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A new Bandung Consensus? What Africa and Indonesia can learn from each other

A new Bandung Consensus? What Africa and Indonesia can learn from each other

While the nonaligned movement may have been born in 1960, its principles were established at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia in 1955. More than half a century later, both Indonesia and its African partners would do themselves a favour by turning the feel-good political sentimentality of Bandung into something meaningful, focusing on bringing cities and businesses closer together. By GREG MILLS.

The name Bandung is up there in international political iconography, the Indonesian city that was the site of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference, a symbol of the heady days of struggle and promise.

There leaders of 29 developing countries met under President Sukarno’s chairmanship in the former Dutch Concordia recreation hall, renamed for the occasion the Gedung Merdeka (or “independence building”), to accelerate the national liberation struggles under way across their continents.

Photo: Nehru, daughter Indira, and an apparently texting Sukarno in Bandung, 1955. (Hotel Savoy Homann)

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, who attended along with Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Pakistan’s Mohammad Ali Bogra, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and China’s Chou en Lai among others, described Bandung as the “focal centre and capital of Asia and Africa”.

Other than being a sepia-stained jol, and some theatre, the conference delivered the Ten Bandung Principles, including respect for human rights, sovereignty and territorial integrity, equality of all nations and races, abstention from intervention, the right of self-defence, abstention from aggression, commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes, promotion of national interests and co-operation, and respect for justice and international obligations.

Photo: Sukarno’s address to the 1955 Asia-Afrika Conference, Bandung. (Asia-Afrika Museum, Bandung)

That most summits come up with the same list, or parts of it, even today, shows either how far ahead of their time the boys of Bandung were (the leaders were all men), or how little things have progressed since.

In the “Paris of Java”, as Bandung was known in the colonial era given its café lifestyle away from the oppressive coastal tropical heat, the presidents and prime ministers walked the 100 metres down Jalan Asia-Afrika to the conference from the luxurious Savoy Homann Hotel, with its wacky LSD interior and curvaceous art deco balconies to the conference hall.

For some delegate-nations, however, it was just the start of a long and tough road to peace and prosperity: Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sudan and Libya were all to suffer coups, in some cases serially so, and even outright civil war, most within the decade. In the case of North and South Vietnam, present as separate delegates, by 1975 the latter had been swallowed by the former amid widespread destruction and the loss of more than 1.3-million lives.

Sukarno himself was gone in 10 years, removed in a coup d’etat by the stubby General Suharto, but not before he had brought his country to the economic precipice. Just as the colonialists had gone in for grandiose architecture to make a statement, Sukarno did much the same to attempt to make up for his lack of economic substance.

Indonesia’s infrastructure is weak; the reasons for this include its dispersed geography, mountainous topography, funding, governance and politics. In the capital, Jakarta, these challenges are compounded by the size of its population, the sheer volume of commuters, and frequent flooding.

The government has been caught, constantly, in a number of infrastructure investment binds: between investing in transport between the innumerable islands or on them, the result being unsatisfactory in both respects; and between plans and projects by both the central government and the 34 provinces and 502 city and regency authorities countrywide.

Dr Oswar Mungkasa is the Deputy Governor of the State of Jakarta with responsibility for spatial and environmental affairs. He identifies three major challenges in the capital city.

The first is the provision of public transportation. Current actions to redress this challenge, he says, are “five years too late”. This shortfall is epitomised by the antics of ancient, smoking trucks and elderly white-green Kopaja buses, and about 80-million motor bebek (literally, ‘ducks-bike’) — the ever-present snorting, tooting motorcycle.

With four-million daily commuters, this requires extensive co-ordination between the local and central government both to fund and plan. There are three plans under way for improving the network: the $1.5-billion Jakarta Mass Rapid Transport (the underground) funded by the local government, the first line of which should be completed in 2018; the $900-million Jakarta Light Rapid Transport (LRT) Monorail, one aspect of construction now under way funded by central government, another in the planning stages by the local government, and the proposed LRT airport link to be funded by a private consortium.

The provision of public housing is the second major challenge. Jakarta has a backlog of 40,000 public housing units. The current strategy is to build 50,000 new units, or 38 new high density towers, by 2017, these being let at a subsidised price of Rp10,000 (US$80c, R12.20) a day to poor families. But land is expensive and scarce.

“Even though this is the government’s number one priority,” he says, “and funding is not a problem, we cannot find the land.”

He speaks wistfully of Singapore’s early land appropriation strategy, hence attempts to try now to introduce a land bank in Indonesia.

“The difference is that while 95 percent of the land there is owned by the government, the reverse is true here in Jakarta.”

Regardless, he considers Singapore’s history of development as a model to be emulated.

The third challenge is to synch short-term expediencies with longer-term needs, and equally, “to try and put spatial and development issues into one single plan”.

These plans require not only careful integration with the existing networks if they are to be successful, but careful co-ordination.

“We need to have one single system to run Jakarta and the surrounding areas, where there are currently nine municipalities, three provinces and governors, and one central government.”

This hints, too, at a tension between the pull of central government and the effectiveness of decentralised systems of governance.

Bandung is, too, clogged, with 2.7-million inhabitants (or more than eight-million if one includes the wider metro) packed at 14,000 per square kilometre (Jakarta is at 9,000, and by comparison London 4,000 and New York 2,000 per square kilometre) and with an infrastructure little improved than from the Dutch period.

There is no shortage of economic dynamism and growth in the capital of the West Java region, Bandung being variously known as a “Smart City”, “Culinary City” (given the variety of specialist restaurants), “Factory Outlet City” (for the throngs of Malaysian budget shoppers looking for labels and bargains) and, with 78 higher learning institutions including the prestigious Institute for Technology (attended by presidents Sukarno and BJ Habibie among other grandees), “Students City”. Indonesia’s third-largest city is seen as a model in incubating small and medium sized industries, with more than 500 successfully scaling their operations in areas from clothing to gaming, app and web design.

Averaging nearly nine percent during the 2000s, 50 percent more than the national average, Bandung’s economic growth has compounded its infrastructure deficit, pollution and traffic congestion. There has historically been no shortage of plans to undo the gridlock, including a metro, monorail, cable car, and Bus Rapid Transit-type system. Shelters were even built for the latter, but this stalled due to resistance from the angkot (minibus) drivers.

Photo: Bandung today (Greg Mills)

Now, under Ridwan Kamil, 44, widely known as Emil, there is a plan to build a new satellite city, Teknopolis, an 800ha development about 12km from the city centre. Elected mayor of Bandung in June 2013, in 2004 he co-founded the architectural practice Urbane Indonesia, which has worked on signature projects worldwide including Singapore’s Marina Bay Gardens.

On the surface the Teknopolis plans are impressive, as is the high-tech city “Command Centre” which uses a wall of monitors to track progress with projects and monitor traffic and other incidents, integrating 100 CCTVs with social media feeds. The aim is to have 4,000 cameras across the city.

Despite his ambitions, the mayor has apparently found running a city is tougher than designing one. At the outset he planned Singapore-style laws banning street vendors both to reduce the traffic chaos and show he meant business. He wanted to create a transport legacy with a monorail integrated with an urban cable car system in the style of Medellin, a Hong Kong-modelled elevated pedestrian skywalk and the expansion of the number of bikes in city’s bike rental scheme from 75 to 15,000. All this, he planned, plus 100 new parks and playgrounds.

Kamil was directly elected with 45 percent of the vote from a field of eight candidates. He only considered standing eight months before the election, motivated by the extent of his home city’s degradation, and taking heart, he says, from the record of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”), popularly known as Jokowi, elected in July 2014.

Photo: Budget issues mean the high-tech Command Centre is not staffed round the clock. (Greg Mills)

Since then Emil’s progress has seemingly stumbled on a combination on local die-hard habits (which his staff refer to as “local culture”), politicking and Jakarta’s funding intransigence. Budget issues mean the high-tech command centre is not staffed round the clock. Despite the mayor’s ambitions plans under his triangular vision of “innovation, decentralisation and collaboration”, so far private money has not been forthcoming, so progress on the Teknopolis slow. Land is expensive, and much of the latter is privately held. Unless investors step forward, the project will depend on the enthusiasm of the central government, which already meets two-thirds of the city’s annual $450-million budget, about half of which goes on salaries for its 21,000 employees. Mayor Emil has referred to the “low morality of the bureaucracy” as one of his biggest frustrations.

While Emil represents a new generation of Indonesian politicians, not from the military or the traditional elites, he is not the first.

President Jokowi, too, is from humble origins, his father a furniture maker, the sector in which the future president made his business career. Jokowi’s politics were shaped by his family’s three evictions from their home. While still at school, at 12, he started in his father’s workshop.

During his seven years as the Mayor of Solo (2005-2012), Jokowi set what is now a familiar agenda for action. He became known for delivery of new infrastructure including the building of markets and walkways, revitalisation of public parks, promotion of the city as an exhibition centre, improved public transportation, establishment of a techno park, and promotion of health care insurance. Emil, it seems, is not alone.

How Jokowi did all this, however, was more important than simply the statement of his ambitions. In part he won support through his blusukan culture, his impromptu walkabouts to gather the views of citizens. No carefully staged and staggered imbizo, these frequent visits are key to his popular support and, he claims, policies. A keen heavy metal fan, Jokowi solicited international conferences and events, including the World Music Festival. His personal punya gaye (“can-do”) style strengthened his public bond. Setting a personal example on corruption, he forbade his family to bid on public projects.

Jokowi continued with this outgoing method as Governor of Jakarta from October 2012, again backing it up with delivery. To assist poorer students with the payment of essentials including books and uniforms, he introduced the Smart Jakarta Card in 2012. The following year, he inaugurated the construction of the much-delayed Jakarta MRT, and a week later restarted the stalled construction of the capital’s LRT. By the start of 2016 much of the main Jalan Sudirman thoroughfare was an MRT construction site.

This was matched by actions on governance. During his time as Governor, Jokowi doubled the region’s tax take, encouraging greater transparency through publicising his monthly salary and provincial budget, and through e-purchasing. Street vendors were rehoused, helping traffic flows, while he initiated major new dredging projects aimed at reducing Jakarta’s omnipresent danger of regular flooding. And despite his political origins in the Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle — PDI-P) of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the founding father Sukarno, he has tried to reign in the subsidy culture (which, although popular, hamstrung capital-intensive infrastructure projects) by increasing fuel prices.

For aspirant middle classes the motorcar is a desirable item, especially where public transport is cluttered and unreliable. Indonesia is a paradox in this regard. On one hand, acquisition of this symbol has been encouraged by Jakarta’s policies, with the introduction, for example, of the fuel-efficient and affordable Low Cost Green Car, which helped push annual domestic sales through the one million mark in 2013. The density of cars in Indonesia in 2013 was calculated at 77 per 1,000 people, while Jakarta and its surroundings hosted 3,226,009 cars and 13,084,372 motorcycles. Indonesia’s motorisation rate is still less than half the global average (174/1,000) but nearly twice the rate of fast-growing Africa at 43/1,000.

Photo: The ‘Busway’ – Transjakarta Sub Rapid Transport (Greg Mills)

Yet, on the other hand, Indonesia is not only investing in new public transport systems, but ensuring that its facilities are run well. For all the country’s infrastructure backlog, and the temptation of big ticket projects, a standout feature is how the government is learning to make better use of existing assets. This approach should offer hope to cash-strapped African governments.

With Jakarta’s wider metropolitan area and various satellite towns home to as many as 30-million, the government initiated a Trans-Jakarta Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) network in 2004. Running on 12 routes totalling 207km within the city, known colloquially as “busway”, its nearly 500 red and orange Chinese-built buses move 350,000 people daily on dedicated lanes for a standard fare of Rp3,500 (US$25c).

Photo: 700,000 travel each day on Jakarta’s commuter trains (Greg Mills)

Busway stations are integrated with the commuter train service, which shuttles more than 700,000 passengers each day on six lines. Using second-hand Japanese train coaches, fares range between Rp2,000 and Rp11,000 depending on the length of the journey. Much of the rail infrastructure was built in the colonial period, though the elevated commuter stations and lines were added by Suharto’s government in the 1980s. Both services, while still insufficient for the capital’s needs, are highly-automated, clean, actively policed, frequent and punctual.

This points to the possibility of a new, more meaningful Bandung agenda.

Indonesia’s trade with Africa grew at 20 percent per annum between 2010 and 2014, totalling $11.7-billion, the main African imports being palm oil, consumer electronics, textiles, cars and car parts, and exports crude oil, cotton pulp, fertiliser, copper and aluminium, cocoa, chemicals and cloves. Approximately 25 Indonesian companies are invested in sub-Saharan Africa, led by the noodle manufacturer Indomie, while African investment in Indonesia totalled $2.65-billion by 2014. Indonesia has embassies in 16 African countries (including north Africa), while there are 11 African countries represented in Jakarta.

This is impressive, but not when compared to India’s trade with sub-Saharan Africa which is seven times this volume, or China’s, which is more than 20 times the amount. Additionally, Indonesian tourism flows to Africa, principally South Africa, remain small (about 6,000 annually) despite visa-on-arrival access to Indonesians in 38 sub-Saharan African countries. It is, in the words of one Indonesian foreign ministry official, “a huge unrealised opportunity”. It has proven difficult to gain any traction in a cluttered international agenda for Indonesian-African relations, despite the 2005 New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership agreement struck on the 50th anniversary of the original Bandung meeting, co-chaired by South Africa and Indonesia, with its eight areas of co-operation; and despite the existence of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), whose 21 members include eight African nations and include Indonesia.

It’s not that Indonesia lacks international recognition on account of its economic potential; it is after all a member of the “E7” grouping, a term coined by PricewaterhouseCoopers, representing the “emerging” giants of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey. It is part of Goldman Sachs’ ‘N-11’ (Next Eleven, get it?), referring to Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam, those with the greatest potential to join the group of developed nations, and also the CIVETS, a grouping invented by the Economist Intelligence Unit listing Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa on the same grounds. And then there’s the MINTS (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey) the acronym, er, minted by Fidelity Investments of Boston and popularised by Jim O’Neill of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) fame; the MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey); and the MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia), steered since 2013 by the respective foreign ministers.

It’s all too much, and thus next to meaningless.

Indonesia and its African partners would do themselves a favour by turning the feel-good political sentimentality of Bandung into something meaningful, focusing on bringing cities and businesses closer together.

For the former, though it is far more advanced in the provision of public transport than most African cities, Indonesia has experienced the costs of the absence of planning and infrastructure. Sub-Saharan Africa’s upcoming demographic swell, with population numbers expected to double to two billion by 2040, is going to be felt particularly in its cities. Ideally a new agenda should include improved access for people, capital and trade, even a bilateral Indonesia-Nigeria or Indonesia-Southern African Development Community (SADC) free trade deal, but this may be too ambitious given Indonesia’s cluttered trade agenda with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Focusing on the development of the urban environment would be a unique contribution regardless for a new Bandung agenda. DM

Dr Mills heads the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. This article is drawn from a longer study on Indonesia’s infrastructure as part of the Foundation’s Future of African Cities Project, and is available at

Main photo: Bandung by Ikhlasul Amal


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