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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


The lady of the lamps     

They’re just a bit bigger and thicker than smart phones and have a weird name.  WakaWakas come in yellow and black and cost – well, that depends whether you’re rich or poor.
The children of Sukun in Malang are certainly in the latter category.  Their suburb, though well maintained, is cramped; public services, like electricity, are unreliable. It’s not the ideal place for kids to learn.
But now they’ll have no excuse for failing to do homework when the lights fail, thanks to a donation on 9 August of 200 WakaWakas by Dutch business manager Marie-Jose Nassette (below).
WakaWakas are the latest advances in small-scale sustainable technology and this is believed to be their first appearance in Indonesia.  They’re portable solar-powered units that can deliver more than 24 hours of light on one charge. Another model can also charge cellphones. They have been designed to replace kerosene as a fuel for lighting.
“I came across this invention by chance and field tested it while camping in Jordan in an area where batteries weren’t available,” Ms Nassette said.
“When I decided to visit a child my family has been sponsoring through the Dutch-Indonesia Suvono Foundation I planned to carry gifts.  The usual thing is pencils and notebooks for schoolwork, but then I noted my WakaWaka on the windowsill.
“Literally, I saw the light.”

She contacted the manufacturers, raised 5000 Euros [Rp 80 million] through friends and business associates linked to a Netherlands world trade center where she works and bought 200 WakaWakas to donate to the Sukun kids.
Although new to Indonesia there are more than 8,000 WakaWakas in the Philippines, about 26,000 in Syria and thousands more in camps where people have fled conflict and natural disasters.
The lights have a curious genesis starting in 2010 when the World Cup was played in South Africa.  The event was supposed to be carbon neutral but that ambition failed. So the government announced an international competition to develop a device that reduced carbon emissions.
Dutch environmental engineer Maurits Groen [his surname translates as ‘green’] decided to have a go.  He was inspired by learning that millions of South African children couldn’t study because there was no electricity and kerosene lighting was expensive.  It’s also dangerous.
One UN study claimed 300,000 people a year, mostly children, die from kerosene lamp fires while others are poisoned by drinking the fossil fuel; the polluting smoke is also a health hazard. Mr Groen’s own research claimed 1.5 billion people across the world still don’t have access to reliable electricity, dubbing the situation “energy poverty.”
“It’s no wonder that educational levels in Africa and Asia are very poor outside the big cities,” he was reported as saying.
But Mr Groen’s devices, which he called WakaWaka [meaning ‘shine bright’ in Swahili], were too expensive.  So he sold the carbon trading rights to the 2.8 million tonnes of emissions that his lamp would replace and with the money opened a factory in Holland.
Using crowd sourcing he also raised close to US $1 million [Rp 11.8 billion].  On-line investors were promised a WakaWaka for themselves and one for those too poor to pay.
Ms Nassette organized with Mr Groen to get the WakaWakas into Indonesia.  Although it was claimed all paper work had been completed correctly the devices were allegedly held up on the docks by Indonesian customs for a month until US$500 [Rp 5.9 million] was paid, even though they were to be donated.
Not all technologies migrate well.  For example, solar power widely used in Europe and Australasia has yet to become popular in Indonesia.
“I know about the problems caused by rich foreigners coming to countries like Indonesia, giving gifts, and then leaving,” she said. “Some lights may get sold, but I believe most will be used for the purpose intended.
“We’ll be monitoring what happens and reporting back to the WakaWaka Foundation to see how this project develops.
“I’m a strong supporter of sustainable living.  If every person just takes care of their one square meter then the world will be so much better.”
Kerosene use in Indonesia has tumbled, and is now less than a quarter of the consumption recorded in 2000 as the more efficient LPG gas has taken over for cooking. However kerosene is still used in remote areas for lighting.
Ms Nassette rejected suggestions that overseas aid was better handled by governments.
“That’s negative thinking,” she said.  “Governments aren’t always effective. We need to take responsibility ourselves. My fridge is full and I have a good life; but the purpose of having property is to share it with others.
“Every individual needs to set an example, not just talk about sustainability and inequality, but to get out and do something.  We can’t leave it to governments and behave like ostriches with our heads in the sand.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to try and leave the world a little better.”
Just keep it simple
There are only two moving parts on the WakaWaka – the stand which folds out, and the big button which turns it on. The battery is not accessible. The design is ideal for handicapped people.
Black solar cells cover the back.  For a full charge the device must stand in the sun for ten hours, or longer if overcast.  That will provide 20 hours of bright light, or 60 hours of medium light.
The retail price is around US $39 [Rp 450,000], while the device that includes a cellphone charger costs double. But in developing areas the price is closer to US $10 [Rp 118,000]
The inventor has also started a foundation encouraging rich companies to donate the WakaWakas to developing nations and in particular to areas hard hit by disasters. If a buyer pays more for a unit the company guarantees to donate one to a refugee camp.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 18 August 2014)


Tuesday, August 12, 2014


A Turtle called Democracy                                     

He’s huge as befits a sprawling archipelago of many parts – and like the nation’s political system is still a work in progress.
But by the time the new President is inaugurated on 20 October, Malang metal sculptor Ono Gaf’s monster Democracy Turtle should be close to completion.
“I don’t want to rush it,” he said.  “This is not an exercise in speed – every cog, wheel and gear, spring and sprocket has to tell me where it wants to go.
“I like turtles.  I kept them as a child so I know their characteristics. They move slowly but methodically. They’re strong and can take hard knocks.
“They are wise and quiet.  They are determined and they persevere.  They never bother people and are always going forward. 
“There’s a Javanese children’s story [much like Aesop’s Fable of the Hare and Tortoise] about a race between a kancil (mouse deer) and a kura-kura (turtle).  The faster animal loses because it’s arrogant and doesn’t take the contest seriously. These are all qualities I respect and for me they’re present in our new democracy.”
Ono pedals a bike around scrap dealers and workshops where old vehicles – mainly busses – are broken up for spare parts.  He selects what appeals, already knowing where they’ll fit, and hauls them in sacks to the construction site using public transport.
“Some passengers think I’m a gombel (scavenger),” he said. “But it would cost a lot to have truck loads delivered.  They’re my treasury.”
The three-tonne monster is being constructed for a retired doctor who is also an artist, though specialising in small and delicate plant arrangements.  He owns a restaurant in the hill town of Batu outside Malang in East Java, though Democracy Turtle is hidden from street view at the back of the property.
Ono said the doctor, who shied publicity, had been unable to buy the self-taught artist’s sculptures at exhibitions so had decided to commission for an undisclosed sum.  Work started in May and Ono lives on site during weekdays.
Some restaurant staff help with spot-welding at Ono’s direction.
There are scores of other sculptures by Ono at gated upscale housing communities and outdoor theme centers in East Java.  The Eco-Green Park in Batu displays his scrap metal birds alongside the feathered varieties.
Democracy Turtle has attracted widespread interest, with bus loads of international tourists and tertiary students coming to watch the three-meter high terrapin grow. Visitors who reckon they’re mechanically smart try to identify the parts – others are overawed by its complexity.
“I’m 66 and I want this sculpture to be my masterpiece,” Ono said. “This isn’t just about welding metal – for me it’s spiritual.  That’s why it’s taking time to get established, just like our democracy.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 12 August 2014)

Sunday, August 10, 2014


By the way: A fable for our times
Once upon a time in an amazing archipelago called Insulindia there dwelt a great people, rich in reason and resources.
 “Verily, we are the most fortunate of folk,” they cried. “We can cast a net into the ocean and catch fine fish. The wild fruits of our soil are sufficient unto the day.  We are free to determine our future though the snakes of ego and avarice slither amongst us.”
Now in those days Insulindia was ruled by a regent who’d sat on the throne for ten twelvemonths and was getting a mite constipated. There were mutterings in the marketplace, and many voiced anxieties, for the ancient one’s heirs lacked courage to grasp the reins of office.
So the King gathered the challengers and spoke thus:
“Oh ye ambitious men, harken to my words. Those who would seek to rule this mighty nation must first win the hand of my fair daughter, Demo Cracy.”
Some suitors were aghast.  “But, Lord,” cried one of noble birth, rolling off his froth-flecked stallion. “Demo is comely only in the eyes of the blighted.  You adopted her.  She is not from the loins of our land but a thieving foreigner.  She’s responsible for the leaks, the reason we do not prosper.
“Better by far to embrace the true ways of our ancestors and follow Demo’s half-brother, Mono Cracy as befits our tradition.  For many in this tropical fiefdom are not so learned as us, or of sound mind as to make correct decisions. 
“I am but a simple goat farmer so I know well the simple goats. They need guidance from one raised for greatness, for such was foretold at my Mamma’s breast.”
“Nary, good Sir,” interrupted his most potent rival, a low-born hewer of wood and wanderer of the warungs.  “I will rise to the challenge thrown down by our lacklustre leader and woo yon maiden Demo; forsooth, methinks she is beloved of the masses.  Prithee, Lord, your orders.”
“So be it,” said the King.  “Hence to the smoking mountains and flood-ripped valleys, to the humblest hamlets and the silver cities.
“Tell all who will listen of your plans, and on the day appointed I will ask them to choose.”
“They will be told,” snarled the plump knight of the dark countenance as he mounted his charger with the help of three stout groomsmen. “Summons my little brother to fill the saddlebags with gold to reward the true believers.
“Also call upon scribes to rewrite my biography.  The commoners must not be confused by the lies of those who might recall past misdeeds, though of course these never happened.”
And so the Eurocopter ascended to the heavens above the clenched-fist cheers of redcaps spontaneously shouting “Il Duce, Il Duce,” for they had learned the word from history books. But others trembled.
Meanwhile his rival looked around for a passing pedicab, for his palace-born sponsor had commandeered all flying machines. She knew the people craved to see her princess daughter, not some lean and hungry pretender with no lineage, a frog from a riverbank.
And so it came to pass on the appointed day the electors gathered and spake with clear voice.  The winner consummated the union with Demo, but the loser withdrew to spill his wrath.
“Oh ye dolts and dimwits,” he shouted at the multitude. “I said to stick the nail through the paper once – not twice just to make sure.  Why do you think I paid you?
“I also curse the blind referee.  We told him many dead and disappeared had voted twice – we have their names. But he wouldn’t listen
“We’ll get this fixed at the high place with a fine record of impartial judgments. We have shipping containers – well, folders actually - bulging with your righteous complaints.  These must be upheld – or we’ll cry havoc.
“Fear not, proud yeomen of Insulindia.  I will not allow my, I mean your destiny to be stolen by a wardrobe salesman into heavy metal, not heavy armaments.  A warrior never accepts defeat, even when riddled by eight million votes.”
Now children, time for bed. No nightmares darlings, it’s just an old fairy tale. Duncan Graham

(First published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday 10 August 2014)

Thursday, August 07, 2014


Attack the best defence   

The most powerful person in Indonesia right now is neither the outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), nor his democratically elected successor, Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (Jokowi). We know what they’re doing - planning for a smooth transition.
The man with the muscle is former general Prabowo Subianto, the bad loser in the 9 July two-horse race for Indonesia’s top job. His power comes from his unpredictability. So far his bids to overturn the result have been legal, but only Prabowo knows his gameplan. 
Prabowo was a military man for 28 years and believes in what he calls ‘the soldier spirit”. Real warriors never surrender, particularly when they have 65 million people on their side. 
Prabowo has never served as a politician or administrator. His public life has been fouled by allegations involving the disappearance of student activists, claims so serious that he’s been black-listed by the US and Australia. But for the past decade he’s worked furiously to reshape his image, become a serious contender – and then win.
To operate properly democracy requires a fair system and a gracious loser.  So far only the first condition has been accomplished.
Prabowo lost the election by six per cent – that’s more than eight million votes.  Obviously the Electoral Commission (KPU) must be wrong, so a battalion of lawyers is challenging the result in the Constitutional Court alleging “massive and systematic fraud.”
The decision will be handed down on 22 August. Appeals are not allowed.  Many commentators believe the court will dismiss Prabowo’s challenge. If so, what then? 
Allegations that the KPU illegally opened ballot boxes have already been referred to the police. Mobs of supporters have padlocked the KPU’s gates. Another tactic being canvassed is for a parliamentary committee to examine the election.  If successful the Presidential inauguration scheduled for 20 October could be stalled, pushing the nation into politically hazardous territory.
In a post-result 23-minute video speech Prabowo told his supporters the election was a “failure”, “illegitimate” and had “violated the rules of democracy”. He said there were only two choices:
“To stand as a nation of honoured knights, or to be forever subject as a nation of lackeys, a nation of slaves, a weak nation, a nation that can be bought, a nation that can be bribed.

“The choice is in our own hearts… answer to me so I know who is going to continue with my fight until the final drop of blood … This is not an end to the struggle. This is the beginning of our struggle. Freedom!”
Hardly the language of one seeking an honourable way to concede defeat, more the rhetoric of a combatant digging in for a siege.  The problem is that the further this runs the harder it will be for a proud man to pull back.
Post-election pride in democracy: proof of voting
 Prabowo, former son-in-law of dictator General Soeharto who controlled the country for 32 years, desperately wants to take over the fourth largest nation in the world.  His raw ambition isn’t totally fuelled by altruism; he believes he’s the rightful heir because his leadership was foretold by his mother, so he knows his destiny was of a man born to rule.
Indonesians are spiritual people and many are superstitious.  The culture is rich with stories of predictions and curses, omens and supernatural events that are embedded in the belief systems of millions, even those who are well-educated.
Prabowo is backed by some of the richest men in Indonesia.  Tycoons, like Aburizal Bakrie, also control the most popular free-to-air TV stations in a country where electors get their information from the screen, not papers. Some of this ‘news’ has been scandalously biased against Jokowi and blatantly false.
When the East Timorese voted four-to-one for independence in the 1999 Referendum the Indonesian forces, having earlier convinced themselves that change was impossible, destroyed buildings, infrastructure, crops – and almost 1,500 civilians - using para-militaries to carry out a scorched earth campaign.
Prabowo wasn’t there – he’d run away to exile in Jordan after being kicked out of the military for exceeding orders during an unsuccessful bid a year earlier to put down a pro-democracy protest in Jakarta. It’s alleged he was involved in the torture of activists and the disappearance of 13, but has never been formally charged.
Despite his bad human rights record Prabowo won votes by claiming he had the strength to make things happen – and that his rival, a former furniture salesman with no connections to Soeharto, was not a fit and proper candidate.

There’s little doubt Jokowi (right) is a democrat and appears to be a humble and decent bloke, but is he up to the task of running the world’s fourth largest nation facing enormous economic and social issues?  
He could grow into the job but so far his speeches have been embarrassingly uninspiring.  As the Plan B candidate selected when his sponsor Megawati Soekarnoputri was persuaded not to stand, Jokowi is looking more and more like the Accidental President. 
According to Australian academic Gerry Van Klinken “ … there is no denying that Joko Widodo is no intellectual with a clear analysis of what needs to change to make Indonesia a more equal, more prosperous, more fair society.”
Blunt analysis of the democrats’ golden boy is rarely heard, for in their euphoria Jokowi supporters have canonised their man.
The truth is Jokowi will need widespread sympathy, backing from mongrel political operators and a great deal of luck to make any difference to the lives of ordinary Indonesians for he’ll be up against some towering barriers.  Foremost is the Legislative Assembly (DPR) which is already loaded against the President elect by two-to-one.
Despite regular predictions that Prabowo’s ‘permanent coalition’ of opposition parties is about to collapse, and that his backers are quitting, this hasn’t happened. Prabowo seems to be keeping any waverers in line with his never-say-die campaign.
At the moment he’s the man still calling the shots.  Hopefully not literally.

(First published in On-Line Opinion, 7 August 2014: