Is Twitter a substitute for activism, or a platform for corruption?

Having spent plenty of time observing corruption first-hand in Indonesia, I’ve recently started to read more about what the boffins say. By boffins, I mean institutions such as the World Bank who write prescriptions for countries sick with corruption, and the academics who analyse such prescriptions and point out why they don’t cure the patient. In the latter group is Roberto Laver. He points out that the corruption medics have essentially confined themselves to prescribing two things: institutional reform and…


Jokowi’s first task: undermine dynasty politics

Tomorrow ushers in a new era for Indonesian politics. For the first time since 1957, when then president Sukarno did away with parliamentary democracy, the country will have an executive and a legislature that have different loyalties. But for the first time, too, there may be a chance of amputating the ageing hands that have so leadenly guided the nation’s political parties for the past decade and a half.


Indonesia Etc. enhanced eBook is out now!

Indonesia is one of the most visually compelling countries in the world: blue flames leap out of the side of sulphurous volcanoes, scarlet blood splatters into the dust between megalithic tombstones, the silvery eye of a giant tuna fish reflects the shining sea. In Indonesia Etc: Exploring the Improbable Nation, I have tried to capture this kaleidoscope land in black ink on white paper. But technology now provides us with a new world, a world where a writer’s words can…



Where have all the oknum gone?

A couple of weeks ago, the weekly news magazine Tempo devoted several pages to a story about cops being involved in an on-line gambling ring; there was an editorial about the scandal, too, and it surprised me. The subject matter — crooked cops — was not remotely unexpected. What tripped me up was the language. The editorial began: “Ditangkapnya dua pejabat kepolisian Jawa Barat….” (The arrest of two senior police officers from West Java…) That was strange to this long-time…


Now Indonesia’s democracy really is in danger

When Joko Widodo was confirmed as Indonesia’s new president by the Constitutional Court late last month, there was a collective sigh of relief. Indonesians could, at least for a few years, stop worrying about a major threat to their democracy.* Not so fast. Parliament is currently discussing whipping away Indonesian’s right to elect the people who have the greatest impact on the daily lives of citizens: their mayors or district heads (walikota/bupati). The suggestion is to go back to the system in place before 2005, when district heads were appointed by the local parliament….


Indonesia Etc: lessons for Scotland

Sixty-nine years ago today, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta blurted out the two sentences that gave Indonesia its independence (and my book its title): ‘We, the people of Indonesia, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters relating to the transfer of power etc. will be executed carefully and as soon as possible.’ I had cause to think about that during a visit to Scotland this week, just a month before all residents of Scotland over the age of 16 get to…


Things to do before you turn 50

What to do on the beautiful summer afternoon before your 50th birthday? Learn something new, obviously. I chose trapeze flying. I could draw comparisons between this exhilarating leap into nothingness and Indonesian politics in its current phase of and heady uncertainty, but I think I’ll just let it swing.


Generous Granta: Indonesia Etc ebook for (almost) free

Lovely Granta, who publish Indonesia Etc. in the UK, Australia and many Commonwealth countries, have generously agreed to try a new experiment: they are making the e-book available for next to nothing to people who have already bought the hardback. If you own a smartphone and physical copy of Indonesia Etc that has the cover pictured above, you can claim a copy of the plain ebook for just 99 cents (less than 70p). Here’s how it works: 1) on your…


Let the cow-trading begin!

Well, it’s official. Over 133 million Indonesians cast their votes peacefully, had them counted repeatedly and now have a new president elect. Congratulations to Indonesians for staying unflustered in the face of Prabowo Subianto’s schoolboy tantrums….