chapter  6
29 Pages

Village Government in Aceh, Three Years after the Tsunami

ByCraig Thorburn (Monash University)

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka – GAM) in August 2005 was, if not entirely an outcome of, at least in part due to the impact of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. The MoU and subsequent Law on the Governing of Aceh1 ended 29 years of separatist conflict and what was in effect an administration of occupation, with all the abrogation of civil and political rights this implies. Damien Kingsbury (this volume, Chapter 3) explains that the tsunami ‘swept away much of the pre-existing political infrastructure in Aceh, and allowed the reconstruction of a new political framework’ that ‘better reflects the political aspirations of the people of Aceh as well as better corresponds with normative political values around representation, participation, accountability and transparency’. This chapter focuses on one particular aspect of Aceh’s post-tsunami political regeneration: the rebuilding of village government in tsunami-affected areas. It is based on research conducted in 18 villages on Aceh’s west coast in 2007, when the tsunami recovery effort had been under way for nearly three years. Given the rather narrow geographic and temporal focus of this research,

a number of caveats are in order regarding the extent to which many of these findings can be extrapolated to the broader Aceh context. First, the ‘sweeping clean’ in many of these villages was quite literal, with some communities forced to rebuild village government structures virtually from scratch. This is not the case, of course, in villages throughout most areas of the province not ravaged by the tsunami. Second, the massive tsunami recovery effort has created a unique ‘institutional hothouse’ with unusually high levels of capacity-building inputs, numerous ‘imported’ procedures and norms, and distinct constellations of incentives and rewards that again, largely do not pertain in villages throughout the remainder of the Acehnese

hinterland. As well, the processes discussed in this chapter have only been under way for a short time, and thus should not be inferred as representing ‘trends’. The extent to which they represent opportunistic responses to the particular context of the ‘aid tsunami’, and how deeply they will imbed in Acehnese society, can only be known with the passage of time.