Kutai Barat and Its Resources


Kutai Barat is one of the newly formed districts (kabupaten) in East Kalimantan. It was officially established in November 1999, in accordance with Law No. 47/1999, which outlined the division of the original kabupaten of Kutai[2] into three districts: Kutai Barat, Kutai Timur and Kutai Kartanegara[3] (Figure 4.1). Before Kutai was divided into three smaller kabupaten, it was the largest district in East Kalimantan, covering 94 629 square kilometres (km2), or approximately 46 per cent of the province’s total land area (BAPPEDA and BPS 1998). Kutai also had a long history as an administrative unit, having originated from the Kutai sultanate established late in the 15th century along the Mahakam River (Magenda 1991).

The decision to divide Kutai into three districts was long awaited, as the sheer size of the original district made it difficult to administer. Indeed, several remote areas, which now primarily lie within Kutai Barat, have limited physical infrastructure and industrial facilities due in part to their isolation from the former district’s administrative centre. Moreover, the division followed the release of Indonesia’s regional autonomy laws (No. 22/1999 and No. 25/1999), which ostensibly aimed to provide an opportunity for further autonomy in the region and to allow local governments to be more responsive to local communities (Bupati Kutai 2000).

Figure 4.1. Kutai Region, East Kalimantan

Kutai Region, East Kalimantan

Source: Map data from GTZ Sustainable Forest Management Project

Kutai Barat now spans an area of approximately 32 000 km2, or 16 per cent of East Kalimantan’s total land area. It is located in the western part of the province and borders both Central and West Kalimantan, as well as the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. The newly formed district consisted of 14 sub-districts (kecamatan), 205 villages and approximately 150 000 people in 2000[4] (Figure 4.2). The capital of Kutai Barat is Sendawar, but all of the existing government offices were located within the town of Melak. When fieldwork was undertaken in July 2000, Kutai Barat had a temporary Bupati, or district head, named Bp. Rama Alexander Asia. He had the difficult job of forming a new district government and legislative assembly without having full authority and legitimacy to rule. He was formally elected in March 2000 and the district legislative assembly was elected in December 2000.

Figure 4.2. Kutai Barat District, East Kalimatan

Kutai Barat District, East Kalimatan

Source: Map data from GTZ Sustainable Forest Management Project


Most of the physical infrastructure and industrial facilities established in the original district of Kutai are now located within the jurisdiction of a newly formed district now known as Kutai Kartanegara. This meant that Kutai Barat had fairly limited infrastructure, but perhaps no more so than some of the other newly formed districts in East Kalimantan, such as Malinau or Nunukan. It was also quite isolated. To get to Kutai Barat one had to catch a boat from Samarinda up the Mahakam River. Depending on the boat, the trip took anywhere between eight and 24 hours. There was one asphalt road in Melak that was 25 km long. The rest of the roads were dirt roads and almost impassable during the wet season. In fact, five sub-districts (Long Apari, Long Pahangai, Long Bagun, Long Hubung and Penyinggahan) could not be reached by road in 2000.

Government offices in Kutai Barat also had limited facilities and were poorly resourced.[5] In fact, many offices had not been established when fieldwork for this study was conducted.[6] By June 2000, for instance, there was no district government forestry agency, only a branch office of East Kalimantan’s Provincial Forestry Service (Cabang Dinas Kehutanan). Public servants working in the district also openly admitted that they were poorly trained and lacked the knowledge required to run a district and develop regional policy (interviews with Kutai Barat government officials, 28 July 2000). The closest university was in Samarinda, and there were just two secondary schools — one in Melak and the other in Long Iram. Other community services in the district were also extremely poor. For instance, there was no hospital and no reliable telephone or electricity supply.