Indonesia, with a population of more than a quarter of a billion, is the fourth most populous country on the planet. It is home to more Muslims than any other country, but also to millions of Christians, Hindus and others. It has long been both an ally of the West and a beneficiary of Chinese trading clout. Yet until now, no biography has appeared in English of its president, Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi), who has dominated its politics for almost a decade.
The central message of Ben Bland’s book is that we have failed to take Jokowi’s measure accurately because we have not managed to embrace the essential paradoxes of both him and the country he leads. Bland does an excellent job in laying out this argument at the same time as giving a succinct account of recent events in Indonesia, a smidgen of earlier history and a few pointers as to how we can better understand the country.
Bland, a former Financial Times correspondent, arrived in Indonesia in 2012, in the middle of the campaign for the governorship of the heaving metropolis of Jakarta. This introduced him to ‘the rambunctious world of Indonesian democracy –