Jul 1, 2014

Rundle: Jokowi smiles down on the slums of Jakarta, but is it enough?

Joko Widodo represents a new way for Indonesia, with a focus on youth and small-time problem solving. But can he really help fix Asia's greatest failure?

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Indonesia election

Down the road that runs alongside the rails to Jakarta Kota station, the city’s main rail hub, the shacks tumble across one another, layer upon layer, tile-roofed and then iron-roofed, new shacks built in the space of old. They’re jammed within the space of a new line of buildings — in one place someone’s cemented a support beam for a new roof into the sharp corner of two new offices. There are a couple of dozen people out on the street of what is really a small linear village in the middle of the city, mostly mums and kids, incongruous as the poor are these days — possessing nothing, they are nevertheless in Adidas T-shirts. Someone’s stripping down hundreds of water bottles, cutting and shredding, scree-scree-scree, for the plastic value, others cooking on a pot. Three of four small girls are staring through the dividing fence at Kota station, the hundreds of commuters waiting for the afternoon trains. They don’t look envious, they don’t look bewildered. It’s watching another world. Above them, across the de facto entrance to the town, there’s a banner strung, line picture of a thin man in a check shirt. Jokowi! The banner’s white, but in a couple of days it’ll be brown from the smog. Everything is. The slums reach to the heart of the city, the trains are always late, and Indonesia is heading towards a presidential election that everyone seems to think will define its path into the future, a runoff between two candidates who represent the past and the future — but neither appears to have the answers for a country in the very worst of trouble.

Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, whose banners appear to hang over every one of the thousand thousand slumlets that reach through the cities, represents youth — a solutions-oriented mayor of a mid-sized city, trying to look as much like Obama as any Asian can be rendered. Prabowo Subianto, his opponent, is featured in huge billboards along every major road. I saw them on the way in from the airport, two men — he and his VP candidate — in fezzes (pictured above), and idly thought to myself, this local Penn-and-Teller knockoff sure has a big publicity budget. Then the terrible thought loomed: I would have to do some work.

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6 thoughts on “Rundle: Jokowi smiles down on the slums of Jakarta, but is it enough?

  1. Moving to Paraguay

    It’s interesting that a person of Chinese descent replaced Jakowi as mayor of Jakarta. I’ve generally found that most of the people driving civic development in Indonesia are of Chinese descent. They have more to prove. They could provide the maglev that the country needs.

  2. Lee-Lee

    Geez Guy, a country in the very worst of trouble? Asia’s greatest failure? (ref. Twitter). I think your obviously overwhelmed impression of Jakarta has influenced the gist of your article entirely. You are right, Indonesia has a mountain of social and economic problems before it and the scale of those problems are indeed overwhelming, but its story is more than that. I think you’ve failed to acknowledge the reforms that the country has seen in the last decade and those reforms have come without bloodshed or massive social upheaval. Certainly those seeking asylum from other parts of Asia are not joined by Indonesians themselves during their passage via Indonesia. Doesn’t this alone tell us that the country may not be in the ‘very worst of trouble’? You acknowledge possessing a passing knowledge of the country and your article unfortunately paints a depressing picture that isn’t complete.

  3. zut alors

    Thanks for throwing light on the forthcoming elections. Many of us remember Keating’s ‘Kokoda-kissing phase’, what a pity we didn’t have that line back then.

  4. AR

    Grundle has, as so often, provided a snapshot of a complex situation which had previously defied the MSM. Nicely done and without his trademark verbal pyrotechnics.

  5. justRellis

    It’s a different story in Bali. Just got back from 5 days there, not having been for roughly 10 years, and the place is booming. Where the money goes is a different story, and how long people will continue to pay for being ‘anywhere’, given the now complete Costa del Solisation of the southern part of the island is anyone’s guess. But a bustling new airport would indicate that they will continue to pay for some time to come, but I guess how much is the point. Jokowi-wise, mention of his initiative to introduce a universal, singular ID card to beat corruption sounded like a step in the right direction, while Prabowo lined up photo ops with his ex-wife to make him look like a family guy of yore. Still early days for this less than 20-year-old democracy.

  6. sebster

    Vintage Rundle. Bravo.

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