Aiding police brutality in West Papua? economists arguing theology, and something to do help you help the world

Welcome to another NZADDs update.

Aid and Police Violence
First up, if you haven’t already seen it, the New Zealand Herald has two very interesting reports on allegations of Indonesian police violence in West Papua.

The significance for those of us interested in New Zealand aid is captured in the first paragraphs of one of them:

“A New Zealand police training project about to start in the troubled Indonesian territory of West Papua this year has been described by Papuans as “the same as sending money to kill us”.

Police began training their Indonesian counterparts in 2009 in a pilot scheme. Last October, Foreign Minister Murray McCully extended the project to a $6.34 million, three-year-long commitment. “This is an excellent opportunity for New Zealand to contribute to Indonesia’s peace and prosperity by improving professional community policing,” he said. But some Papuan lawyers, church leaders, human rights workers and journalists say local police actions have worsened since New Zealand’s involvement, with Indonesia using it as a front to appease Western powers.” [Note that the reporting makes it sound as if the programme is both about to start and already up and running — from the looks of this Green Party press release the latter is the case].

We don’t know anything about the specifics of this particular programme (we’d love to know more though, please feel free to share any information you have). However, a couple of general observations seem worth noting.

It is possible that the scenario as reported points to a genuine aid dilemma. Plausibly, by engaging and using aid money to help train police in the importance of human rights, the programme could be an example of how aid can help, and an example of why engagement sometimes makes sense, even in problematic contexts. On the other hand, this may well be a case where it is simply better to disengage — to conclude that aid can achieve little positive change and possibly even enable abuses.

For an aid agency such a dilemma is hard to negotiate even at the best of times. And these are not the best of times for New Zealand aid. Rather, they are a time when advancing New Zealand’s national interest is an explicit purpose of our ODA. And given this, it is hard to be confident our engagement with Indonesia on this work is genuinely driven by a desire to improve policing and through it the welfare of West Papuans. And this in turn is a very good illustration of why it is crucial that New Zealand give our aid genuinely motivated by a desire to help. Politicians like Minister McCully may believe aid can be a win/win endeavour, where we can help ourselves while helping others. But there are many situations — like the West Papua example — where this is not the case, and where if we are not careful our aid will help only in doing harm.

If any of you have time to put in an OIA request for more information on the policing programme in West Papua we are happy to give advice on how, and to share any useful information you may dig up.

Interesting Reading
Back in the less troubling world of abstractions the internet is currently churning out an abundance of fascinating writing on aid. If you have a few spare moments the following are all well worth your time:

Simon Maxwell on the future of aid.
Claire Melamed (and the ODI team) doing their best to puncture a bunch of myths about aid and development.
Kevin Watkins explaining why he thinks inequality matters, and deftly dissing Lant Pritchett’s theology in the process.
Claire Melamed (again!) with an excellent column on why we desperately need better development data, and the challenges of getting it.
And an interesting report on troubles amidst DFID’s (generally successful) aid for trade work in Africa.

Taking Care of Yourselves to Help you Take Care of Others
Here in the NZADDs admin division we pride ourselves on our ideological inflexibility. However, that’s no reason to be inflexible in real life. And yoga is, by all accounts, an excellent way of taking care of your physical and mental well-being. Which is why it is great that two Wellington based yoga-types and experienced aid workers, Amanda Scothern and Marianne Elliot, are running a 30 Days of Yoga for aid workers programme.

The course starts Monday 10 February and registration closes Friday 7 February. More information and registration can be found here.

Coming Up
Later this year we are planning to collate a series of blogs on the Development Policy Centre’s website on what New Zealand can do (through aid policies, trade policies, migration and so on) to make sure it is doing its bit to promote international development. If you are interested in potentially contributing a post on a topic where you have some insights please send us an email (

That’s all for now.

Terence for NZADDs admin

2 thoughts on “Aiding police brutality in West Papua? economists arguing theology, and something to do help you help the world

Comments are closed.