Indonesia’s Jokowi Wants Growth. And Something More

“As we pursue our right to development, I know what it’s like to be dependent on forests for livelihood,” he says. To prolong the riches of the country’s resources, he wants to reforest over 130,000 hectares (321,000 acres) — an area as large as Los Angeles — this year, make Indonesia a hub for electric vehicles, promote furniture made only with certified timber, and raise the contribution of renewable power to 31% by 2050, from just 11% now. “It’s about striking a balance,” he says.

One-and-a-half years into his second and final five-year term, Widodo has come a long way from Aceh, where resource exploitation once coexisted with brutal military repression. In today’s democratic Indonesia, and especially after Covid-19, the approach is a more participative transformation, with sustainable development an important consideration, the president says. A moratorium on new palm-oil plantations remains in place. Once the pandemic eases, the ambitious and controversial project of situating the new national capital amid tropical rain forests of Borneo will resume.

As the first president to emerge from outside a tightly knit elite, “Jokowi,” as the 59-year-old popular leader is known, has to create jobs for a still-growing population of around 270 million, the fourth-largest in the world. The economy might need another quarter-century to earn a high-income status. With China and the U.S. competing for global dominance, it won’t be easy for Indonesia to hitch an independent ride.