The debate continues over recent Malaysian developments in the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and is located north of Australia and south of the Malaysian mainland. It is divided among the three countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The Malaysian states are Sarawak and Sabah in the north, and cover about 26% of the island. Indonesia owns most of the island, and Brunei has only about one percent. The largest city is Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
Borneo is most known on a global scale for its ancient rain forests, its biodiversity, its eco-tourism, and more recently, its strife between modern development and indigenous peoples’ rights. As with most histories between the colonized and the colonizers, this past is also mired with conflict, segregation, and bloodshed. The timeline of struggle between the “bumiputera” or indigenous people, and “non-bumiputera” or non-indigenous people, begins as early as 1517 with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and continues to this very moment with the Malaysian plans to develop the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, simply known as SCORE.
According to the SCORE website, this project, planned to reach fruition in 2030, promises to “generate vast economic, business and employment opportunities, and will also lead to the development of infrastructure, utilities, and social amenities” (sarawakscoe.com.my). SCORE is one of five regional development corridors currently being built throughout Malaysia, and claims that it will transform Sarawak into a developed state at the time of its completion in 2030.
Supporters of SCORE highlight the promises this development offers for the future. If SCORE develops as planned, then Sarawak will enjoy:
- 175,000 permanent jobs by 2020
- an increase of rural electricity from its current 60% availability to 95% availability by 2012
- resettlement for its nomadic population, with privileges such as land, housing, water, education, health services, roaming entitlements, and life expectancy beyond 39 years old
Although SCORE rhetoric claims environmental integrity and an improved quality of life, opponents suggest that this development will only sustain the history of corruption and conflict in Sarawak. Clare Rewcastle Brown, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has been organizing street protests in the UK and Canada to call into question Chief Minister of Malaysia Abdul Taib’s string of corruption and “deprivation of his people’s humanity,” (malaysiansmustknowthetruth.blogspot.com). Although Ms. Rewcastle Brown is a British citizen, she was born in Sarawak and has successfully mobilized interest despite limited media and broadband access in Borneo through her Sarawak Report blog and Radio Free Sarawak. The movement, consisting now of millions of Malaysians, unites under one common goal, and that is “to stop the plunder of [Sarawak’s] natural resources, the pillage of its awesome rain forests, the rape of its unique tribes by loggers emboldened by decades of lax and greedy governance by Taib and his team.”
The Borneo Project, a United States-based organization with ties to the Sarawak Indigenous Lawyer’s Alliance, has also organized to protect indigenous rights and their connection to the rain forests as their home. Judith Mayer of The Borneo Project and the Earth Island Journal points out that, “Taib himself has personally profited immensely from the destruction of the Borneo rainforest through logging and palm oil plantations, [while] Sarawak’s indigenous communities have lost their land, their source of livelihood, and have been increasingly marginalized,” (borneoproject.org).
Will the SCORE even out for the indigenous people and for the land and forests upon which they depend? Thus far, no adult dialogue between the supporters and the opposition has occurred. In fact, an official SCORE blog site from May 30, 2011, states rather bluntly that, “we would be happy to report on the opposition’s response to this development, and to relate the opposition’s own plans regarding energy, and economic growth. Unfortunately, because the opposition is too busy being immature, no one knows what those plans are,” (sarawakreports.org/2011/05/30/score-expands-and-the-opposition-can-only-oppose/). The victory and the loss have yet to unfold.