‘Resource curse’ haunts Timor-Leste

‘Resource curse’ haunts Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste’s capital of Dili, young men walk the streets aimlessly; youth unemployment is over 50 per cent in a country where more than 60 per cent are under 18. Photo: Wong Pei Ting
Published: 4:02 AM, October 25, 2013
Updated: 9:10 PM, October 25, 2013
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There is a free health clinic in Dili, the capital of Asia’s newest and poorest country, Timor-Leste, that treats some 400 people a day. The doctor who runs it was telling me about the kinds of cases he generally treats — tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, typhoid, malnutrition, stunting, poor growth, pregnancy complications.

Dr Dan Murphy is actually happy about this. Back before Timor-Leste became a country in 2002, he treated gunshot wounds, machete wounds, victims of torture and hand grenade victims.

What passes for progress in Timor-Leste is a lot like that. The war zone days are over, but the patient at the door has new problems with endemic causes. Now that United Nations (UN) peacekeepers are gone and the civil unrest has quieted, the challenges of governing a very poor country and inexperienced democracy seem far greater than anticipated in the hopefulness of its first sovereign days.

I just got back after spending 10 days in Timor-Leste. I took part in workshops with the local media, rode the bumpy and barely passable roads into the country’s mountainous interior, and got to see up close the lives of everyday people.


The country’s existence is a miracle in itself. Occupying half of Timor Island, East Timor was colonised by Portugal for 400 years, and its overwhelmingly Catholic make-up is only one of its many cultural differences from West Timor, which was settled by the Dutch and is now part of Indonesia.

When Portugal pulled out of East Timor in 1975, Indonesia launched a bloody invasion and occupied the country for a quarter-century.

That the East Timorese resisted the occupation despite horrific costs, including losing about a third of the population, is a tribute to their love for independence, their resilience and their commitment.

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