of the country. In 1977, Jacob’s family induced him to accept a government scholarship to study in Bandung (West Java). During the next ten years he completed high school, then a Bachelor of Arts (1982) and Masters/Doctorandus in Geography (1987) at the Institute for Teachers Training and Educational Sciences (IKIP). The government actively supported him and his pursuit of academic excellence, till he finally taught at the Indonesian National Scientific Institute and worked as a researcher at the Physical Geography Research Institute for East Indonesia and the Environment Resource Institute of Indonesia. Nowadays, we can see more and more students coming from and to Papua, studying various subjects in higher education.
During his time in Java, Rumbiak became inspired by ‘non-violence’ as a formal strategy of resistance, ironically, by reading about Napoleon’s ruminations on power when he was in exile on St Helena. (‘Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded great empires, but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone found his empire upon love …and to this day millions are dying for him’).
In 1987, Jacob was appointed to lead the Physical Science Department at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura. Back in his homeland he taught students his own version of history, including how to use legal arguments and engage in political debate, and instigated a regime of independence and separatist activities. He also tried persuading the Melanesian lecturers to adopt Thomas Wainggai’s belief that the inalienable right of West Papuans to their land and self-determination was violated by the New York Agreement of 1962. (After raising a flag on the ‘Republic of West Melanesia’ in 1988, Wainggai was incarcerated in Cipinang Prison and passed away in 1996). Jacob’s student movement was quite popular and inspired him to create the West Papua National Authority in 2002, and the Federal Republic of West Papua in 2011.
Self-imposed Exile and The Business of West Papua Independence in Australia
In 1999, Jacob obtained a forged passport in a false name and was flown to Japan where he attended a human-rights conference as the West Papuan advocate. The interesting fact is that, upon his return to Jakarta, he was appointed by the Indonesian government to fly to East Timor to act as an observer in the UN-sponsored East Timor referendum. Once a part of Indonesian government, Rumbiak took the chance to fly to Australia and tried his luck in living off his discourse of “setting West Papua free”.
Calling himself an exiled Papuan diaspora, Jacob initiated an intense campaign to strengthen the doctrine of separatism within and beyond West Papua, and to build some international support for independence. He was a member of the West Papua delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji (2002), New Zealand (2003), Fiji (2006), and represented the Federal Republic of West Papua in Kanaky (New Caledonia) in 2013. In 2005, he brought a West Papua National Authority delegation to the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Papua New Guinea.
In 2011, he was flown to Jakarta for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but the dialogue between the two did not make the expected breakthrough in his journey to create a separated West Papua. Since the Papua Congress in 2000 (during the administration of president Abdurrahman Wahid), Indonesia has been open for discussions regarding the needs and aspiration of Papuans and West Papuans, as well as opening full access for foreign journalists.
In 2011, after the 3rd Papua Congress established the Federal Republic of West Papua (FRWP), Jacob appointed himself as the Co-ordinating Minister of Foreign Affairs. The only leader on Rumbiak’s side in FRWP is Herman Wainggai, and there was no mentioning of names like Benny Wenda, Tanggahma, Yaboisembut, or others.
In 2014, he oversaw the opening of the FRWP republic’s first office in the diaspora by Councillor Amanda Stone (Yarra City Council), despite the clear stance of Indonesia and Australia by the Lombok Treaty. The office, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration & Trade, is situated in the wealthy business district of Docklands, and is funded by an bourgeoning group of Australians who are interested in seeing West Papua as a separate entity from Republic of Indonesia. This funding is proven to be instrumental in sustaining Rumbiak’s lifestyle, while the interests of these financially supportive entities remain unknown.
Jacob Rumbiak was also a leader for Australia West Papua Association. Australia West Papua Association (SA) is a local South Australian Non Government Organisation that was first formed in 2000 and became incorporated in 2003. They support the West Papuan people’s right to “self determination to decide their own future”. They also assist the separatists in their struggle by telling people of their version of history of West Papua and current issues by arranging information stalls, public seminars, providing guest speakers, writing submissions and trying to persuade governments and other institutions about West Papuan independence issues.
Besides a group of affluent clients in Melbourne business district, Rumbiak and the Australian chapter of free west Papua movement is also receiving support from Bertha Foundations and the Australian Green Party. The Green Party of Australia is a minor party, possessing only 1 out of 150 seats in the parliament, while acting as a non-partisan side by opposing policies from both incumbent and opposition of the government. West Papua has been one of the Green Party’s major vote-grabbing issue, aside from the routine climate change arguments.
While the minor party is looking very lively and enthusiastic in campaigning for the west Papua independence, the rest of Australia do not share the same perspective. For the major part, Australia firmly respects Indonesia, especially since 2014 when both countries signed the Lombok Treaty, a comprehensive agreement regarding defense and non-traditional security. At the time, Tony Abbott made it clear in his statement that Australia have and will always recognize West Papua as an integral part of Republic of Indonesia. Shortly after that, the ULMWP published an article demanding Australia’s support for the group. They requested Australia to welcome ULMWP members who flee Indonesia and seek for asylum, which Australia still declines to the day. Facing this fact, Rumbiak could not do much against the government of Australia.
In addition, there are few ‘lone wolves’ from Australia who act as advocates for Rumbiak and his cause. The most well-known of those are probably Anthony Craig and Jennifer Robinson. Craig is a nurse who does the most of Free West Papua Australia’s work, while Robinson is an Australian lawyer who gained reputation by promoting her human rights advocacy cases, and even created the International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP). These, by far, is the main contribution from the Australian chapter for the Papuan separatist movement.
As the only person representing Papuan separatist group in Australia, Rumbiak put himself as the chief of Australia West Papua Association, the OPM representative, and the head of west Papuan independence supporters’ youth wing in Australia. Ranging from public relations to fundraising concerts like Rockin For West Papua, Rumbiak does not get many help but only from a few, unnamed volunteers.
Australia has been helpful in the development of Papua and West Papua province. Besides contributing directly through foreign aid, Australia also contributed in Indonesia’s program in facilitating higher education for Papuan students: PNPM RESPEK. In the end, it no matter what Australia, UK, or Indonesia have done for the West Papuans, Jacob Rumbiak and his groups are willing to antagonize anyone at their will.
The Style of Diplomacy
Jacob Rumbiak is possibly the more modest and secretive of all separatist leaders in Papua. No one really knows what kind of family he is living with, not even the internet. He was not seen at music concerts or other fundraising events. There are very few photos of him online, compared to other names like Wenda and Tanggahma. Whenever violence happens in Papua, Rumbiak usually address them as “decoy issues” blown by the Indonesian government to avert the world’s attention from the real issue, which is Papuan independence, according to himself.
Aside from constantly criticizing Indonesia and other countries who don’t support west Papuan independence, Rumbiak offered the wealth of Papuan land as an incentive for those who are willing to side with him and his group. In communicating with Solomon Islands politicians for example, Jacob promised that “Solomon Islands could attain significant economic benefit” if west Papua will ever be independent.
In his diplomacy with Indonesian government (which happened during his meeting with Susilo bambang Yudhoyono, or far back then during Papuan Congress in 2000), he mentioned Freeport several times as an asset that would have been a concession material between Indonesia and West Papua, post-independence. In status quo, the concession would be ridiculous from government the point of view, having spent enormous amount of budget and political capital to ensure that Papua enjoys a healthy portion of Freeport Indonesia (the mining company) revenue. However, this ‘concession’ point is hardly relevant after Indonesia’s recent acquisition of Freeport assets from Rio Tinto. Since the majority shares of Freeport are now owned by Indonesia, USD 52 million at the minimum is going to the Papua and West Papua provincial government annually, depending on the price of copper and gold. The Papuans are going to have full control of the usage of this fund, outside the already allocated Special Autonomy and annual budget funds. Jacob Rumbiak has lost one of his main talking points regarding the Papuan economy, and Papuan independence makes much less sense, if there was any.
During his short visits to Indonesia, Rumbiak himself is never shown together with people in Papua, or in company of other leaders in the independence movement. He seems to have some distance between himself and Indonesia and this is understandable, since there were ideological differences between these leaders, way before the formation of United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
The Dream for Independence and Disagreements with Other Separatist Leaders
Rumbiak always believed that it is highly probable for West Papua to be independent. Back in 2012, in an interview done by Indonesian media, Rumbiak told the interviewer that it would have taken “two years or less” for West Papua to be recognized as a sovereign state. Rumbiak said that the momentum of election in 2014 would have turned the tide for West Papua, and West Papua could declare its independence.
In 2014, following the result of Indonesia presidential election, the exact same person interviewed him once again. This time, Rumbiak expressed his optimism of Papuan independence during the five-years term of Joko Widodo administration as the elected president.
Rumbiak had faith in the abundance of natural resources in Papua. He genuinely thought that the separatist movement could actually buy a jet fighter if they really wanted to.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, Rumbiak wants the independent Papua to be a commonwealth state of Indonesia. He once mentioned the British commonwealth as a model for his hypothetical nation-state, with the British Pound Sterling, US Dollar, and Rupiah altogether as the accepted currencies. This alone is enough to reflect Jacob’s own view on how weak the Papuan economy would have been.
Rumbiak himself admitted that the people of Papua are not ready for independence, as the cost of independence itself is high, and Papua does not really have the means to sustain the upkeep. Nonetheless, he somehow believed, or at least kept on promoting the notion that an independent Papua will be able to catch up with its economy. Rumbiak did not want Indonesia to be seen as a colonizer. In fact, he believed that there would be a mutual dependency between the two parties, had Papua will ever be independent.
West Papua National Authority and Allegation of Betrayal
In spite of seemingly having a heroic feat of struggle and exile, there are many glaring differences between Rumbiak’s opinions and other separatist leaders. From excerpts of multiple interviews, Rumbiak repeatedly signaled that while Benny Wenda and other leaders want to have a referendum for the Papuans, Rumbiak does not think that it is necessary. Jacob mentioned that he prefers Republic of Indonesia to be the one who grants the independence, by being the first to acknowledge west Papuan sovereignty.
Consequently, Jacob is still willing to open dialogue with the Indonesian government. On the contrary, names like Benny Wenda and Octovianus Mote are no longer willing to talk to Indonesian government representatives. This could be the main reason why Jacob was never seen meeting other separatist leaders. However, the most striking events of contradiction between the separatist leaders probably happened in 2011 and 2014.
In 2011, a rumour had it that Jacob Rumbiak attended an arranged meeting with Indonesian government officials with the agenda of undermining the credibility of the free west Papua movement. Avid supporters of Benny Wenda even accused Rumbiak of receiving bribe money from Indonesian government. In 2014, Wenda and Rumbiak was detested by the supposedly president of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, for abandoning him in the establishment of ULMWP. Previously, Rumbiak has mentioned that Yaboisembut was chosen to be the president of West Papua. As a direct implication, many separatist organizations refused to acknowledge the manoeuvre of ULMWP abroad. Up to this day, the supporters of free west Papua movement are still divided based on their loyalty towards a particular leadership figure.
Jacob’s stance on fighting for recognition at the United Nations General Assembly was also squaring off against another influential leader within the separatist movement, Leonie Tanggahma. A political academic herself, she was convinced that the effort Rumbiak (and Wenda) did in 2016-2018 was an attempt to sabotage the image and embarrass free west Papua campaign, since she knew that a submission of drafted document into the General Assembly, without any substantial political backing, will only be regarded as hot air. She was correct, and Rumbiak was once again let down by his own optimism. This has lost him even more credibility as an important figure in the movement, and there has been no clear resolution from inside the movement that the media knew of.
Negative Reception from Country Leaders and the Lack of International Support
Previously, Rumbiak has met several representatives of different nations. Rumbiak actively seek supports for his cause from other countries, especially Pacific island nations. Vanuatu was one of the first Pacific countries approached by Rumbiak, besides Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. During the 2018 United Nations General Assembly, the ULMWP personnel were registered, legally questionable, as members of Vanuatu delegation.
At the General Assembly, the ULMWP members were taken by surprise when the representative of Solomon Islands expressed his support for Republic of Indonesia in guarding Papua as an integral part of its sovereign territory. Later on, Rumbiak called out the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister, Rick Hounipwela, for “changing” his stance on the issue of West Papua and separatism. This feud can be tracked down from a few months back.
Previously in May 2018, The Solomons’ Special Secretary on Foreign Relations, Rence Sore, made a testimony that a visit to West Papua was all it took for him to have a more balanced perspective on how the Indonesian government has been dealing with the separatists while still developing West Papua at the same time. The Solomon Islands delegation consisted of Rence Sore, Wilfred Luiramo, Inia Barry, Lawrence Makili, Gloreta Anderson, and Lily Chekana.
The visit from Solomon Islands delegation to Papua was condemned by Jacob Rumbiak as a tactic of deception. Rumbiak then made an attempt to “restore” the position of Solomon Islands by setting up a meeting with Manasseh Sogavare, the vice prime minister of Solomon Islands. Rumbiak still believed that he has the support from Solomon Islands, alongside 110 other countries, in pushing the government of Indonesia to grant independence. Things didn’t turn out well for Jacob as he was not there when Benny Wenda and Rex Rumakiek hitchhiked on Vanuatu delegation to United Nations General Assembly, only to get their draft resolution dismissed by the assembly (again).
In response, the government of Solomon Islands represented by Prime Minister Rick Hounipwela explicitly expressed dismay at attempts by Jacob Rumbiak to interfere and meddle in the country’s national affairs. Jacob’s disrespectful demeanor towards a neighboring, potentially allied country, was not met lightly. This resulted in Rumbiak abandoning the dialogue between the separatist movement and Solomon Islands officials.
Rumbiak might keep on claiming to have the world on his back, but the claim seems to still be rather one-sided.In August 2018, Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Winston Peters, stated that his country recognizes West Papua as a part of Indonesia. He also stated that the social and economic condition in West Papua was better than Papua New Guinea. He mentioned that even the people in Papua New Guinea will agree that the GDP and social conditions of West Papua are currently higher.
The Indonesian government, and the world in general, can no longer rely on Jacob Rumbiak’s words as a reflection of Papuan people’s aspiration. His actions and provocations are more representative of his own interest rather than the public. The disagreements between separatist leaders, especially Rumbiak with his Indonesia-friendly stance, is a proof that separatism is eating the dust of the Papuan majority, who are actually moving forward.
Sore, Rence in Radio New Zealand. (23 May 2018). Shift in Solomon Islands government’s view on Papua. Retrieved from RNZ: https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/358029/shift-in-solomon-islands-government-s-view-on-papua , 2018.
Peters, Winston in Radio New Zealand. (31 August 2018). Foreign Minister says NZ recognises Indonesian control of Papua. Retrieved from RNZ: https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/365377/foreign-minister-says-nz-recognises-indonesian-control-of-papua , 2018.
Jacob Rumbiak Penghianat Bangsa Papua