On a good morning at the office, my dear friend Astari told me to check out the latest publication of Foreign Policy. “It’s on women in the Middle East and Africa”, she further tried to convince me.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m a keen reader on international affairs, the type who’d read anything to enlighten my view of the world. But, I was just finding it difficult to feel excited about reading on the plight of women in the Middle East from the views of a Western publication. Somehow, I sorta knew how the argument is going to pan out. The “boogeyman” would be obvious, and so would be the supposed solution to the problem.
And so, while visiting to Foreign Policy’s website, I decided to forego reading the articles on women in the Middle East and Africa, and was attracted instead by a headline that read “The Most Powerful WomenYou've Never Heard Of”. Interesting I figured.
The list was made up of 25 women, including former New Zealand PM Helen Clark (currently Administrator of UNDP), Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who succeeded in restructuring her country’s tattered finance system and cut down on fuel subsidies), and Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong (the only woman in the 25-people Chinese Politburo).
Any Indonesians on the list..? Of course, sitting at No. 18 is our one and only Ibu Sri Mulyani Indrawati, former Finance Minister extraordinaire, currently “on-sabbatical” at the World Bank. Some are saying (including Foreign Policy) that she may actually be the World Bank’s boss if the Americans would allow a non-US citizen to take up that position. Here’s how Foreign Policy described her:
“Indonesia, long the punch line of jokes about Third World corruption, boasts an economy that is much cleaner, stronger, and more promising than it was in 2005, when Sri Mulyani Indrawati took the reins of its Finance Ministry. A former IMF executive director, the 49-year-old University of Illinois Ph.D. instituted a wide-ranging ministry housekeeping, sacking corrupt tax and customs officials. Indonesia weathered the global financial crisis better than most, chalking up an average of roughly 6 percent in annual GDP growth since 2005, while increasing its rolls of income-tax payers from just over 4 million to nearly 16 million in just five years. Now a managing director at the World Bank, Indrawati has often been mentioned as a possible head of the institution -- if, that is, the United States were ever to allow a non-American to take the helm.”
I’ve always been a big fan of Ibu Sri, someone who I look up to as I continue my life-long pursuit of becoming a clean, honest, hardworking servant of the people. When she was rid off by the political machinations of Indonesia’s current immature democracy, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken because I’ve always been a believer in the idea that changes need to happen from within. That there is room for idealism and professionalism in the government. Ibu Sri has been part of a team that’s made Indonesia’s economy progress so much since the reform era. And yet, she became the victim of political animals seeking nothing but the interests of a few, and not that of the nation.
Indonesians are always lamenting the brain-drain that continues to plague our society and economy. Indeed, things have gotten better as the present economic growth is steadily bringing back many Indonesian who’d been “in hiding” abroad. Nevertheless, I’ve always been of the view that biggest problem with Indonesia is that there are just too many stupid people here. I know, stupid's a harsh word, but I can't seem to find another nice term for it. Stupid, ignorant, irrational… In the words of a Cambodian tuktuk driver, “same-same”.
What’s worse is that, the hordes of stupid masses have more than often prevailed over the bright, innovative, and nationalist Indonesians. Nationalist in its truest form, and not in the way it’s expressed by Laskar Merah Putih when supporting the whore of a Malaysian Prince. These similar masses were also the ones who deprived us Indonesians of the 2006 Finance Minister of the Year (according to Euromoney magazine) and the 2007 and 2008 Asia's Finance Minister of The Year (according to Emerging Markets newspaper).
My good friend Sade asked me, “will I vote for Ibu Sri if she ever decides to run for President?” Of course. Could she ever win? Most likely not. At least, not in a democracy that remains as immature as Indonesia’s current political scene. Politicians these days rarely judged for their capacity to lead and make the changes that matter to the public. Instead, they thrive on the public’s misinformation and lack of knowledge.
Has this made me lose faith in Indonesia’s democracy. Not at all. I’ve fallen in and out of love. But I’ve always remained a believer in love. Yes, I’ve become jaded somewhat. But I guess that’s just part of living, and learning from the lessons of life.