Due to an unfortunate two-month contract gap for the research staff at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS), this latest Aceh Peace Monitoring Update (APMU) is four months late. We are still in a process of catching up. The next APMU will cover January through April 2010, and then I hope we will return to a bi-monthly and more timely publication schedule.
In November 2009 there were three shooting incidents in Banda Aceh targeting foreigners (causing one critical injury), the first such attacks since the peace agreement in August 2005. To date, few details have emerged about police investigations into these incidents, fuelling security concerns among the international community and allowing space for speculative theories that undermine trust in Aceh’s ongoing peace process. Apart from these attacks, levels of conflict-related and criminal violence from the beginning of September 2009 until the end of the year were at their lowest since the peace agreement, while levels of non-violent conflict remained similar to previous months. In September the outgoing provincial assembly (DPRA) passed the Qanun Wali Nanggroe (“Guardian of the State” law), but like the controversial Qanun Jinayat legislation described in the previous APMU edition, Governor Irwandi has refused to sign it and the new DPRA legislators have yet to repeal or amend it. The ambiguous status of both the Wali Nanggroe and Jinayat laws serves as another example of how legislative gamesmanship with roots in conflict-era political cleavages can weaken government performance, which can invite resolution from the central government in Jakarta, undermining the autonomy provisions that Aceh’s new generation of leaders worked so hard to attain.
Previous updates (now titled “Aceh Peace Monitoring Update”) from March 2009 until present are available at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies – Syiah Kuala University website: http://cpcrs-usk.or.id/
During our first week living in Darussalam (mid-March 2010), I tried to take a bunch of pictures to capture my first impressions. I’ve collected them as a set titled “Jantong Hatee Rakyat Aceh” on my Flickr page. I have been working full time in Darussalam since early September 2009, so moving there has now brought all my daily routines within walking distance, and despite several shortcomings in the area, on balance the change, so far, has been totally worth it.
Darussalam is home to Aceh’s two largest institutions of higher education: Syiah Kuala University (UNSYIAH) and the Ar-Raniry State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN). These schools border each other closely and the resulting mega-campus really sprawls. UNSYIAH is affectionately known as the “jantong hatee rakyat Aceh” (roughly translated as “the heart and soul of the Aceh people”) because it was the first nationally accredited institution of higher learning in Aceh, and for generations has reliably produced citizen bureaucrats for the provincial government. I prefer to generously extend the term of endearment to all of Darussalam, not because I’ve developed some sentimental fondness for the town (hardly!), but rather because IAIN also deserves credit for producing equally competent (if not more so) intellectuals for Aceh, and also because I think UNSYIAH needs to get over itself.
I work at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS) at UNSYIAH’s Training Center for Social and Cultural Sciences, which is conveniently located right at the front and center of campus. It’s a lovely old building, recently renovated and restored by the Australian government. The building has an identical twin, the Wisma UNSYIAH, right next door:
Unfortunately not all buildings in the greater campus area of Darussalam have fared as well as the building where I am lucky enough to work. I suspect the combined legacy of conflict and tsunami has left much of the campus buildings unattended, especially over at IAIN (though I hear the Saudi government is financing a total reconstruction of their campus in the near future…a mixed blessing at best). If I take the long way home to my new house, usually in the late afternoon, I pass by these sad lonely buildings. I confess to some biased editing on these pictures, but I am also trying to capture the spookiness and slight discomfort that I feel when I walk through this area:
But to be fair, the gloomy parts of campus are at the outskirts of IAIN and UNSYIAH. The center of campus and the town are quite lively. The quality of life in Darussalam increased exponentially when the Rise Up Coffeehouse opened two months ago. Free and fast wifi, a space for art on sunny-bright walls, magazines for reading, guitars for playing, and a friendly student-oriented staff that includes women servers, a rarity in Aceh cafes!
There’s a tension between Darussalam’s dynamic student life on the one hand and Aceh’s new legal framework for moral policing on the other. One might expect a higher level of tolerance and nuanced critique among Aceh’s educated elite, but I have not found this to be the case, at least not in Darussalam, which most people consider more conservative than the rest of Banda Aceh across the river. One of my research associates at CPCRS once told me that when she was still in college (at IAIN), she thought Darussalam would be an ideal environment to raise a family, but she doesn’t feel that way anymore. The formal implementation of Islamic law in Aceh has empowered religious student groups to patrol the campus for immoral behavior. In her critique of media representations of Islamic law violations, Sarah Newman begins with a description of how the laws have changed the atmosphere in Darussalam.Mob vigilantism, while technically illegal, is the normative mode of “justice” meted out to unmarried couples caught in the act of romance. I agree with my colleague; as a parent I would not want to raise children under this kind of surveillance with the implicit threat of gender-based violence.
This is the setting into which we have moved, not just for work, but now to live. Our new neighbors don’t quite know what to make of the foreigner (and that guy from Jakarta who stays part time) now living in their community, and the feeling is mutual. When we were moving in, the first thing one of our neighbors told Dez was that I should buy him a motorbike because all foreigners are rich and so I must surely be able to afford one for him. The day after that, another neighbor took it upon himself to tell us that we don’t need a daytime housekeeper–who comes to cook and clean three times a week–because she is a woman coming to work in a single man’s house, and that presents an unacceptable risk. He told us we don’t need her to cook because there are plenty of rice stalls to choose from less than a block away. Never mind that I prefer vegetarian food, and that the food for sale is mostly disgusting (and that the management of my household is none of his damned business…yes I was furious!). The misplaced assumptions in these first encounters speak volumes about what they must think of us. Welcome to the neighborhood…WTF!
Lest I finish this post on a sour note, I should end my first impressions of living in Darussalam by mentioning one more thing that I love about this town and noticed right away. Most homes really enjoy having greenery, and in particular I like that there is not a lot of focus on highly manicured landscaping… the greenery just surrounds and grows in all kinds of ways. I will try to take more pictures of household greenery in the future because there are so many kinds of creatively chaotic arrangements, but for now this is all I could get:
The timing is otherwise pretty good, since at work I am reading through field reports and draft chapters from a much more detailed study of these same elections (in Aceh only) than what the Carter Center put together. While I was an election observer for the Carter Center, the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS) at Syiah Kuala University (where I work now), with significant technical and human resource support from the World Bank’s Conflict and Development Team, conducted several field trips to different parts of Aceh to study aspects of the election. In the next few weeks, I will be drafting the CPCRS final report.
At the time of the mission, I had mixed feelings about working for the Carter Center (it’s a long story for another forum), but in retrospect I’m glad I did it. Just to start, the other observers I met were all so interesting (and so different from each other) and I learned a lot from them. Second, I met with people and had access to information in Aceh that few foreigners could reach at the time… the stories are rich! More than enough for a dissertation chapter. And finally, I got this job shortly after Obama’s euphoric inauguration and his call to service. As a volunteer election observer, I played a small part in Jimmy Carter’s mission to “wage peace” in the world, and I did it in a place where I was uniquely qualified to contribute to that mission.
So for now I can share Carter Center’s five month old report and some artifactual election photos, but this post serves notice that additional and deeper analysis of last year’s legislative elections in Aceh are on the way!
At least three months late, today we at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS) finalized our July-August 2009 edition of the Aceh Peace Monitoring Update (Laporan Pemantauan Perdamaian Aceh). It was our first experience writing one of these from start to finish, so we had a steep and lengthy learning curve at every step in the process. Next time around should be more efficient, except now we are waiting for the CPCRS research staff to get new contracts before work on the next APMU can resume.
In August 2009, upon the fourth anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, violent incidents remained at their lowest sustained levels since 2006. Overall conflict figures (violent and non-violent) also remained at their lowest levels since early 2008. On 8 July, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was reelected, winning more than 93% of the vote in Aceh, more than in any other province in Indonesia. His landslide victory in Aceh has been widely interpreted as a vote for peace, but his pro-poor development policies and an informal political alliance with leaders from Aceh’s ruling party Partai Aceh (PA) also appear to have contributed importantly to his victory. Through the legislative and presidential elections, GAM completed its transformation into a political force accountable to voters. The election results also strengthened a central government that supports the peace process, thereby delivering a favorable political configuration to sustain and consolidate peace in Aceh. Following the elections, provincial and district governments in Aceh face a dual challenge. On the one hand, they will need to maintain the broad coalition of supporters that brought them into political office. On the other hand, they must pursue governance reform. Before the new PA dominated parliament was sworn in at the end of September, outgoing legislators focused more of their attention than usual on a long list of administrative issues that highlight poor performance in the executive branch. Tensions between provincial parliament (DPRA) and the executive reached their peak in September when the DPRA rushed into law a new and controversial syariat-based criminal code, the Qanun Jinayat, which Governor Irwandi has refused to sign.