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Why Did Leonie Tanggahma Distrust Free West Papua?

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Leonie Tanggahma is not someone new in the movement of West Papuan separatism. She is a daughter of Ben Tanggahma, one of the first generation leaders of the Free West Papua movement. Ben was a spokesperson for Free West Papua based in Senegal, where he seeked and struggled to raise the awareness of African people about the existence of his separatist movement. Understandably, she grew up and became a politically talkative person.

Tanggahma and her family originated from Fak-fak, and she only had the chance to visit her hometown once, so far in her life. Tanggahma spent nearly all of her life in Netherland as a Dutch, where she went to primary school in Lycée français Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam, and continued till her postgraduate degree. In spite of herself being distant from Papua, she joined the Free West Papua movement as a member of United Liberation Movement for West Papua, or ‘ULMWP’.

ULMWP itself was initially meant as a form of international front for the Free West Papua movement, characteristically using diplomacy as a means to take a step forward towards the ultimate goal: West Papuan independence. However, things did not go as well as it was planned for Leonie Tanggahma.

Tanggahma is surely not alone, and also not the supreme leader of the whole Free West Papua movement. On December 7th 2014, the date when ULMWP was established, Leonie Tanggahma, Benny Wenda and Jacob Rumbiak as the board members was detested by the supposedly president of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut.

Yaboisembut was the president of a quasi-state called Negara Federasi Republik Papua Barat, literally translates into “Republic Federation of West Papua State”. He held a grudge against Tanggahma, Wenda and Rumbiak 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.

Tanggahma didn’t bat an eye with the fact that Yaboisembut might lose his political position as the “president”, as now Benny Wenda and Leonie Tanggahma herself will be seen as a bigger activists of West Papua than him. In the beginning of ULMWP existence, Tanggahma was a big supporter of international diplomacy as the strategy towards independence. In the end, however, she has proven herself wrong, and turned away.

The stance of ULMWP on fighting for recognition at the United Nations General Assembly was also squaring off against another influential leader within the separatist movement, no other than Leonie Tanggahma herself. A political expert-academic of her own, 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 ULMWP even more credibility as an important machine in the body of the movement, and there has been no clear resolution from inside the movement that the media knew of. As the result of this mayhem, the supporters of Free West Papua are now divided: between those who believe in the international support from the United Nations, and those who don’t.

As if the debate on United Nations businesses were not enough, Benny Wenda got elected as the new leader of ULMWP in December 2017. Things haven’t got out of hands until he built a new, permanent office of ULMWP in Vanuatu, which was seen by many people as a new form of transitional government. The Vanuatu office of ULMWP was the first office of West Papuan separatist government which was not located in Papua, where NFRPB and its leader, Yaboisembut, was situated in Papua. This, in the mind of Tanggahma, was a malicious practice which might have been used by Wenda and Rumbiak to their own personal interests.

(Image: Leonie Tanggahma condemning Benny Wenda for creating transitional government outside Papua, November 2017)

Near the end of 2017, Leonie Tanggahma indicated her exit from ULMWP organization as a board member. The moment of her resignation sparked quite a debate not only between the leaders themselves, but also among their supporters. We can take a closer look at her last arguments against those who supported ULMWP and Benny Wenda in the pictures below.

(Image: Supporter of Benny Wenda’s transitional government confronting Leonie Tanggahma)
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