Indonesian Leader in Global Spotlight


New York Times by Joe Cochrane

October 21, 2014

JAKARTA — In his previous life as a small-time furniture exporter and exhibitor, Joko Widodo was used to erecting stages. But in early November, just days after being sworn in as the president of Indonesia, he will now be sharing a stage with the world’s most powerful leaders.

Between Nov. 10 and Nov. 16, Mr. Joko will, in succession, attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting in Beijing; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ meeting and the East Asia Summit, both being held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar; and a meeting of G-20 leaders in Brisbane, Australia.

Mr. Joko, who was sworn in as president on Monday, comes into office with no foreign policy experience, and his introduction into international affairs will be, according to analysts, a trial by fire. “The most important thing is meeting these leaders face to face,” Mr. Joko said in an interview shortly before his inauguration, “and develop those relationships.”

That may be easier said than done, given that he doesn’t have much in common with his counterparts. Born in a slum in the province of Central Java, Mr. Joko, 53, a former carpenter, is the first Indonesian president not to come from the country’s political elite or be an army general.

He is expected to have bilateral meetings during the conferences with, among others, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who is a former K.G.B. officer, and Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister of Thailand, who carried out a military coup there last May. The biggest thing Mr. Joko has in common with President Barack Obama, whom his aides said he is scheduled to meet one-on-one in Beijing, is that they both have lived in Indonesia.

Tall, thin and unassuming, Mr. Joko himself has joked that his face looks more like that of a village street-food vendor than of a head of state. But behind it lies a sharp intellect and kinetic energy to get things done.

As governor of Jakarta, he was mobbed by well-wishers during his daily walking tours through traditional markets and slum areas, where he would talk about bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and traffic.

Mr. Joko’s unusual style and equally unusual nickname (“Jokowi”), coupled with his unlikely ascension to the Indonesian presidency, garnered heavy international media attention and piqued the interest of foreign leaders.

“It will be interesting to see Jokowi’s personal chemistry with Obama and other leaders, and how he performs,” said Matthew P. Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who served as the Obama administration’s White House coordinator for APEC and the East Asia Summit in 2011. “Other leaders will be looking at how he performs, with a neutral eye,” he said.

Mr. Joko came into office with pressing domestic concerns, in particular a hostile group of opposition parties in Indonesia’s House of Representatives that are controlled by Prabowo Subianto, a former army general who lost to him in the country’s July 9 presidential election.

“He would have come to these meetings as a star, but he’s domestically distracted,” said Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat and the current dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“What it does is affect the attention you pay to events, and whether you have a free hand to launch initiatives,” Mr. Mahbubani said, adding that Mr. Joko should remain low-key at the summits and treat them as a learning experience.

Others are looking for Mr. Joko to immediately play a visible role on the international stage, given that Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous country, its largest Muslim-majority state and a G-20 member. It also lies astride the world’s busiest shipping lane in the Strait of Malacca.

Indonesia also has domestic problems with a global impact, includingclimate change due to deforestation, terrorism and human trafficking.

“He has an opportunity to shine,” said Alexander Feldman, president and chief executive of the U.S.-Asean Business Council. “The world is curious about Jokowi and what he is going to focus on. And I think that world leaders want to court him.”

Since its independence from Dutch colonial rule in the 1940s, Indonesia has maintained a feel-good foreign policy that Mr. Joko’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, described as “a million friends and zero enemies.”

The country’s transition to democracy, which began in 1999, and its growing economic importance have placed it in the same conversation as Asia’s two largest emerging economies: China and India. Mr. Yudhoyono worked to further project both Indonesia’s and his own influence on the global stage, with issues such as climate change and Islamic extremism, with mostly indifferent results.

“Indonesia at one point tried to mediate on the Korean Peninsula, and that didn’t work out very well,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Analysts and Mr. Joko’s advisers said he would be less ambitious and instead try to project Indonesia’s influence through Asean, its traditional foreign policy base. “Indonesia is best described as a regional power with global concerns — it’s not China or India,” said Amitav Acharya, a professor at American University in Washington and author of “Indonesia Matters: Asia’s Emerging Democratic Power.”

“But by playing the role of a regional mediator and helping to keep Asean together, Indonesia helps to contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” he said, “since it is in the Asia-Pacific that we have all the major powers — the U.S., China, Japan and India — whose relationships will be key to global stability.”

Rizal Sukma, an adviser to Mr. Joko, said the president’s foreign policy would be directed more by business and economic concerns than geopolitical ones. Mr. Rizal said Indonesia’s geographical location gives it the ability, as an archipelago state, to practice “maritime diplomacy.”

“You can’t eat an international image,” he said. “The key focus is to use diplomacy for economic benefit. We have a strategic partnership with India, but the relationship has not reached half its potential.”

Nigeria Is Ebola-Free: Here’s What They Did Right


TIME by Alexander Sifferlin

October 19, 2014

It’s been 42 days since the last new case

The World Health Organization declared Nigeria free of Ebola on Monday, a containment victory in an outbreak that has stymied other countries’ response efforts.

The milestone came at about 11 a.m. local time, or 6 a.m., E.T. The outbreak has killed more than 4,500 in West Africa is remains unchecked in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, so Nigeria is by no means immune to another outbreak.

“It’s possible to control Ebola. It’s possible to defeat Ebola. We’ve seen it here in Nigeria,” Nigerian Minister of Health Onyebuchi Chukwu told TIME. “If any cases emerge in the future, it will be considered—by international standards—a separate outbreak. If that happens, Nigeria will be ready and able to confront it exactly as we have done with this outbreak.”

For the WHO to declare Nigeria as Ebola-free, the country had to make it 42 days with no new cases (double the incubation period), verify that it actively sought out all possible contacts, and show negative test results for any suspected cases.

Nigeria had 20 cases of Ebola after a Liberian-American man named Patrick Sawyer flew into Lagos and collapsed at the airport. Health care workers treating Sawyer were infected, and as it spread it ultimately killed eight people, a low number next to the thousands of cases and deaths in other countries. Nigeria’s health system is considered more robust, but there was significant concern from experts that a case would pop up in one of the country’s dense-populated slums and catch fire.

So what did Nigeria do right? Chukwu and Dr. Faisal Shuaib of the country’s Ebola Emergency Operation Center, broke it down for TIME.

Preparing early. Nigeria knew it was possible a case of Ebola would make it into the country, so officials got to work early by training health care workers on how to manage the disease, and disseminating information so the country knew what to expect.

Declaring an emergency—right away. When Nigeria had its first confirmed case of Ebola, the government declared a national public health emergency immediately. This allowed the Ministry of Health to form its Ebola Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC is an assembly of public health experts within Nigeria as well as the WHO, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and groups like Doctors Without Borders. “[We] used a war-room approach to coordinate the outbreak response,” Shuaib said. “So you have a situation whereby government and staff of international development agencies are co-located in a designated facility where they are able to agree on strategies, develop one plan and implement this plan together.”

The EOC was in charge of contact tracing (the process of identifying and monitoring people who may have had direct or indirect contact with Ebola patients), implementing strict procedures for handling and treating patients, screening all individuals arriving or departing the country by land, air and sea, and communicating with the community. Some workers went door-to-door to offer Ebola-related education, and others involved religious and professional leaders. Social media was a central part of the education response.

Training local doctors. Nigerian doctors were trained by Doctors Without Borders and WHO, and treated patients in shifts with their oversight.

Managing fear. “Expectedly, people were scared of contracting the disease,” Shuaib said. “In the beginning, there was also some misinformation about available cures, so fear and inaccurate rumors had to be actively managed.” Nigeria used social media to to ramp up awareness efforts, and publicized patients who were successfully treated and discharged. “People began to realize that contracting Ebola was not necessarily a death sentence,” Shuai said. “Emphasizing that reporting early to the hospital boosts survival gave comfort that [a person] has some level of control over the disease prognosis.”
Keeping borders open. Nigeria has not closed its borders to travelers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, saying the move would be counterproductive. “Closing borders tends to reinforce panic and the notion of helplessness,” Shuaib said. “When you close the legal points of entry, then you potentially drive people to use illegal passages, thus compounding the problem.” Shuaib said that if public health strategies are implemented, outbreaks can be controlled, and that closing borders would only stifle commercial activities in the countries whose economies are already struggling due to Ebola.

Remaining prepared for more patients. Even though this outbreak was contained, Nigeria is not slowing down its training and preparations for the possibility of more cases. “Outbreak response preparedness is a continuous process that requires constant review of the level of the response mechanisms in place to ensure that the health system is ready to jump into action at all levels,” Shuaib said. “There is no alternative to preparedness.”

Advocating for more international response. “The global community needs to consistently come together, act as one in any public health emergency, whether it is Ebola or a natural disaster.” Shuaib said. “While a lot has been done, it still falls short of what is necessary to get ahead of the curve. We must act now, not tomorrow, not next week.”

GITEX: Nigeria’s GDP to accelerate by over 20%


The Sun News by Olabasi Olaleye

October 14, 2014

Nigeria gross domestic product (GDP), is expected to increase by another 20 percent to make it a competitive Information and Communication Technology hub through foreign investments shortly after the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) holding in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate.

This was revealed  yesterday (Sunday) by the Director General of the National Information and Technology Development Agency,(NITDA), Mr. Peter Jack  shortly after the flagging off the  five –day event  at the Dubai  World Trade Centre by the Dubai’s crowned prince, Sheik Hamddan Al-maktoum.

According to him, by being a partnering country, Nigeria has huge opportunities to leverage and tap from foreign investments that could further propel the country’s GDP by some percentage.

Said he: “What we are trying to do is to attract substantial investment in the ICT sector. It is obvious that Dubai has an initiative of internet model and smart tech. Where we are now is that Nigeria has substantial capacity, which is not being properly harnessed. The moment we can harness that capacity, we should be able to deliver internet connectivity across the country. By the time, we go from here, we expect a substantial increase in the utilization of internet usage in the country.

“This is an opportunity to share with the world, the ICT sector in the country, because of that we have come with young start-ups entrepreneurs and seasoned ICT players in the industry. There is a strong showing of the government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) at this year’s exhibition”.

NITDA is an arm of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), established by the Act in 2007, primarily to create a frame work for the planning, research, development, standardization, application, coordination, monitoring, evaluation and regulation of IT practices, activities and systems in Nigeria.

Jack maintained that GITEX will showcase Nigeria as Africa’s gateway for technology investment opportunities. Adding that the country is looking at investment in infrastructure, in original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) that will support local manufacturers as well as those who will support the country’s start-ups, who are the young innovators.  While projecting that NITDA is thinking of the actualisation of a digital coast just as it is located in the United States of America.

“One of the project that is really interesting to all of us is the Lagos Smart city initiative, which is the Lekki free zone area. At NITDA, we dream of a digital coast as we have in the United States of America. The digital coast will start from Lagos through Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and end up in Cross River, Tinapa knowledge city. The reality is that we are looking at the potential to attract investors along   these digital coasts. We are looking and working towards creating an ecosystem in the ICT sector and investment will be across board not just in one area. What we are also doing is to recognise the need for capacity building that will produce the best level of software that can be found. We need some levels of investment that will take Nigeria to the next level”.

Meanwhile, the   Consul General to Dubai, Ambassador Dr Mike Omotosho also disclosed that NITDA has put together a laudable programme that is quite significant for the consulate, saying, “Why this significant for us is basically because we are just celebrating our one year existence .The consulate was created in October 3013, and NITDA is coming with a huge change with the exhibition. It takes all for Nigeria to be present in GITEX to showcase her technology skill, which is match able anywhere in the world.

“Nigeria and Dubai are formidable in terms of ICT and when we come together, we share experiences and compare notes for future use. This event is going to be a partnership that is far from learning, “he said.

China is a top concern for us: Indonesia Fin Min


CNBC by Ansuya Harjani

October 14, 2014

China’s ‘new normal’ of moderate growth is a top concern for Indonesia as it implies downward pressure on commodity prices, the country’s finance minister said.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has been hit amid falling commodity prices and slowing consumer spending. Commodities – including nickel ore, tin and thermal coal – account for around 60 percent of Indonesia’s exports.

“We can’t continue to rely only on natural resources or cheap labor. It’s time to focus on quality of human capital, improve infrastructure, governance – with this we’ll promote growth,” Chatib Basri told CNBC on the sidelines of 2014 IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington DC.

The economy grew 5.8 percent in 2013, its slowest pace in four years andthe first sub-6-percent expansion since 2009. It’s forecast to grow around 5.2 percent this year.

Can Indonesia grow at 6.5% again?

Asked when Indonesia will return to 6.5 percent growth, Basri says not before 2017.

“I think 2014-2015 we need to choose strategy stabilization over growth – if you’re talking about 2017 – I’m quite optimistic the economy will grow higher than 6 percent,” he said. The economy last grew at 6.5 percent in 2011, before moderating to 6.2 percent in 2012.

Infrastructure spending could propel growth, he said.

“If the government can relocate money from fuel subsidies to infrastructure, within three years we’ll have infrastructure projects that will promote growth,” he said.

Fuel subsidies have long dogged Indonesia, contributing to its current account deficit and crowding out other government spending.

In 2014, total energy subsidies are expected to rise to a record of more than 350 trillion rupiah ($29.75 billion), coming in at around 21 percent of the government’s budget and around 3.4 percent of gross domestic product, according to data from CIMB.

Rupiah: shaky or stable?

Tighter U.S. monetary policy is another risk for Indonesia.

Last year, the Indonesian rupiah lost 26 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar amid concerns about the Federal Reserve scaling back monetary stimulus. The rupiah has undergone large swings this year, but is flat year-to-date; dollar-rupiah was recently at the 12,215 level.

However, Basri believes the rupiah “will be safe” when the Fed begins its tightening cycle, as current levels reflect economic fundamentals.

Steps that the government and central bank took to get Indonesia’s economic house in order should also soothe investor concerns, he said.

“What we did last year was a combination of three things – fiscal tightening, tightening on monetary side, and we let the exchange rate depreciate,” he said. “I’m not too worried.”

Buffer zone for Turkey debated in militants’ fight


Associated Press by Lara Jakes

October 8, 2014

Leaders of a global coalition to defeat the Islamic State group were divided Wednesday over creating a buffer zone to protect Syrian refugees and bolster Turkey’s borders — a key demand by Ankara as Turkey weighs stepping up action against the extremists.

The split also was evident among U.S. officials. Secretary of State John Kerry said a buffer zone is “worth examining” but stopped short of embracing it. At almost the same time, however, the Pentagon said it is not considering supporting a buffer zone — a sentiment quickly echoed by the White House.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, appearing with Kerry in Washington, said he would not rule out the possibility of creating a buffer zone at this stage. And French President Francois Hollande issued a statement in Paris announcing his support for a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria to take in and protect refugees.

The issue comes as the U.S. is prodding Ankara to ramp up action against the Islamic State militant group, which is closing in on the Syrian town of Kobani that sits on Turkey’s border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long called for the creation of a buffer zone inside Syria, as well as a no-fly zone to secure Turkey’s borders and stem the flow of refugees.

But the Pentagon has maintained that doing so would be costly and controversial.

Asked after an hour-long meeting if they could support a buffer zone, Kerry and Hammond both agreed that it first would need to be carefully examined, including with other nations, to see how it would work.

“But I certainly wouldn’t want to rule it out at this stage,” Hammond said.

Kerry said the issue would be raised later this week at a meeting of U.S. officials and Turkish leaders in Ankara. “It’s worth examining. It’s worth looking at very, very closely,” Kerry said.

Within minutes, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby separately told reporters that a buffer zone “is now not on the table as a military option that we’re considering.” And White House spokesman Josh Earnest said a buffer zone isn’t under consideration.

“That said, it’s a topic of continued discussion,” Kirby said.

Nigeria shows that Ebola is not unstoppable


With a coordinated response, the virus can be vanquished, writes Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Financial Times by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

October 7, 2014

When the Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer arrived at Lagos airport on July 20, he immediately collapsed. Rushed to hospital, he was diagnosed with Ebola and died within five days. There would be seven more fatalities in Nigeria following his arrival. Yet it could have been far worse.

Ebola has the power to terrify, partly because of the distressing nature of its symptoms, but also because of the reputation it has developed: of being unstoppable. This is false. Through decisive leadership, with the right resources and a highly co-ordinated response, the virus can be managed and overcome, as the experience of Nigeria proves.

Speed is vital. Soon after Sawyer’s death, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and the Lagos state government acted decisively to contain the virus. Protective gear, isolation tents, thermometers and millions of hand sanitisers were flown in. Health workers, under the leadership of the health ministry, used contact tracing, isolation, treatment and massive public awareness campaigns to tackle the disease. Of 19 confirmed cases, 12 recovered. At present, there are no known cases of the virus in Nigeria.

Control of the disease has proved more challenging for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Nigeria’s experience – which began with a single patient who was quickly quarantined – is clearly different from these countries, where the virus often spread through remote communities for weeks and months before it was recognised. These are trying times for these nations, and we feel as one with them. The economic consequences are of great concern: the International Monetary Fund estimates growth in 2014 could decline by 3 to 3.5 percentage points in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and by about 1.5 points in Guinea. This is a significant blow to nations that had worked so hard to overcome years of conflict. The global response should be twofold. We must give money, equipment and expertise to these countries in their time of need. Nigeria has donated $3.5m, in addition to other forms of assistance. Working with partners, it stands ready to do more.

Second, when the word “Ebola” can cause so much fear, we must be specific about describing the scale of the outbreak. There are 16 countries in west Africa and 54 on the continent. So far, only five countries in west Africa have recorded cases of Ebola – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. While there is little room for complacency, the latter two countries have contained the disease and have no more Ebola cases.

Referring to broad regional aggregates such as “west Africa” and “Africa” when talking about Ebola risks undermining all African countries. This could scare away vital investment and trade. There are already signs some insurance companies are refusing to cover travellers to west Africa. Despite advice to the contrary from the World Health Organisation, some airlines have introduced flight bans. In August, Korean Air halted its three weekly flights to Kenya. Some countries have banned nationals from Ebola-affected countries. The tourism sector in Gambia has been hit hard. Ghana, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria have seen the cancellation of some international meetings. There has been an impact on hotel occupancy rates in these countries.

Africa has fought hard over the past two decades to make economic progress. Before Ebola, the continent’s image as an investment destination, rather than a proving ground for aid, had begun to be cemented.

As the international community works to tackle this virus, we must ensure that the hard won economic progress of African countries is protected. For it is these gains that will help defeat Ebola today, and ultimately prevent its resurgence in the future.

The writer is Nigeria’s minister of finance and economy


US To Citizens: Nigeria Contained Ebola; We Can


The Guardian by Laolo Akande

October 4, 2014

At a time reference to Nigeria in global news and international affairs has been mostly about the unending killings by terrorists in the Northeast, the Ebola management seems to be shining some positive light on Nigeria and its medical personnel, some of whom paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure that Ebola was controlled.

In an effort to bolster the confidence of its people that Ebola would be contained in America, few days after a Liberian national was diagnosed with the deadly virus, the manner Nigeria handled its own patients is now being used by the US government as proof that the virus would be contained in America as well.

This is coming just as the Nigerian Ambassador in the US, Prof Ade Adefuye, assured Nigerian travelers to America that they would not be subjected to any form of medical screening on arrival at US airports.

Speaking late Friday afternoon at the White House at a hurriedly convened press briefing on the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US, top White House officials and US government health officials were pressed by journalists who pointed out to the failure of the Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the Liberian patient went, but was not immediately diagnosed even though he had told the medical team in the hospital of his symptoms and that he had just returned from Liberia.

A White House reporter asked at the press briefing “Is nobody concerned that there were these breakdowns in Dallas?  And are you really confident that there’s not going to be similar breakdowns elsewhere along the same line?

Responding the US Human Health Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was the first to bring up the way Ebola was contained in Nigeria to reassure Americans at a press briefing beamed live all across the US and globally.

Said she “ we’re confident these processes will work.  If you look at what happened in Nigeria in terms of the cases in Nigeria, what happened is we quickly activated — and CDC was a part of supporting the country of Nigeria both at the state and federal level to be put in place the things that it needed to put in place. We know it’s about detect, isolate, treat the patient, and do the contact tracing.  Those are the steps.  And now we see where we are with Nigeria in terms of the cases and them having moved through.”

According to the Secretary, who holds the office equivalent to the of Health Minister in Nigeria, the US will  “continue to work on our education and continue to work with locals and put out more and more information, we put out more information and updated information.  Whenever there is anything that we see that we can do a better job on communicating, we will do that.

Adefuye who issued his statement on the same day the US government officials addressed the press briefing also noted that “the U.S. government, especially the Department of Health, is very much impressed with the success achieved by the Federal, Lagos and Rivers State Governments in combating Ebola. The announcement by Nigeria that it will assist other African countries to combat Ebola has been well received by the U.S. government and public.”