The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Paid with compliments, not cash      
Catootjie Nalle (left, with students) is a star scientist.  In 1999 she won an Australian Government scholarship to study at Queensland University where she graduated with a Masters Degree in animal nutrition.
A few years later the New Zealand Government recognised her talents and offered her a place at Massey University.  She graduated with a PhD and returned to her job at Kupang State Agriculture Polytechnic.
She’s spent more than seven years studying overseas much of that time as a single mother caring for her son.
Dr Nalle, 44, is one of the best qualified nutritionists in the Indonesian poultry feed business, and the first woman at her polytechnic to gain a doctorate.
Her research abilities have attracted laboratory equipment grants from the Asian Development Bank
She lives in a tiny house in high cost East Nusa Tenggara and can only afford a motorbike.  As a department head she gets Rp 9 million a month (US $687).  Yet by local academic standards that’s a handsome wage.
Indonesian education institutions do graduations well. Staff in faux-ermine robes and tasselled mortar boards shuffle to the flower-strewn stage for Indonesia Raya, hands on hearts.
The nervous students and their awestruck parents surely think: ‘The rewards must be great to match the prestige these learned ones bring to the institution and our nation’.
But without rich partners or politically powerful mates, chances are the academics arrived at the ceremony straddling Hondas and enrobed in the staff toilet. 

For Indonesia still doesn’t pay its scholars well or even appropriately, according to English language lecturer Aam Alamsyah. He claims poor salaries and conditions aren’t just crippling professionals’ careers; they are throttling the nation’s advancement and international reputation.

Alamsyah (right) has been researching employment conditions while studying for a doctorate in linguistics at Atma Jaya Catholic University.  He teaches at private colleges in Jakarta and Tangerang and recently presented a paper on tertiary education salaries at an international conference
In this he claimed some school teachers were getting allowances and incentives which lifted their income above higher qualified academics.
“University staff face many problems, and the most disturbing is their remuneration,” he said. “Low wages run against workforce laws. They force scholars to moonlight rather than concentrate on their students.”

Despite academics being considered important for Indonesia’s development the government leaves pay in the hands of the institutions.  Lecturers struggle on their own since there’s no substantial legal body to defend their rights.

“Though faculties of business, engineering and information technology usually offer more, many lecturers survive on less than Rp 3 million (US$228) a month,” Alamsyah said.

That’s equal to the supposed minimal wage of an unskilled junior high school graduate in a Jakarta sweatshop punching parts or packing plastics. 

But universities are supposed to be temples of learning, not factories rolling out identical gizmos. They never omit the comparative adjective when describing their role as ‘higher educators’.

Alamsyah is not howling alone in the wilderness. Economist Jonathan Pincus, a teaching fellow in the Development Studies Centre at Cambridge University, wrote in this newspaper that ‘Indonesian lecturers are promoted based on seniority rather than research or teaching performance. 

‘The rules make it difficult for lecturers to change universities, which effectively eliminate competition to hire the most productive scholars or the best teachers. Academic departments routinely hire their own graduates as lecturers, a practice that encourages patronage and favoritism and discourages competition.’ 

Although Indonesia has around 2,800 tertiary institutions, few rank well. The University of Indonesia just squeezes into the world’s top 400 as listed by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) annual report, but the rest are still seeking the start line.

The production of scholarly papers in learned journals recognized internationally is a handy guide to a nation’s intellectual thrust.  Indonesia ranks 57, below Malaysia (35) and Thailand (43).
Bureaucrats love pasting letters after their names. No public presentation by government officials is complete without the speakers parading their Sarjana (Bachelor’s Degree) or Master of Management (MM).  However such qualifications may indicate wealth rather than commitment to prolonged study; degrees are for sale in Indonesia.
Last year the government started cracking down on phony academies with Research, Technology and Higher Learning Education Minister Mohammad Nasir leading raids on dodgy outfits.
But such is the demand that fines of up to Rp 500 million (US $38,000) and five years in jail for individuals using false certificates don’t seem to deter.
“Few campuses are willing to pay their lecturers to do research, or even try to help them publish their work in journals,” Alamsyah said.  “There are also private colleges and universities using the notorious ‘home base’ racket.

“In this illegal scheme campuses offer small sums for the right to include an academic’s name on their faculty list to meet staff quotas. They blatantly neglect other aspects of lecturers’ welfare such as a basic salary, overtime, research pay and health insurance.

“The wealthy and prestigious campuses usually spend as little as Rp 1 million (US$76) for a doctoral graduate, and half that for a masters.  School teachers and public servants are then hired to lecture at low rates, but the teaching hours are credited to the ‘home base’ academic.”

Alamsyah’s wish list includes erasing this scam and the national government getting tough over accrediting new colleges. 

He wants salaries which recognise scholars’ qualifications and status, and an end to student ‘tipping’ – a ruse he alleged is used to “respect the noble deeds of the teacher”. These practices masquerade as ikhlas beramal (willing to donate) or sedekah (giving alms).

“Better remuneration will boost lecturers’ dignity and confidence to serve their students without moonlighting or getting involved in graft,” he said.

“There’s evidence of a strong correlation between improving education and declining corruption.  That alone should be good reason for reform.”

Overseas pay

In countries like Australia with powerful unions, minimal academic salaries are negotiated and set by legal awards with terms and conditions. 

For example, an associate lecturer at the University of New South Wales would start on an annual salary of AUD 70,000 (Rp 700 million) or about Rp 58 million a month.

In the US at the University of California an assistant professor gets US$5,000 a month (Rp 66 million) while in the UK an academic at Cambridge might begin at 3,300 pounds a month (Rp 60 million).

Although factors like tenure, insurance and costs of living can warp these figures, academics in the West get paid well by comparison with their colleagues in Indonesia.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 7 December 2016)


Tuesday, December 06, 2016


Good Goethe! A poet’s lament                                      
Poets dwell in sacred space.                                                                                                       Go slash the jungles, pierce the gloom.                                                                               Java’s mysteries touch the sky                                                                                              Sealing secrets like the tomb.

Are Indonesians bibliophobic - and if so, why?
For Berthold Damshäuser who teaches Indonesian language and literature at the University of Bonn, the answer to the first question is: ‘Yes. Indonesians are not great booklovers.’  He believes the prime reason is that the nation’s cultural traditions are oral.
However a new chapter may be opening. Optimists say pages are turning and cite a bookmark: Indonesia’s position as Guest of Honor at last year’s Frankfurt International Book Fair, and a further appearance this year.
Damshäuser is also a prominent translator and with a group of others compiled 33 Tokoh Sastra Indonesia yang paling Berpengaruh (Thirty-three most influential figures in Indonesian literature).
That sounds scholarly, reasonable and civilized. But budding penmen and women – beware. The world of belles-lettres is not beautiful; it’s more like nature – red in tooth and claw.
 The academic was attacked on Facebook where critics angry about inclusions and omissions claimed the book should be burned and the author sent to Auschwitz, demonstrating a history fail as the notorious concentration camp was closed in 1945.
Damshäuser used the anecdote at Malang State University’s Café Pustaka Discussion Group to show young authors edging into the arts that literary criticism and ranking writers is not a passion-free pastime – particularly for outsiders.
That’s technically his status – but professionally and spiritually he’s almost a bumiputera (native) with four decades of archipelagic experience to reinforce the claim.
 Jokingly known in Indonesia as Pak Trum for reasons that would take several stanzas to explain, Damshäuser is chief editor of Orientierungen, a journal on Asian cultures and editor of Indonesian poetry magazine Jurnal Sajak.
He translates Indonesian poetry into German and vice versa, often working with Bandung poet and author Agus R. Sarjono a former guest writer at the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation’s retreat in Langenbroich. Together they’ve put works by 19th century poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang (von) Goethe and others into the hands of Indonesians.
Despite efforts to boost interest in Europe, Indonesian Studies and the language are wilting as elsewhere, including the nation’s southern neighbor, Australia.  Damshäuser has only 60 undergraduates and five masters’ students.
“Pragmatically students are thinking that all the important texts are in English so that’s the language they have to master or get their friends to translate,” he said.
“I know it’s claimed that basic Indonesian is easy because of a lack of tenses and genders, but it’s full of ambiguities.  It’s a very difficult language if you want to understand it properly.
“Take for example the term Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (PDI-P – the major political party in the Parliament.)  Is it Indonesia or the party that’s democratic?  Where do I attach the adjective? And who’s struggling? I’ve also had problems getting the meaning right with clauses in Pancasila (the State philosophy).”  
Now 59 Pak Trum first learned about the mysterious East Indies as a teen laboring on the docks during university breaks.  Also on the wharves were friendly Indonesians who invited him to visit.
He did.  “I thought it a kind of paradise.” He fell in love not just with the country but also Jakartan Dian Apsari. They married and settled in Bonn where Pak Trum consolidated his reputation as a fluent Indonesian speaker and expert on its literature.
Although his skills were as a translator he was chosen to interpret for the late President Soeharto during two visits to Germany, and two visits to Indonesia by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
These garnered a wealth of anecdotes and friendships, with Damshäuser invited to the homes of Soeharto and former vice president B J Habibie who had been educated in Germany.
“Soeharto was always soft and polite towards me and his staff,” he said.  “I didn’t see him as a monster.  He felt that what he was doing as president was right. He was not a strict Muslim but an abangan (a Javanese relaxed about religion) and he was proud of that.”
Damshäuser is a regular visitor to Indonesia, sometimes backed by the Goethe Institut, the German cultural organisation and language school with branches in Jakarta and Bandung.
From a culture of discipline, planning and punctuality to laid back Indonesia hasn’t been an easy journey. When he started he asked:  “How can I deal with this country?”  The loving and hating lasted quite a long time…but it’s no longer polarising.
“In Germany we celebrate the individual and the rights of minorities,” he said.  “I now see my culture differently, and know that along the way we’ve lost a kind of equilibrium that’s still present in Java.”
His experiences have been published this year as a collection of essays - Ini dan itu Indonesia – pandangan seorang Jerman (This and that in Indonesia – a German’s views.)
He said that during the Frankfurt Book Fair the media called Indonesia ‘the country without readers’. Wikipedia lists a total of 29 Indonesian poets past and present. Germany (population 80 million, one third of Indonesia’s) has 50 whose surnames start with A and B. 
Despite comments about the paucity of bibliophiles there seems to be no shortage of poets in Malang. After his speech Damshäuser was busy handling questions about topics, styles and getting into print.
“I’ve already been given four or five published anthologies,” he said. “Among them are some very talented young writers often using pantun the traditional Malay oral expression.
(Pantun is a four-line verse consisting of alternating and roughly rhyming lines, each of eight to 12 syllables. An example by Anon heads this story.)
“People want to hear the words.  The poets write for their works to be performed and getting books printed here is far cheaper than Europe. It seems to me that there have never been so many books and so few readers.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 December 2016


Thursday, December 01, 2016


The politics of puppetry      
The 4 November protests in Jakarta over alleged blasphemous comments by Jakarta Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Purnama ended badly.
Police cars were torched, tear gas sprayed and one man died as a small gang stirred strife in the dark after most demonstrators had left the scene.
The thuggery was incited by ‘political actors’ according to President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.
His explanation followed a tradition.
The Jakarta riots that triggered the fall of President Soeharto in 1998 took the lives of more than a thousand citizens and destroyed hundreds of shops.  Many were owned by Chinese businesspeople and their families, the prime target of mobs determined to make mayhem.
The initiators were dubbed ‘dark forces’.
A year later in the distant Moluccas (the capital Ambon is 2,000 kilometers to the north-east of Jakarta) far more serious fighting erupted.  Up to 15,000 may have died and 700,000 made homeless before a formal peace agreement in 2002.
This civil war was widely portrayed as Christians versus Muslims in an area where adherents of the two faiths had long lived together in equal numbers and relative harmony.
No longer. An edgy return to some form of normality has been achieved with the physical separation of residents according to their faiths. This them-and-us arrangement is prone to rupture if poked and prodded by the malicious.
The provokers were labelled ‘outside actors’.
On 5 November President Jokowi was on a teleconference call to Indonesians in Sydney assuring them that the capital was calm and their homeland safe.  Most listeners would have been ethnic Chinese studying or doing business in Australia and holding strong memories of 1998.
If their skills and money stay away from the Republic the government’s plans to develop the economy with large scale investments, particularly in the President’s signature infrastructure projects could falter. Chaos does nothing for business confidence.
In the Moluccan and Jakarta cases no one group has been proved responsible for starting the fighting.  Instead the public has been told about phantom masterminds in theatrical terms. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink blaming is not exclusively Indonesian; the French term agents provocateurs is well embedded in English.
Hints-not-facts sit awkwardly in modern societies that give priority to openness, justice and reparation.  These principles include exposing those out to fracture peace, airing their motives, bringing them before the courts and making them accountable. 
However the explanations do fit Javanese cultural views centered on the dalang puppet master in the ancient wayang kulit epics. These accounts of mystical beings pre-date the arrival of Abrahamic faiths in the Archipelago.
The dalang is a deft artist taking the roles of producer, director, stage manager, choreographer and commentator. Performances may include references to current political dramas.  He is heard but largely unseen.
He tosses and dances the elaborately crafted puppets before a lamp so their images flicker across a white cotton screen.  Although the wayang are physically two dimensional their characters are multi-faceted and prone to devious twists and turns, leaving audience in states of wonder, amusement and puzzlement.
The dalang and his shadowy figures is the easily understood metaphor for any social drama where the script is complex and performers devious.  But this doesn’t lead to a just resolution when the guilty remain as ghosts.
Academics trying to understand the forces driving social unrest are now moving onto the stage once filled by partisan politicians. 
Among this small group of peace experts is cultural anthropologist Dr Birgit Brauchler, formerly at Frankfurt’s Goethe University and now a senior lecturer at Australia’s Monash University.  
She’s been in Indonesia to talk about research into conflict resolution; she studied the Moluccan conflict for a decade - how it came about and what solutions worked, though none have been wholly successful.
When fighting flares the need to restore order is urgent.  In the usual pattern elite troops, often from afar and with little knowledge of local sensitivities, are despatched. They enforce peace by deploying more men with bigger guns and exercising greater discipline than the troublemakers.
Eventually the smoke settles; the soldiers retreat to their barracks and the job of patching the community’s wounds is left to others.  Brauchler said that before the 1999 riots in Ambon there were less than two dozen NGOs in the region.  That number swelled to 400 though not all were effective peacemakers.
The best involved a mix of locals often working in secret and with women taking prominent roles.
Brauchler warned post-graduate peace studies students at Malang’s Brawijaya University  that there were ‘no easy answers’ to the complex question: Why do some groups whet knives to solve problems when it’s clear that combatants sooner or later must get back to working and living together?
In her latest book The Cultural Dimension of Peace she advocates a ‘new anthropology of peace’ where disciplines beyond law and political science get involved.   She urges the creation of ‘peace scapes’ as opposed to ‘war scapes … where the maintenance of peace becomes more lucrative than war, and where such negotiation and communication can take place.’
During Soeharto’s authoritarian rule public comment on SARA (suku, agama, ras, antar golongan) issues of race, faith and ethnicity were banned.
The prohibitions were lifted with the re-introduction of democracy this century but the power and will to stop community violence using such emotional fuels has yet to be effectively applied.
Political scientists believe allowing orderly dissent is essential for a balanced society, and President Jokowi has agreed in the right to peaceful protest.  But he has yet to discover the sweet spot between Soeharto’s authoritarianism and the current tension. 
He promised to reveal the ‘political actors’ though so far has stayed silent. Military Commander General Gatot Nurmantyo has stepped in to suggest US and Australian involvement, though without producing evidence.
Refusing to identify and isolate those alleged to be responsible is not assisting reconciliation, while mystery references just shower all players with suspicion.

(First published in Strategic Review 30 November 2016.  See:


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


A river runs through it  

Greening is the now color for Corporate Social Responsibility projects – provided the manicured park is well exposed for the company’s care to be advertised.  But for closeted kampongs forget CSR.  Duncan Graham reports on a Do It Ourselves deal that organizers want others to see and follow:
Civilisations benchmark their birth with momentous events. Muslims use AH Anno Hegirae, the year of Hijra when the Prophet went from Mecca to what is now Medina.
Christians favor BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini), the year of the Lord.
Secular scientists prefer BP (Before the Present). For Indonesian environmentalists this stands for Before Plastic when wrappings were organic.
“Getting people to stop using our rivers for their rubbish is difficult,” admitted community leader Nurcholis. “We hang signs everywhere.  We talk about it whenever we can. But we cannot use laws and threats.  They don’t work.
“The way is to go gracefully and set an example.”
Nurcholis and his colleagues have followed his advice.  He heads the largest of eight RT (Rukun Tetangga – neighborhood administration units) flanking the Amprong River in Kedung Kandang on Malang’s outskirts.
 Last October after months of discussion they made a big decision: to tackle the eyesore levee built long ago to floodproof their kampong. The depressing sight greeting riverside residents was a long, barren, dusty and rubbish-strewn barricade. 
Massive river-taming by the Irrigation Department in the 1980s with rock and concrete walls had largely eliminated the need for the levee.  The last flood was in 1995 but the ugly earthworks were too big to shift. 
Kedung Kandang doesn’t belong in the nation’s much-hyped middle class luring investors. This is Struggle Street, Forgetville where no incomes are disposable. But that doesn’t mean its tenants don’t deserve a decent environment.
Though no local had ever wandered the world’s glamor waterfronts, why not turn the embankment into an educational area and promenade like Shanghai’s Bund or Singapore’s Marina Bay?  Maybe even the Left Bank in Paris minus the bars and hedonism for this is East Java and “99 per cent” of the kampong’s 800 are Muslim according to Nurcholis.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.  It was.
Winning a Rp 16 million (US $1,225) government grant for cement and bricks helped.  So did labor supplied by soldiers drafted to provide kerja bakti (community service).  Then followed the ancient principle of gotong royong (citizen self help).
Hundreds scrounged and recycled for playground gear, gazebos and park benches creating style inconsistencies that are more amusing than annoying. Time in the shade can be spent guessing the provenance of renovated iron and painted pipes, paving slabs and split bamboo.
Lion statues are a favorite as locals are 100 per cent backers of the Arema Football Club with its Leo symbol. There’s even a Hindu-style sculpture.
Professional park managers frequently favor monoculture flower beds in geometrical shapes rare in nature.  But here the donated bushes, flowers and trees have come from everywhere to make a rich mix.
 The other factor, whispered rather than shouted in a cooperative project, is the creative competition between RTs.
The park is never more than 10 meters wide. It meanders for about 400 meters with individual sections marrying, though there’s no sameness.  Everyone knows who did what and how good it looks.
Agus Surahman, a RW (rukun warga – a step up from RT), said no commercial companies had offered to assist, so no advertising making their secluded park unusual.
High visibility parks in Malang have been sponsored by cosmetic and food companies – ironically even a tobacco factory - keen to link their products with healthy lifestyles.
“When there’s an event we collect Rp 10,000 (US$0.80) from each family to pay for costs,” Nurcholis said.  “People who live here are drivers, factory workers and cleaners, but some have made bigger donations – including four boats.”
For Rp 15,000 (US$1.15) an hour families and couples can have a row on the river and enjoy the ambience as the fashionable do in London’s regal gardens and New York’s Central Park.
By Western standards muddy Amprong is no freshet.  It’s not just plastic that’s a problem. Cemeteries dot the riverbanks. Road waste drains into the river, used daily by people without access to bathrooms, toilets and laundries.
Fortunately heavy wet-season rains keep it moving.  All houses in the kampong are said to use septic tanks, but overflows must reach the river.
Choirul, 32, a coconut drink seller, wants to take the project further with a flying fox across the river and murals on the rockwork. 
That way he hopes upriver residents will copy their example:  “Then there’ll be less rubbish to pick out when the waters reach us,”
Locals say the do-it-yourself park has reduced friction because there’s space for all activities, including growing vegetable in the river mud.  Though no-one says so aloud, the park invites romance. Watching water flow encourages philosophical musings.
“There have been other advantages,” said Nurcholis’ wife Nur Rochma. “Young people now have somewhere to go and things to do. It’s much better here now than hanging around in shopping malls.   It’s given our communities a center.”
Food bowl
The Amprong is a major feeder into the 320-kilometer long Brantas, the Nile of East Java.
Second to the 600 kilometer-long Solo River (half in East Java), Brantas is a most curious waterway.  Sustained by 1,500 mountain streams and lowland channels known as anak-anak Brantas (children of Brantas), it heads for the Indian Ocean – a logical direction because that’s the nearest exit.
Then it turns west, then north.  On maps it looks much like a diagram of the human alimentary canal – which is apt.
After running hither and yon draining a catchment 17 times bigger than Singapore island it empties into the Java Sea near Surabaya.
Brantas sustains mega millions by watering the flatlands it traverses.  This is the province’s major food bowl.  It also supplies power through nine hydroelectric stations built during the Soeharto years, industrial and household water and fish.
Waeman, 61, who worked for the Irrigation Department for 37 years, said managing flows was “very difficult … it runs cold but farmers run hot when they don’t get enough water.
“Everyone needs the Brantas and Amprong.  As we say, sungai bersih, warga sehat (clean river, healthy people.)”
Outsiders should visit early Sunday mornings when locals set up colorful food and drink stalls; the public is invited to  jump up and down to loud music or promenade nibbling a fresh tempe (soybean) cake. The big companies may not be interested but here’s a chance to see how communities can make a difference – and what gotong royong means.  Kedung Kandang is 10 km east of central Malang

First published in J Plus - The Jakarta Post  19 November 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


When eagles cease to soar     

All this month six years ago Yogyakarta and surrounds were on red alert as Merapi blew 38 meters off its peak, bringing it down to 2,930. The nation’s most active volcano threatens regularly forcing evacuations.  Should outsiders get involved?  Duncan Graham reports.
Once it was a sure portent of troubles to come – eagles soaring higher than normal above Central Java’s ferocious and fickle ‘fire mountain’.
Villagers on the slopes below knew this could prelude black pyroclastic clouds as the rising heat created thermals for the birds to spiral to new heights.  But the Javan Hawk Eagle - Indonesia’s national bird - is now rare; there are fewer than 350 breeding pairs left in the wild and extinction expected in a decade.
With the passing of the raptors goes local wisdom that has helped generations cope with the violence of nature.  Both are irreplaceable.
So no avian early-warning system for threatened farmers.  Now they rely on official alarms provided by government scientists they seldom trust, according to French author Elizabeth Inandiak (above)..
“Villagers tend to be suspicious of authorities,” she said. “That’s why they are often reluctant to leave their homes in an emergency.  They are landless agricultural workers but their tenure is through adat (customary law) and fear official agencies won’t recognise their ownership when they return.  And few want to be shifted elsewhere.”
Inandiak, now 57, is no ingénue. She’s lived in Central Java since 1989 studying language and culture.
Yet she was still surprised by local resilience and ingenuity following the May 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake which killed 5.700 and injured 37,000. Earlier that month Merapi had erupted and 11,000 were evacuated.
Among the many devastated villages was Bebekan, about 20 kilometers south west of Yogya.  Two of the 400 residents were killed and several injured. The writer’s house was not damaged but she was asked to help by one of the women made homeless. 
“How could I not get involved,” said Inandiak.  “The need was overwhelming and I had contacts in Europe who could donate.”
Within days the Euros started to flow and the European transplant was thrust into a new role.  She was already well known in the academic community as translator into French of the almost forgotten Serat Centhini.
This is the Javanese epic of 17th century life first published in the 19th century and known to some as the Kama Sutra of Java for its erotic passages.
Her work won prizes in France including the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) for services to literature and improving Franco-Indonesian relations.
But for seven years after the earthquake she gave up writing to be involved with community work.  She broke the drought this year with her novel Babad Ngalor-Ngidul (the chronicle of pointless pursuits) based around the eruptions of Merapi and the myths of the mountain which last erupted in 2014.
Along the way she climbed a steep learning curve experiencing the emotions of recovery from overwhelming disaster; she saw how people respond in good and bad ways to great stress and grew frustrated with the politics of international aid delivery.
She has harsh words for development agencies’ bureaucratic procedures and expenditure priorities, though not for emergency services or the motives of individuals drawn to help. 
Her advice to helpers: “Don’t ask what people need – ask what they wish for … listen to those wishes and respond.
“Use local skills. Never promise more than you can deliver. Women are the key figures in the community.
“Some of the reconstruction is of intangibles – like spiritual connections and cultural practices including as music and art.  These might seem impractical when people are homeless, but they are necessary.  Recovery has to be holistic.”
 A flag showing two ducks (bebek) was designed. Gamelan instruments were obtained, dances held.
While the people of Bebekan and hundreds of other hamlets were sheltering under sheets of iron from ash and rain, agency staff were staying in the Hyatt in Yogyakarta “where one night costs more than rebuilding a house”, though to be fair few hotels were open after the quake.
Pledged Indonesian government re-building grants did not arrive.  At the time she wrote: ‘the people of Bebekan do not expect anything from this promise. They still haven't received the survival allowance due to any victim of the earthquake (Rp 90,000 (US $7) and ten kilos of rice per month, and which has already been distributed in many other districts’.
Inandiak shared some of her insights with students, staff and others at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University where she spoke last month (Oct) at a conference on responses to human crises.
Her message was ultimately positive – though not in the way aid agencies like to tell with happy snaps of jolly kids and contented Moms admiring a new well head courtesy of taxpayers in developed nations far away.
For humans everywhere are complex mixes of reason and unreason, neither flawless nor irreparably shattered.
First the language.
“They are not victims but survivors,” Inandiak said.  “They have sovereignty over their land.  They are not going to be objects of NGOs.  They need to decide themselves how and when reconstruction starts. 
“They didn’t want the army to get involved because they might lose their surviving possessions and building materials that could be re-used. Salvaging was the people’s responsibility.”
With 9,000 Euros (then about Rp 150 million) mainly donated by French artists, 85 houses were built in less than two months.  Inandiak credits this extraordinary achievement to gotong royong (community self help):  “I was amazed – these people had globalization within themselves.
“The people who once thought they had no history were restoring Bebekan to the pages of history.”
But along with a slow recovery to some sense of normality came the return of individual egos.  “Getting money is not the real difficulty,” she said. “The main problem is human conflict with maybe 70 per cent of time spent trying to resolve issues, even though people greet each other and shake hands regularly to keep the social network intact.”
Sands deposits from the eruption brought contractors from afar, but the locals wanted the deposits left alone.  More confrontations.
“To help in these extreme situations you need a serving attitude,” she said. “Be prepared to undergo a mental revolution.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 21 November 2016)


Monday, November 14, 2016


A ballad of free trade                                                            
During his visit last year to the United States President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo suddenly started singing enthusiasm for multinational Free Trade Agreements.
He told American businesses that Indonesia had an ‘open economy’ with a large and hungry population so intended to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  He’d been persuaded that this would also seduce foreign investors.
The TPP had taken years to orchestrate.  Twelve nations representing around 40 per cent of the world’s GDP had agreed to join. Jokowi thought a place in the choir alongside Malaysia, Singapore and other neighbors was a smart idea, although the Archipelago has long chanted protectionism.
In the following months nervous political and economic advisers composed a revised songsheet.  By February this year the President was humming a different tune in a lower key.
During another US trip he released his new TPP album – Fading Love. The lyrics included ‘caution is of the utmost importance … everything must be calculated for the sake of national interests. It’s all still in process.'
In a backing track the then Trade Minister Thomas Lembong chorused that his leader’s original enthusiasm was ‘to improve our economy and create jobs’.
FTA opponents disagree; they claim agreements favor efficient producers like Australian wheatgrowers and Chinese steelmakers, but can damage importing nations.  They get lower prices but at the cost of local jobs.  Slack businesses demand compensation or fail. 
Indonesia’s State Owned Enterprises, known for poor management, lack of competitiveness and allegedly as ‘wet areas’ (where corrupt politicians and bureaucrats can prosper) feel threatened by FTAs
Some of this is now academic as US President-elect Donald Trump says he’ll rip up all TPP negotiations authorized by President Barack Obama.
This gets Jokowi off the hook on which he’d hung himself last year.  But then came another twist.
Before abruptly changing his mind about visiting Canberra this month, allegedly because of violent demonstrations in Jakarta, the President told journalists of plans for his official three-day agenda Down Under.
Top was trade and sealing the Indonesia Australia - Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by the end of 2017.  Another surprise – discussions on this deal only restarted in March after stalling for three years because political tensions were high.
Harvard-educated Lembong, a former investment banker who now chairs the Investment Coordinating Board (BPKM), has the task of meeting the deadline. He’ll get no opposition from Australia.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo says signing the agreement will be his ‘most significant priority’ while the Indonesia-Australia Business Partnership Group has pledged enthusiastic support
Small wonder; Indonesia’s expanding middle class market is tipped to reach 140 million consumers with tastes for beef and bread by the end of this decade provided trade barriers don’t rise.
In its paper Two Neighbors: Partners in Prosperity the Group said trade and investment is underperforming. ‘Given the proximity and size of the Indonesian and Australian economies … there are vast untapped areas of complementarity (sic) and potential.’
According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Republic is the island continent’s 12th largest trade partner, mainly importing wheat, beef and sugar.
Indonesia sells oil and some manufactured goods.  Total two-way trade is worth about AUD $15 billion (US $11.4 billion). One trade agreement is already in place embracing Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN nations, including Indonesia.
 Why the Jokonomics flip-flop?  Eve Warburton of the Australian National University has written in the latest Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies:

‘The president’s leadership style and decision-making process are unpredictable. Jokowi surrounds himself with very different kinds of economic thinkers. At times he embraces the ideas of pro-market advisors, but then pursues statist-nationalist policies endorsed by his personal partisans.’

Free trade sounds like a fine idea – nations sell to and buy from each other in an open market without tariffs, taxes and other impediments. There are compounding factors in play, like subsidies and dumping of surplus goods, but goo deals can satisfy customers wanting low prices.
Those consumers are also workers.  If their employers turn off lathes because they can’t compete against Chinese low-cost sweatshops they get grumpy.  In democracies that anger can threaten politicians, as Hillary Clinton knows well.
FTAs are particularly sensitive in agriculture. Food security is a political issue in Indonesia where a proverb says ‘a meal without rice is not a meal’. Annual personal consumption of around 114 kilograms can no longer be met by local farmers. 
So stocks of the nation’s staple carbohydrate held by state agency Bulog (the Bureau of Logistics) are being topped up with imports from Thailand.  
Production in the Kingdom is largely mechanised with combines and bulk-load trucks moving the crop from paddy to mill.  In Indonesia the rural scene is more Middle Ages with workers cutting and threshing by hand, then carting by bike.
If these laborers lost their jobs through a FTA they’d face limited alternative employment. According to the World Bank 70 per cent of Indonesia’s poor (earning less that US $2 a day), live in the countryside.
FTA at the vegie roots level
Ibu Wasita has little interest in international agreements but her suppliers, who are mainly her friends, could be victims.  She currently sells two types of carrots from her vegetable stall in Malang’s Oro-Oro Dowo traditional market.
The cheaper, uneven ones cost Rp 8,000 (US $0.60) a kilogram. They were grown in Batu on the cooler flanks of Mount Welirang.
The other carrots are evenly graded, clean and trimmed of leaves. They are packed in plastic and cost almost twice as much.  They come from China and appeal to choosy buyers.
Also from Batu are apples.  Just one variety, Manalagi for Rp 20,000 (US $1.50) a kilo.  They are blemished and to modern palates more billiard balls than Eve’s offering.  But in the supermarkets there’s a wide choice of plump, quality fruit – from China, the US and New Zealand.
The prices are higher but the polished apples roll off the shelves into high-end shoppers’ trolleys.  Should FTAs get signed with Australia and other countries prices will tumble – but Indonesian farmers’ incomes will shrink if they don’t change their production and marketing practices.
Batu is Central East Java’s vegetable garden.  It’s also a weekend escape for the well-off, so a hotel and entertainment park construction boom is underway.  For every 10,000 square meters flooded with concrete there’s one hectare less to grow food. 
It’s a pattern across Java as the national population is tipped to rise from the present 260 million to more than 320 million by 2050.
Australian pens are poised to sign an agreement.  However Lembong – dubbed by the Australian media as an ‘apostle of liberalisation’ - will find it near impossible to persuade Indonesian politicians to ink any document seen as threatening jobs.

First published in Strategic Review 14 November 2016.  See/

Tuesday, November 08, 2016


Seeking excuses?                                          
Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has cited security concerns in Jakarta to cancel this week’s visit to Australia.  Duncan Graham has doubts.
As political sport the Friday 4 November Jakarta demo was generally a crowd pleaser, though the off-field ending was bad. Hours after the 6 pm whistle and with most supporters in their divine white heading home, the hoon minority torched police cars before being teargassed.  One man died apparently from an asthma attack, a dozen hospitalised.
Tut-tutting Australians should remember the 2004 Redfern and 2005 Cronulla race riots.
With estimates of 150,000 (1.5 per cent of Jakarta’s population) on the streets stoked by firebrands claiming the Deity needs protection from real or imagined insults, the protest against Christian Governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Purnama could have been far worse.
No gunfire, no bombs and only one shop looted.  If correct all credit to the religious and civil authorities – particularly the police who used sex to cool conflict.
Prominently placed officers in jilbab (headscarves) showed the cops weren’t faithless.  The tactic was less spiritual than carnal.  Indonesian policewomen get picked more for beauty than brawn.
The distraction worked with ogling lads taking breaks from fist-thrusting for selfies with the girls in green.  During the first round New York Times correspondent Joe Cochrane tweeted:
‘I think ‘political stunt’ is more accurate. Vast majority of protestors paid teenagers, and not even from Jakarta. No voters.More. Impact on Ahok close to zero. A mere sideshow’.
Jokowi was inspecting an airport project while the march was underway. So why use it as an excuse to duck his trip Down Under?  His minders may have feared exposure to West Papua independence protestors – but that was always possible.
More likely is that he just changed his mind –he’s well known for no-shows.  For all the warm words about relationships in the interviews before departure he’s no internationalist. The timing was ridiculous coinciding with the US election pushing positive publicity off page and screen.
Friday’s demo was billed as the Islam Defenders’ Front (FPI) grand final spectacular.  They promised mayhem but couldn’t deliver. 
Their antics are becoming tiresome.  Disruptions beyond traffic snarls and flooding are no longer tolerable.  They claim holiness but are just pseudo-religious thugs.
Apart from Ahok few have dared challenge the FPI’s legitimacy, which explains their hate.  Unfortunately Jokowi’s cancellation gives them status that on current information they don’t deserve.

Columnist Julia Suryakusuma has likened FPI followers to plane passengers preferring an incompetent Muslim pilot than a qualified Christian even as disaster looms. 
Posters at the demo demanding Ahok’s death were exceptional.  Most wanted him charged with blasphemy which may well happen. There was nothing against Jokowi who retains widespread support.
Gubernatorial elections will be held in February. A need to stay at home then might make sense – but not now.
Ahok is smart, tough, loose-tongued, an effective reformer - but hobbled by his Protestant faith and Chinese ethnicity. His main threat is former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, an Islamic intellectual supported by retired General Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra (Greater Indonesia) Party. 
The President and Ahok are PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) mates from when Jokowi was governor and Ahok his sidekick.
Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has his son Agus Harimurti, 38, in the three-way contest to run the capital. Commentators give the colourless US educated Army major no chance. 
Jakarta shenanigans aren’t yet in the Trump-Clinton septic swamp but they are getting smelly. Religion was a cert to smear – the only question was how.
Ahok helped by commenting on a Koranic verse said to prohibit Muslims being led by a kafir (unbeliever).  He allegedly used the word dibohongi (lied) giving the FPI a hook to hang an insulter of the Holy Book.
If jailed for blasphemy he’ll be out of the race, so all may not be as it seems on the surface.
In his post match analysis Jokowi praised daytime discipline but condemned faceless ‘political actors’ manipulating the after-hours brawl.  This is a timeworn standard like ‘Canberra mandarins’ in Australian politics.
During the demo in 30 degree heat FPI organisers who’d bussed in outsiders handed out thousands of drinks and snacks – but wouldn’t name the donors. SBY reacted furiously to suggestions his Democratic Party was the bankroller.
Three days before kick-off Jokowi went to see Prabowo at his ‘residential retreat’ aka ‘spacious ranch’ in Bogor south of Jakarta.
For those unfamiliar with Indonesian culture the president knocking on his former rival’s gate was bewildering, but to Javanese it made sense.  Maintaining harmony and staying polite are essential virtues; Jokowi sought support to hose down possible violence at the demo and lost no votes by taking the initiative.
When Prabowo’s father-in-law Soeharto ran the nation for 32 years, SARA (suku, agama, ras, antar golongan) rules gagged comment on ethnicity, religion and race. 
Democratic reforms uncorked the bottle letting the FPI harass liberals, homosexual law reformers, feminists and anyone who thinks outside their narrow focus.
Prabowo supported calls for calm:  “We are a plural country with many tribes, religions and races,” he said. “If we have problems, let’s solve them peacefully”.
Jokowi also got backing from the Indonesia Scholars’ Council (MUI) and the two main Islamic organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah “to maintain unity and guard against those who want to divide the country”.
These meetings helped frame the demo not as a xenophobic rant (though much was) but as democratic expression.
The media tag of Indonesia as the world’s most populous Islamic nation suggests faith rules. However the Republic is not an Islamic state. Secular parties like the PDIP regularly trounce faith-based contestants.
The biggest flag at the demo was a sportsfield-sized red and white. The country is stable, the leader loved. Cabinet is under control, Parliament passive and the police more professional.  So what’s to fear with a quick call on the neighbours?  Doesn’t he like us?
Or maybe he reckons we're just not important enough
 First published in New Mandala 8 November 2016