Makassar, indonesia

Voices from Makassar

This track is an  extracts from  FRICTIONS. It contains interviews recorded in July 2021, with: Muhammad Al Amin (WALHI), Muhammad Haedir (YILBHI), Niels Hazekamp (Both Ends), Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina. 



The contested expansion of Makassar port.
Sand mining, environmental injustice and corporate irresponsibility.

By Francesca Savoldi

December 2021

Makassar, Indonesia, was the centre of the Gowa Sultanate for five centuries. It has long been an important trading port. In the 16th century, Makassar was crucial for the takeover of Malacca by Portuguese merchants, and later passed under the Dutch East India Company. The port city remained under Dutch colonial rule from the 17th century until 1945.

National authorities are today envisioning Makassar New Port as a new logistical hub, a step towards what is known as the ‘Jokowi doctrine’, the Prime Minister’s’s grand strategy for remaking Indonesia as a maritime nation. Central elements of this doctrine are the building of ports and the improvement of naval capabilities. Promoted by the state-owned port operator Pelindo as a “gateway to Eastern Indonesia”, Makassar New Port is a $6.2bn venture that counts on 1,428 hectares of coastline to be converted by 2025; 45 hectares of which are planned to be formed of reclaimed land from the sea. The port expansion is considered by many – including Makassar residents, environmental activists and fisherfolk – as a damaging and unnecessary speculative development that will not benefit local communities.

The zoning for dredging activity is a particular subject of dispute, as the concession has been designated to occupy an area home to a community for whom traditional fishing is its main income. Dredging and sand mining operations are destroying the local community’s livelihood, especially in Kodingareng district, where catch has declined up to 80%; fisherfolk mostly affected by the project were not informed about the port expansion, nor were they consulted.

These fishing communities have already suffered from ‘dispossession by development’, especially because of sand mining. Pelindo outsourced the works of land reclamation for the port’s new terminal to a subsidiary of the Dutch company Boskalis. Boskalis has previously been involved in the land reclamation for The Centre Point of Indonesia – a Dubai-style development on five artificial islands off the coast of Makassar, which was concluded in 2017. That project, supported by the Dutch state via export credit agency Atradius, created systematic impoverishment of local fishing communities, leading to a strong decline in fish stocks and coastal erosion. This also resulted in a cemetery disappearing into the sea, as well as the violent eviction of 40 families from their land. Boskalis has claimed that funds were set up to compensate fisherfolks, but the affected communities mostly in Kodingareng island were not even informed about the existence of such funds. According to local fishermen, around 6,000 fishermen have lost income because of port expansion and Centre Point of Indonesia projects.

After concluding the sand mining for the Centre Point of Indonesia, Boskalis returned to the area for Makassar New Port in July 2020. Its return has been contested by fishermen, who staged a series of protests, including a protest at sea with hundreds of small fishing boats attempting to block Boskalis’ dredging vessel “The Queen of The Netherlands”. Fishermen were screaming “Go away, we have nothing to eat anymore”. The fishermen in the protest called Boskalis neo-colonialist; 13 of them were arrested, others punished or criminalized in other ways, while others received anonymous threats via the Internet.

Both projects have been characterized by opaque dynamics, marked by episodes of corruption, illegality, and violence. WALHI, Friends of the Earth Indonesia started several case court cases denouncing the illegally granted sand concession and the irregular Environmental Impact Assessment. In 2020, WALHI together with Dutch environmental and human rights organisation Both Ends, have filed a court case against Boskalis. As part of the case, the NGOs have requested Boskalis to provide social and environmental studies related to the projects, but the company has been reluctant to share its files. The judge ruled in favor of Boskalis, as it was a subsidiary of Boskalis doing the actual work in Makassar. This highlights the need for the EU to urgently address mandatory human right obligations for European companies operating outside of Europe.

The struggle continues. The aid foundation YLBHI is providing para-legal training for local people with basic education, for them to have a better understanding of human rights and self-advocacy.


Francesca Savoldi is a human geographer. She is a postdoctoral researcher at TU Delft and the founder of ContestedPorts.


References and medias

(1) Corruption allegation at prestigious sea sand dredging project

(2) Indonesian fishers opposed to dredging project hit by ‘criminalization’ bid

(3) Do no harm. The case for an EU law to hold business liable for human rights violation and environmental harm

(4) Sambhi, Natalie (2015) “Jokowi’s ‘Global Maritime Axis’: Smooth Sailing or Rocky Seas Ahead?”Security Challenges. Vol. 11, No. 2


Port Problems. Courtesy of Basten Gokkon, Mongabay.

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