- 21 April 2001
Indonesia consists of more than 17,500 islands, of which only 6,000 are inhabited, and the country has more than 250 ethnic groups. The diverse people and islands create a difficult to manage country, as well as a political hotbed with economic woes. We have seen in a short while that this country of 220 million, the fourth largest in the world, is rich in oil and natural resources and could be far more prosperous and successful, if run properly and efficiently.
Unrest festers throughout the country. Muslims are calling for jihad (holy war) if President Wahid is impeached and 300,000 have threatened to storm Jakarta. Rebels in Aceh (pronounced Ah-chay) fighting for independence confront fierce government troops, and more than 5000 on both sides have died in that northern Sumatra region over the last 20 years. Fighting between Muslims and Christians on the island of Maluku, where the government is doing little to halt the battles, appears to be nowhere near a conclusion. Corruption and cronyism are a way of life, news stories with allegations appear almost daily. Vigilante justice by civilians is increasing, as private citizens no longer believe police will bring justice. And the lost fight against independence in East Timor took a major toll on the government’s resources and made officials more aware, and scared, of the fragile nature of the disparate republic.
Still suffering from the 1997 Asian financial collapse, Jakarta has many projects unfinished in evidence by scores of see-through buildings, some with rusted cranes still attached. Money fled, along with many wealthy Chinese businessmen, who supposedly made up almost 80 percent ownership of Indonesian companies. Some of them are still doing business in this part of the world, commuting between Singapore, Hong Kong and Jakarta, but others have written off Indonesia entirely.
Jakarta on the postcards is a modern, sophisticated city, and parts live up to the glossy pictures, but the reality is some of the worst slums in the country are found right here. The majority live day to day on very little money, with the Indonesian rupiah on a downward spiral, and cannot afford basic necessities, which are extremely cheap by Western standards. Jobs are difficult to find and many Indonesians are lost in the ever-growing slums of Jakarta. The picture is bleak.