A case for a new Bandung Consensus?

Greg Mills Correspondent

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.

While the Non-Aligned 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.

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 underway across their continents.

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.

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 underway 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 underway 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. – Daily Maverick.

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