Nethy Dharma Somba – Less than three months after his presidential inauguration, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo arrived in the Papua capital of Jayapura in December 2014 to a rock-star welcome.
As he alighted from the aircraft at Sentani Airport, dozens of native tribal people greeted him in a regal ceremony. He grinned as he had a Papuan hat adorned with bird-of-paradise feathers put on his head. On the tarmac, he stopped to enjoy entertainment by tribal dancers.
On leaving the airport, thousands of people in traditional costumes lined the streets cheering and waving as his entourage proceeded to the heart of the city where he laid the cornerstone of a Rp 15 billion (US$1.15 million) women's market he had promised during his presidential campaign a few months before. Later in the day, he mingled with locals attending Christmas celebrations at the Mandala sports stadium, after inaugurating the Alhidayah Islamic boarding school.
Jokowi has tried to build trust with Papua, Indonesia's eastern-most territory, which is blessed with abundant natural resources but whose native people have been left impoverished from decades of neglect that has given rise to low-level separatist conflict.
Since his ascension to the presidency, Jokowi has regularly toured the Papua and West Papua provinces keeping his word on direct involvement in his efforts to raise the Papuans' dignity and wellbeing.
Addressing an open-air gathering in the breezy town of Merauke in West Papua last December, he described the land as "a little heaven on earth" and invited local people to build their work ethic to achieve the common dreams he encapsulated in the "Indonesian Dreams 2015-2085".
Sporting a fluttering Papuan hat, he stated, "Make the dreams happen through hard work, honesty and high proficiency. Our challenge ahead is competition. Again, competition."
Papuans had begun to build a rapport with Jokowi ever since he embarked on his presidential campaign in the provinces. Locals placed high hopes in him for a more humane, prosperity-based approach to the territory, which had suffered in the past as a result of Jakarta's militaristic tactics.
However, 18 months on since his epic presidential campaign in Papua, local people's faith in Jokowi has been fading – and fast. Papuans can no longer wait for Jokowi to honor his election promises. They believe the changes that he has promised have been coming too slowly.
A major disappointment is Jokowi's inability to implement Law No. 21/2001, which gives Papua special autonomy, in the way the indigenous Papuans want it. The law passed three years after the Reform era began, was aimed at improving the local economy, putting an end to secessionism, promoting local culture and improving education to help them catch up with people in the more developed western provinces.
"Jokowi doesn't use the law on special autonomy when he designs his policy for Papua," says Yusak Reda, an academic with the University of Cenderawasih in Jayapura. "He is overly focused on the infrastructure development over public service."
The Papua Road Map, a book authored by a team of researchers from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), cites different interpretations of the special autonomy status granted by the central government as an underlying source of conflict between Jakarta and Papua.
The central government intended it as a means of improving Papuans' wellbeing in the perspective of Papua as part of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia while the Papuans have hoped for better protection of their indigenous culture, human rights and the "Papuanization" of their natural resources.
Despite the trillions of rupiah that Jakarta transfers to Papua each year in "autonomy funds", better access to education, health care and economic resources remain elusive for most indigenous people who have to compete for resources with the better off migrants from other islands, especially Java, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
In support of Jokowi's focus on Papua, his Cabinet ministers have been very eager to start their projects there. However, due to poor coordination with local administrations and a lack of public consultation, many of the projects are misplaced, overlapping and ineffective.
"They [ministers] assume that they are contributing to the development in Papua once they spend a lot of money there. The yardstick of success should be prosperity, not the amount of money, and that is the thing that we are yet to see after 15 years of autonomy," says Yusak.
Jokowi's promise to pay at least three visits a year to the "little heaven on earth" is now often derided as mere tourism because he has not brought the significant change people expected in exchange for their support for his presidential ascension.
Whenever the President comes again, people are no longer star-struck. "People in Papua are fed up with promises. They need proof," Yusak says.