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  • Activism and Aid: Young Citizens’ Experiences of Development and Democracy in Timor-Leste by Ann Wigglesworth
  • Angie Bexley (bio)
Activism and Aid: Young Citizens’ Experiences of Development and Democracy in Timor-Leste. By Ann Wigglesworth. Melbourne: Monash University Press, 2016. Softcover: 146 pp.

In Activism and Aid, Ann Wigglesworth delivers a clear and highly readable account of young Timorese’ experiences in development and democracy during the first decade of Timor-Leste’s independence. The context of the book sits squarely within the domain of development literature, which seeks to question the effectiveness and relevance of international interventions that lack grounding in local realities.

Timor-Leste was pegged as the United Nation’s (UN) “success story”, a country that was democratically established in 1999 after twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation. In the same year, the country descended into a political crisis to the perplexity of international players. The historically-devoid approach of the UN in its mandate to establish a bureaucracy post-Indonesia until 2002 positioned Timor-Leste at “ground zero”. Timor-Leste was variously described as a “clean slate” in which to import “democratic” development agendas. Timor-Leste was not, of course, a clean slate. While the capital city Dili and much of the rural infrastructure was burnt to the ground, its people’s ways of thinking about the world and its ideas for an independent Timor-Leste were not simply swept away. Wigglesworth’s book exposes the inconsistencies of these processes.

The core material of the book was drawn from the author’s doctoral fieldwork in mid-2006, although she also draws on her multiple engagements with the country from 1997 onwards as a development consultant. The book sets out some ambitious aims. Firstly, to “analyse the first ten years of development through the experiences of younger citizens”; secondly, to provide a “critical assessment of the application of development knowledge and role of international agencies”; and lastly, “explores the entangled nature of development theory, national economic development, civil society, gender, development studies, youth and conflict, customary society and democracy” (p. 5). For the most part, the author delivers on her aims.

Activism and Aid draws on, and contributes to, understandings on the latest development agenda that emphasizes participation as being the key to effectiveness. “Active citizenship”, as Wigglesworth notes, is a “relatively new contribution to the development lexicon” [End Page 536] and is “supposed to enable people to participate in their own development, rather than that which is thrust upon them” (p. 5). This development discourse situates locals as “agents of action” who advocate for human rights and, because of its locally-driven nature, the outcomes are assumed to be more effective.

Chapter 1 sets the scene with an account of two generations of activists who played an important role in the establishment of the nation. The Portuguese colonization and rise of activism is dealt with fleetingly, as is the Indonesian occupation. It is surprising that that these two periods of Timorese history are not given more weight, particularly in consideration of how Indonesia may have informed ideas of aid or democracy of these young people through interactions with the pro-democracy front. Timorese activism did not grow in a vacuum but was influenced by multiple experiences of democracy and decolonization movements in Indonesia and Portugal. Local ideas of development have also been constructed in parallel with international interventions, not in isolation, or being diametrically opposed to one another.

The later section in Chapter 1 on “new generation” activists relies heavily on two English language accounts of two young Timorese. A number of formative studies on youth, such as by Amanda Wise and Fiona Crockford, are missing. Only fleeting mention is given to the “current” day youth, termed the “millennium generation” which has become a new development challenge, often described as the “youth bulge”. The younger generation, who have had a unique experience with aid, development and democracy, is not a key feature of the analysis, although an entire chapter is dedicated to the political crisis of 2007 in which the major players were the “millennium generation”.

Wigglesworth clearly had access to and engaged with key players within a sub-section of the Geracão Foun...


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pp. 536-539
Launched on MUSE
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