Obama's visit can inspire Indonesians

The Age
02 June 2010


Obama's visit can inspire Indonesians

Illustration: Michele Mossop

Illustration: Michele Mossop

After months of waiting, Indonesia is at last getting ready for a sort-of homecoming by US President Barack Obama, who is returning to Jakarta for the first time in 39 years after spending four years of his childhood here.

It is a huge story that can be savoured on many levels, with at least two striking perspectives. Here is a man from a multi-ethnic background, immersed during his youth into a totally local Third-World situation, and apparently not suffering because of it. In fact, his Indonesian experience is part of the mosaic of his intellectual growth, celebrated exquisitely in his book Dreams from My Father.

From another perspective, we witness America coming out of her darkest hour of global indignity. The tired superpower found hope in a leader who would never have been given a chance just a generation ago. Barack Hussein Obama was swept into office by a landslide in 2008, changing not just the presidency but also the US international image.

Still, these narratives are slightly sullied as Obama prepares for his return to Indonesia, planned for later this month. There have been disappointments on both sides, painful reality checks. The spring of democracy in Indonesia is giving way to a long hot summer of political acrimony. Even as our electoral system gains amazing strength and draws favourable response from across the world, the results are so mediocre as to seem counterproductive. Many in Indonesia are starting to doubt the efficacy of the democratic system. Some are beginning to see that through the years as Barack Obama grew up, his boyhood country has not really grown up.

One example was the irrational outbursts by fringe fanatics who opposed Obama's visit when it was initially planned in March. Sensationalist media glamourised imagined connections between the US and injustice in the Middle East — and even economic injustice in Indonesia. Ultranationalist rhetoric combined in an unpleasant mix with present-day animosities. Fortunately as the revised schedule draws us closer to the historic visit, there has not been a recurrence of this acerbic reaction.

Obama's reality check back in the US has been well covered in the world media. His struggle to get health care reform passed cost him a substantial amount of political capital, with added damage from his inability to deliver on security-related promises such as closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and easing tensions in Iraq and Afghanistan. For those who do not believe in him, Obama has been reduced to an ordinary mortal.

But those who believe that change is coming to America — and the world — recognise that US politics is doing better than our version. The difference is that he leads by example. The hope that swept him to power will not fade as long as he stays consistent with his self-belief. He remains a tower of strength, integrity and purpose. Because of this, Obama will not only survive but grow stronger.

It is opportune that his visit is to come at a time when both our nations need a reinforcement of hope. We are sure that his childhood years form a part of his ethical core, and the inspiration he draws from his days in Jakarta will be reciprocated by Indonesians who are inspired by a man who is, after all, the greatest success story of his old neighbourhood and the schools he passed through while in Jakarta.

Wimar Witoelar, who is a columnist and talk show host in Indonesia, wrote this for the Asia Society. He was previously chief spokesman for president Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last year.



published also in


Sydney Morning Herald

The Brisbane Times 

Western Australia Today






Print article only


  1. From Jean on 03 June 2010 14:31:28 WIB

    those fringe fanatics & ultranationalists will be well-armed-to-the-teeth to oppose Obama's visit, so i wish the Media can apply blackout voluntarily to news coverage that contains those people activities. well, maybe it's just a silly dream...

  2. From jaka on 04 June 2010 22:47:58 WIB
    wah..batal lagi deh...ada apa ya? masak karena tumpahan minyak aja ,lalu membatalkan kunjungan ke Indonesia dan australia ?

    Ada info, pa Wim ?
  3. From Abdurahman Mashur on 05 June 2010 11:34:10 WIB

    As long as have a good diplomatic relation & intention with us, anyone can come.

    Also if mr. WW would like to drop comments on my site it's really such an honour.
  4. From Intox on 05 June 2010 15:25:50 WIB
    I don't understand the constant adoration for Obama, who has done nothing more than doing his job as a president (not with the greatest success either). The image of the US has been lifted a couple of inches up, but what we need to see is the actual result that has real effect i.e. the removal of troops from the Middle East.

    To call that and his history of living in Indonesia, being multi-ethnic, as "striking perspectives" is, to be honest, insulting. Just for the fact that it paints the idea that we have not even gone past of him being "one of us".

    This is the president of a congress that allowed the killings of people worldwide, the wiretaping and the stripping of liberty of their own citizens, the support of regimes they found useful, and are so close to lobbyists they may as well be counted as those responsible for the recent economic recession.

    And here we are rolling out the red carpet.

    Would you do the same to Soeharto?

    (My apologies if this sounds harsh, Pak Wimar. But what I read of you, in the past, you've always been this intellectual who battled against what you saw as injustice. And we must never stop questioning and let it slide, because I know, back then, you will not do that to0)
  5. From wimar on 06 June 2010 07:01:26 WIB
    I am sorry to cause you frustration, Mr Intox. My views are mine and they are not meant to offend you.
  6. From Indra on 06 June 2010 08:46:27 WIB
    I think the timing is not right
  7. From Intox on 06 June 2010 16:03:13 WIB
    Absolutely, Pak Wimar, I respect your views and no offense taken.

    Perhaps it's because I wish I know _why_ you have granted Obama such a strong (seemingly uncritical) support.
  8. From sen on 07 June 2010 12:33:57 WIB
    My view is still the same as before. Obama is a source of inspiration in one way, that is Obama is some sort of politics of hope and not fear.

    However, I think Obama visit is not that big deal but it is being hyped by the media to be a very big deal.

    Visits by other equally important head of states, like China and India should be given the same if not more news coverage and analysis.

« Home