PhD defence: Dynamics of Control of Urban Public Land in Bandung-Indonesia

PhD defence

Ari Nurman


The contemporary political dynamic in the competition or conflict to control urban public lands in Bandung has allowed the consolidation of the State to take place. The consolidation took place, using Abrams (1988) term, at both the state system and the state idea. The conflict of urban public lands have provided avenues where multiple state and non-state actors to rearrange their relations among them and reformulate the governance of public lands. The conflicts also have provided arenas where multiple actors come up with the idea how the governance of public lands should be. I came to this conclusion after I examined three land conflicts sites on urban public lands from the perspective of access and property in Bandung urban area in Indonesia. The main data collection took place in the period of July 2013 to June 2014 and several other visits afterwards during the writing of this thesis. The sites were public lands with conflicts, between the legal owners of the lands and those who have de-facto control on the sites. I did the research mainly through in-depth interview with relevant informants, such as elders, activists and protesters on one side; and local and municipal government officials on the other side. The findings were presented in three papers. The first paper (chapter 6), Non-state actors’ control of public land, highlights exclusively the dynamics of conflict to control a park, between a private company and the municipal government of Bandung on one side, and the park users on the other side. The municipal government is the legal and recognized owner of the land. The private company is the assigned company to convert the park from an “idle government asset”, an open public space, into a residential-commercial area, and the company has a permit to manage and exploit it for profit up to 30 years. The park users use the arguments of citizenship rights to maintain the de-facto control on the land. After about 15 years of conflict, the company returned the permit to the municipal government and the plan to commercialize the park then cancelled. The second paper (chapter 7), struggle on urban public lands, examined two conflicts on urban public lands with different characteristics: one with public good characteristic, the other with commodity characteristic. The Babakan Siliwangi is a park, an open public space where people can access. The Sekeloa, is a densely populated urban kampung, where settlers have occupied the land and gradually turned it into a regular urban kampung after a period of 40-50 years. The municipal government planned to convert those areas into commercial areas. Both the park users and the settlers protested the plan. In opposition to the government’s claims on public lands based on ’property rights’, the protesters in both Sekeloa and Babakan Siliwangi used different sets of claims and actions based on citizens’ rights. In Sekeloa, where the struggle was more exclusive in terms of affected groups of people, the selection of claimed rights was directed to strengthen their presence on the land, and principles of property were not at stake as such. The settlers of Sekeloa emphasized their efforts to obtain the economic-social rights of citizens. Some to mention are rights to organize them self and form a neighbourhood association, to get ID card and family card, to have a decent housing, to be registered as property tax payers, to have a healthy neighbourhood, to have access to infrastructures, to receive subsidies, to participate in politics and to run for office, to be consulted in planning processes and to be heard by the state, etc. While the struggle in Babakan Siliwangi, on the other hand, showed how land/public space was both the object of struggle and the vehicle of contention at a larger scale. The park users used inclusive strategies and tried to involve as many people as possible to join their protests, which took large proportions for such a small piece of land. They emphasized their efforts to claim the socio-political rights of citizens, include to access urban public space, to have a park as an open a public good, to be consulted in land use changes, to be involved in law making process, to have clean air, to have a sustainable environment, to participate in politics and run for mayor’s office, to voice their demands through demonstrations, etc. In the third paper, chapter 8, we examined a spontaneous privatization of land along the abandoned railway. We were dealing with the rights to property and citizenship as recognized claims produced through continuous recursive construction of indirect rights. Claims to property and citizenship interconnected and constituted a robust tenure security for the settlers. It is difficult to think of one single original right from which all other rights elements have derived. They connect in a web structure rather than in descending linear ways. The dynamics on the land showed that landholding is hard work and citizenships is acquired rather than granted, and the two often go together. We argue that disobedient occupation and subsequent obedient payment of taxes, documentation of residence, and ‘normalization’ of the area have reduced the company’s ownership to thin formality, whereas new residents hold all the substantial elements of property rights to the land. These findings formed a larger picture of the conflicts. In the context of post-Soeharto reformasi, particularly in urban areas, access and property are not merely a question of power and authority. Instead, in general, they are more determined by de-facto control. Access is possible with de-facto control. People can have access to public lands, with or without significant power and sufficient recognition from institution of authority, as long as they have de-facto control on the land. Property is also possible with de-facto control. People can treat the occupied public lands as their property, with or without significant power and sufficient recognition from statutory institution of authority. Property without de-facto control means almost nothing, even when the owner has significant power and sufficient recognition from statutory institution of authority. Once the people have de-facto control of public land, their claims and exercises of citizenship rights played important role in maintaining their presence on urban land. The claims and exercises of citizenship rights contributed to the outcome of the struggle. The people get and maintain access and property on urban public through claiming and exercising citizenship rights. All in all, in this new era, control of urban public land has become an arena of contention. Multiple actors compete to control urban public lands; from getting and maintaining access and turning them into property. This research also shows the dynamic relation between multiple state and non-state actors and the dynamics of negotiation for access, property and citizenship on urban public land. The unanticipated changes in the political contexts, the decentralization and the democratization that came with no blueprints, have forced multiple actors to experiment with their newly obtained political space. They have to explore what they can do with this new political space and what the limits are. As result there were multiple paradoxes observed during the research. The first observed paradox was the inability of the municipal government to control urban public lands in the new political contexts. Governments were powerful actors. And the municipal government, with the newly acquired tasks and power obtained through decentralization, supposed to be more powerful owners and controllers of public lands. Yet the conflicts showed that non-state actors control public lands. Second paradox. While all competing parties were agreed that the urban public lands were belong to state institutions, during the conflict, the idea of government controlled public lands in all observed sites was challenged by multiple parties. Third paradox. In the case of public lands, having legal property rights recognition on public lands is already a paradox. And legal recognition of possession as property on public lands means the recognized claimants have to work harder to be able to control the lands. And this related to the next paradox. Fourth paradox. Regardless the “public-ness” status, the actual character of public lands, public or private, decided by the de-facto controller of the land. While past actions of governments’ determined the public lands status, it was the current actions of the de-facto controller that decides the character of public lands. Fifth paradox. While the competing parties tried to legalize their possession and consider it as something important, their position regarding the state and statutory rules were situational. On the one hand different actors were recognizing government authority, authorization of claims, rules and regulations as something very important. But on the other hand, they were challenging some state apparatuses and specific rules and regulations. When the rules and regulations supported their cause, they would use them to support their arguments and claims. Otherwise, they would neglect, disrespect, or undermine the rules and regulations, or even further propose a new one to replace or overlay the disadvantageous existing laws. Sixth paradox. The competing parties sometimes committed illegalities in order to be legal. During the conflicts, the competing parties did both legal and illegal actions to control urban public lands, yet they tried so hard to look as legal as possible. Sometime, the competing parties also imitate the state practices in order to look legal. Furthermore, legal statutory institutions, that were supposed to be enforcing the law and legal matters, were capable of doing illegal things and violate laws. It was unclear whether those were the results of experimentation with decentralization where municipal government entities tried to find out what their newly obtained power, or simply a performance of corrupt behaviour performed by government officials in an uncertain situation. Seventh paradox. It is about the squatter’s visibility to the state. When people squatted on urban public land, they lived in illegality. They tried -to some extent- to maintain obscurity from the state observation. But they were also tried so hard to show the state/the government that they are not bad people. They did many things in order to be seen as living legally as a good citizen. They tried to be visible when they could, and maintained obscurity to avoid exposing their illegality to the state when necessary. And ultimately, from those findings and paradoxes, I conclude that the conflicts to control urban public lands in Bandung after the decentralization and decentralization have provided arenas, not only to took over control urban public lands, also processes of governance reconfiguration and state consolidation. The conflicts have become arenas where multiple state and non-state actors to rearrange their relations among them and reformulate the governance of public lands, which eventually lead to consolidation of the state. By ‘state consolidation’, I mean, is the processes of readjustment the idea and the system of the state that took place in the urban lands conflicts where multiple state and non-state actors rearrange their relations and reconstitute the governance of public land.


Christian Lund, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen

Assessment Committee

Chair: Christian Pilegaard Hansen, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen
Michael Eilenberg, Associate Professor, Aarhus University
Laurens Bakker, Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam

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