New Internationalist


September 1981

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WATER[image, unknown] Country profile: Indonesia

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Leader: President General (retired) Suharto

Economy: GNP is $370 per person per year
Debt service payments as % of exports: 13%
Main exports: oil, timber, rubber.
Rate of inflation (average 1970-78): 20%

People: 142.9 million/town dwellers: 20%

Health: Child mortality (1-4 yrs): 1.4% (Sweden 0.1 %)
Daily calorie availability: 103%
Access to clean water. 12%

Culture: Religion: Moslems 85%. Christians 10%, Hindus 2%; others 3%.
Ethnic groups: mainly Javanese but over 100 other groups
Language: national language bahasa Indonesia, closely related to Malay; over 100 regional languages and dialects.
Previous colonising powers: Portuguese, Dutch and British pre-1816; Dutch 1816-1942; Japanese 1942-45; Independence 1945; Transfer of Sovereignty 1949.

Sources: All figures taken from World Development Report; World Bank 1981


'A girdle of emeralds strung around the equator.' Indonesia's description is apt. Green predominates in the country's 13,000 islands stretching over 5,000 kilometres and covering five million square kilometres of land and sea: the flashing greens of coconut, banana and pepaya trees; the sombre greens of tropical rain forests; and the delicate, pale greens of freshly planted rice seedlings in terraced fields.

'Unity in Diversity' is the national motto. Yet many visitors are struck more by the diversity than the unity of the people: from devout Moslems in northern Sumatra, artistic Hindus on the islands of Bali, through to bow-and-arrow tribes-people in Irian Jaya (West Irian). But the cultural and political heart of Indonesia is the island of Java. It makes up only seven per cent of the country's land surface but is the home of over 90 million people.

For over 300 years prior to 1942 the sprawling archipelago had been under Dutch domination. Then the Japanese invaded and quickly dispelled the myth of white supremacy. But their harsh regime soon created resentment.

After 1945, under the flamboyant leadership of President Sukarno, the newly independent country experienced economic decline and outbreaks of violent rebellion. Sukarno's juggling act, keeping different power factions like the army, Muslims and the Communists in the air at the same time, fell apart in an orgy of blood letting in September 1965. After an abortive left-wing coup, the army and Moslems killed between 100,000 and a million people in a grim year of the long knives. From this emerged the 'New Order' government of President Suharto.

The pressure of people on land is intense, especially on Java, where average farm size is only 0.3 hectare. About 40 per cent of Java's rural households own no farming land at all, and a 'large' farmer is someone with more than two hectares of irrigated paddyfields. Thanks to the Green Revolution, Indonesia's rice production has risen by about four per cent during the past decade. But production increases have been at the price of equity.

The rise in world oil prices during the 1970s was a great windfall for Indonesia. Royalties and taxes on oil exports now account for two-thirds of government revenue and the country has a healthy balance of payments surplus. Yet converting oil income into decent living standards for those at the bottom of the heap has been a non-starter. Most of the country's generals have sticky fingers in one or more lucrative commercial pies. The President's relatives are also involved, with Suharto's wife known in Djikarta's coffee shops as Madame Ten Per Cent - claimed to be her rake off on government contracts.

The government faces a general election in May 1982. Despite the dithering, the corruption and the widening gap between the oil rich and the land-hungry poor, the present regime will probably win again. The intimidation of opposition candidates and sleight-of-hand with voting forms will see to that.

Glen Williams

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Richest 20% have 49% of income, poorest 20% have 6% of income with gap growing.
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Dependence on foreign aid for development despite increased revenue from oil exports.
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Peasants and urban poor active in workforce.
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[image, unknown] A right wing, military dominated government; limited role for political parties.
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62% of adults literate. 86% of children attend primary school.
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Press and political parties stricitly controlled . All untried political prisoners recently released.

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‘53 years, one of the lowest in Asia. Infant mortality rate 125 per 1000 but improving; doctor:patient ratio -1:14.500.

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Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 103 This feature was published in the September 1981 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 103

New Internationalist Magazine issue 103
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