President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is running out of patience. It’s been almost four years since he initiated the development of the jewel in the crown of all his infrastructure projects: the highest dam in the whole Southeast Asia. But the development of Bener Dam in Purworejo, Central Java, has been going nowhere.
The invasion and forced occupation of Desa Wadas, whose residents have been resisting the eviction because of the project, by thousands of police officers, and the subsequent attacks and arrests of more than 60 farmers on Tuesday are actually a reflection of Jokowi’s loss of patience.
Jokowi is a concrete man, building his image since becoming the mayor of Solo, then the governor of Jakarta and finally the president of Indonesia by making roads, markets, dams and developing MRT system. The word “gorong-gorong” (water tunnel) is mostly associated to him because his fond of building and inspecting physical projects.
For him, there is no progress without constructing buildings, roads or other physical and concrete projects. There is nothing that can permanently cement his legacies but concrete and big buildings. That’s as far as he can understand. It seems that for him education or democracy or environment are not real, and just words.
So, it’s no wonder that he likes to be remembered as the person who has built the longest toll road (Jakarta-Surabaya toll road or trans-Sumatra road), or the biggest dam. By realizing the development of Bener Dam he would stamp himself as the one who builds the highest dam, not in Indonesia, but in the whole Southeast Asia.
After all, he probably knows he hardly achieves anything meaningful. By any parameter Indonesia stays stagnant or is getting worse compared to the period before him. The number of people live below poverty line stay the same, if not increasing during his eight years in power. The gap between the poor and the rich is increasing while civil liberty and freedom of expression have been curtailed in many places in Indonesia.
The institutions his predecessors worked hard to nurture have been weakened under his watch. Checks and balances are disappearing with, for instance, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) being amputated, giving spacious room to corrupt elites to steal state’s money.
At the same time, the country’s foreign debts are ballooning. In other words, Indonesia’s natural resources are depleting but it does not translate into the prosperity the people are expecting.
Then, it’s really in big projects – especially Bener Dam and also moving the nation’s capital from Jakarta to some random place in East Kalimantan – he is hoping to shine, compensating his obscure achievement in other sectors.
But now his target of realizing the highest dam in Southeast Asia in 2023 or at least before his term ends in 2024 is threatened just because residents of one small village within the location of the project, called Wadas, are stubborn enough to reject the project.
So, something must be done, and must be done fast.
Meanwhile, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo is also increasingly under pressure to deliver. How can he prove he is worthy of becoming the successor of Jokowi in 2024 if he can’t even help turn the dream dam into a reality?
With such a respective personal ambition, it is beside the point to ask whether the project really benefits the people, or in fact, even destroys them.
That’s why the violent invasion of Desa Wadas by the police, and subsequent arrests of villagers were taken without hesitation. The forced taking over of the village from the hands of the farmers is for the greater benefit, right? It’s just that it is not clear who get the benefits other than that it’s for the ambition of Jokowi and Ganjar.
But the forced eviction of Desa Wadas residents, who merely defend their only possession and their rights to live, is a robbery in broad daylight of people’s livelihood, wiping out history and identity of thousands of people as human beings. Seeing this way, there is no crime bigger than this.
How can they even think of creating something good out of crime against humanity and misery of other people? Then, how can we tell the difference between this Jokowi’s action from Soeharto’s forced and violent eviction of villagers of Kedung Ombo in 1980s? How can tell the difference between Jokowi regime and Soeharto’s totalitarian New Order?
If people had the guts to fight against Kedung Ombo project even in the height of Soeharto’s totalitarian regime, then we surely must have the nerve and conscience to resist the same crime against the people now.
The year 2024 is just around the corner, and Jokowi should have just gone away quietly. Instead, he will go down in history being compared with the most corrupt, violent and ruthless ruler Indonesia has ever known.