I’ve been talking to a lot of people since I’ve been here, and a conclusion that a lot of people have been making about Indonesia is that things are getting better. The economy is growing at a healthy rate (the question is, is it growing unhealthily fast?), democracy is stable and consolidating (no one will overthrow SBY, the army is formally out of politics, elections are free and fair), corruption is under attack (no great results yet, but the effort is clearly there and it’s taken seriously), and radicalism is being contained (no major terrorist attacks lately, civil conflicts are mostly over, Islamic parties realize that they have to offer substantive good governance rather than pleas to sharia if they are to get votes). This is really interesting stuff, and as a pessimist, I wasn’t quite prepared for this.
One way to notice this is by looking around you. Having not been here in about 20 months, I was unprepared to see that for the first time since I’ve been coming to Jakarta, people are actually developing new property in the city. I was talking about this with some friends in a mall over lunch today, and it struck me that the mall wasn’t there last time I was here! The Transjakarta Busway and "traffic-free" days seem to be making a difference with the crowded streets and perhaps the smog a bit too. I think that the streets I’m most familiar with (Wahid Hasyim, Sabang, Thamrin, Sudirman, Yusuf Adiwinata, and Cokroaminoto) are noticeably cleaner in the beginning of 2008 than they were in 2004. I see fewer beggars. These are all good things, and make me feel proud of Indonesia. I wouldn’t pretend that I’m satisfied or that everything is fixed now, because there are still huge problems with corruption, illegal economies, pollution, and income opportunities for all Indonesians. But, it’s getting better all the time.
My plan before dinner is to take my American cell phone with me down the street, where I believe I might find the madrasah that Barack HUSSEIN Obama attended back when he was Indonesian, and try to take a picture of it.