Articles by Elizabeth Pisani

Clowns demand more of Indonesia’s political circus

Indonesia always does well in the Department of #YouCouldn’tMakeItUp. Exhibit A: this article from the Jakarta Globe about clowns marching for political peace. There’s so much about this story that delights me: That Indonesia even has a national clown’s association (and one that has almost as many members as the House of Representatives). That the Jakarta police felt the need to deploy 60 police officers “to ensure the clowns could march safely to Monas.” But mostly of course: That Sumarsono,…


Indonesian kids are starving to death: where are the health services?

2018 started badly for children in Indonesian Papua; though it’s a miraculously fertile province, at least 70 children in the Asmat district died of malnutrition in December and January, and measles and other vaccine-preventable infections are running high. We know about this because Kompas, Indonesia’s leading paper, sent reporters to Asmat to spotlight the crisis. But in truth, it’s probably been going on for a very long time. And it’s probably happening in other parts of Indonesia too; the health…


Don’t make martyrs of religious-themed thugs: lessons from Egypt

Welcome to 2018, which will doubtless be a year of political speculation ahead of the 2019 presidential elections. I spent New Year’s Day kayaking down the Nile. (Off-topic alert: if you’re looking for a truly fabulous holiday that combines decent exercise in great landscapes with a good dollop of ancient culture, check out the Nile Kayak Club’s trips from Aswan to Luxor.) While paddling, I chatted with newly-met Egyptian friends about the pariah status of the Moslem Brotherhood, which is…


In memory of 170,000 Indonesians. Or not.

“Living in the moment” is all the rage, and Indonesians excel at it. But is it ok to forget the lessons of the past, or to ignore predictable threats in the future? With 22 out of Indonesian’s 22 tsunami warning buoys neglected into inaction, I wonder…


Is invisibility the price of success for Indonesia?

To celebrate Indonesia’s 72nd birthday, I post a talk I gave at TED Global in 2014, musing about why the country was so invisible internationally. I reasoned that successful multi-cultural democracies don’t make the headlines. Would I give the same talk now?



Indonesian president encourages extra-judicial killings (foreigners preferred)

What is it with Indonesians and the law? It seems to me the country is beset with enthusiasm for purely symbolic laws, coupled with an utter disdain for the actual law. The photo above, taken in the Maduran town of Sumenep by my friend and colleague Michael Buehler, provides a delightful, home-made example of the first. Here’s a closer look: “Forbidden to have a traffic accident here!” it declares, above a gaping hole in the road. And then it gives…



For the sheer beauty of it: Java from space

Let’s for once leave politics and the perfidy of men behind, and revel in the beauty of the earth and the ingenuity of mankind. The photo of the volcanoes of East Java and beyond comes from the International Space Station, courtesy of NASA (and the US taxpayer). You can download a bigger version without the text labels here (jpg, 6kb) and find the source here. But I’m copying the text in full, because, well, because I find it fascinating. Thanks…


Should Jakarta voters trust a cleric who takes money from Playboy?

On Wednesday, we saw once again that Indonesian voters are more grown up than the people they are voting for. Though the Jakarta elections were repeatedly presented as a test of strength of political Islam, I’ve always thought the white-robed mobs were more a throw-back to the everyday tactics of the Old Guard, as I argue in this commentary in Nikkei Asian Review. But as the capital faces a second round of voting, we can certainly expect the FPI to…