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Abdon Nababan, former head of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples alliance, to run for North Sumatra governor

Abdon Nababan speaks at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris in December 2015. Photo by Pilar Valbuena for CIFOR/Flickr

  • Nababan announced his candidacy in a Facebook post today.
  • He recently ended his tenure as leader of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago.
  • The current governor is unelected, having risen to the position after his running mate was arrested for corruption.
  • Graft is an epidemic in Indonesia, serving the interests of mining, logging and plantation firms at the expense of indigenous groups.

The outgoing secretary general of Indonesia’s main indigenous rights organization today declared his intention to run as an independent candidate for governor of North Sumatra, one of the Southeast Asian country’s biggest provinces.

Nababan recently concluded his second five-year term as head of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). Under his leadership, AMAN won a major lawsuit that saw Indonesia’s highest court remove indigenous peoples’ customary forests from state control, although the government has dragged its feet in implementing the decision.

For the first time at the end of 2016, President Joko Widodo recognized the rights of nine indigenous communities to the forests they call home. But the nine reserves span a total of just 13,100 hectares (32,370 acres), while AMAN has mapped more than 8 million hectares it says belong to the nation’s adat groups, as they are known here.

“I never aspired to be a government official, let alone elected to lead my own village,” Nababan wrote in a Facebook post announcing his candidacy.

North Sumatra is Nababan’s home province. The current governor is Tengku Erry Nuradi from the Nasdem Party. He rose to the position after Gatot Pujo Nugroho was arrested for corruption. The two had run on the same ticket. The province’s top mining official was caught red-handed taking a bribe earlier this year. The nation’s antigraft agency has instigated a massive push to review thousands of licenses held by mining and plantation firms across the country, many of which are exploiting indigenous lands without their permission.

“We have no problem with development,” Nababan said in a recent interview. “The important thing is who controls the development: indigenous values or the greedy capitalist from Washington? If the community controls the model of development, I think no problems. They can grow themselves with development. But now development eats them. Because development is controlled by someone.”

Abdon Nababan, right, congratulates Rukka Sombolinggi on her election as his successor as AMAN secretary general at the alliance’s congress in North Sumatra in March. She is the first woman to lead the organization. Photo by Philip Jacobson/Mongabay.
Nababan posted this picture to Facebook today, asking for support for his run for governor.


*A previous version of this article mistakenly identified North Sumatra Governor Tengku Erry Nuradi as a member of the Golkar Party. He used to be, but he has since switched to Nasdem.


*A previous version of this article mistakenly stated the total span of the nine reserves as 32,370 hectares. The correct span is 13,100 hectares, which is equivalent to 32,370 acres.


Banner image: Abdon Nababan speaks at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris in December 2015. Photo by Pilar Valbuena for CIFOR/Flickr.


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