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09JAKARTA773 2009-05-01 09:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Jakarta
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1. (C) SUMMARY. In 2001, radical Muslim hooligans roamed
the streets of Solo City, Central Java, threatening to
"sweep" all Western tourists from hotels. The Ambassador
recently strolled down those same streets, experiencing a
rejuvenated and welcoming city. Although pockets of
radicalism still lurk around the city's outskirts, extremism
has become largely obsolete. The difference has been one
immensely popular mayor, elected four years ago, who proved
that good governance is the secret to transforming a troubled
society into a healthy one. END SUMMARY.


2. (C) The Ambassador spent the weekend of April 25-26 in
Solo to learn why Mayor Joko Widodo is one of the country's
most talked about local leaders. When Joko was elected four
years ago, Solo was a morass of corruption and disorder.
Soon after 9/11, militants from the Indonesian Mujahidin
Council (MMI) barged into tourist hotels threatening to
"sweep" all Westerners from the country. Solo's most well
known resident was Abu Bakar Basyir, the spiritual leader of
the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group responsible for the
2002 Bali bombings, whose Ngruki Islamic boarding school is
located just outside Solo. MMI and kindred groups scared
away foreign tourists and extorted local citizens, while a
corrupt mayor did nothing. Solo became internationally
notorious as a "nest of terrorism" and fell into decay.

3. (SBU) In 2005, a self-made successful furniture trader,
"Jokowi", won Solo's first-ever democratic mayoral election,
bringing a new down-to-earth, can-do approach to running this
quaint, ancient cultural center of 550,000. Joko gave the
Ambassador a personally guided tour of his proud
accomplishments: slum areas turned into greenspace; shanty
dwellers made homeowners; and, unsightly street vendors moved
into bustling marketplaces. Joko showed the Ambassador a
picture of how unsightly slums are bulldozed, angry crowds
clashing with police, then added, "but these pictures are
from other cities, not Solo."


4. (SBU) Instead of using force, Joko chaired community
meetings to persuade street vendors and slum dwellers to
relocate. He let people choose their own locations and then
staged a grand parade to celebrate the move. He moved 16,000
street vendors to several centralized traditional
marketplaces, providing land, the buildings, and
infrastructure. The new motorcycle parts market is the
largest in Indonesia, with sales up four times because the
market is convenient and orderly for shoppers. The new wet
market also is doing brisk business, in a rent-free sanitary,
modern building. As Joko walks through these markets, the
vendors address him familiarly, not afraid to complain openly
to him.

5. (SBU) In less than four years, he has relocated 68% of
slum dwellers to new houses, from flood prone riverbanks to
pleasant communities, where families build their own homes
with city assistance. The city provides a small subsidy,
community water and sanitation facilities, and guidance. He
moved ugly food stalls to a downtown street which turns into
a festive food court at night. He pioneered biogas community
toilets, showers and cooking facilities in the poorest
neighborhoods; antique, batik and other traditional markets
centralized in attractive buildings; free education and
health care for the poor; and children's libraries/community
centers with free computers. Two mothers in one poor
neighborhood said the community center gave their children a
new future, and they thanked Mayor Joko for it all.
Everywhere, people said they love their mayor.

6. (SBU) Joko's style is in contrast with that of many other
local Indonesian leaders who arrogantly sit on their thrones
and get angry when people complain. Joko said he spends
almost all his time among the people so that he can hear
their needs firsthand. He said he has staff who can push
paper. Joko told the Ambassador that his philosophy is that
if the city can help the poor take care of their basic needs,
all they need to worry about is finding a job.


JAKARTA 00000773 002 OF 003

7. (SBU) Joko's investment friendly policy is also helping
create jobs--with only four percent unemployment (national
rate is about 10%), Solo is rated as the nation's fifth most
investment friendly city, an improvement from number 200 when
he first became mayor. He established a "One-Stop Shop" for
investors, based on his own experience in the furniture
business. Textiles, furniture and commerce are strong and
five new hotels are being built. An April 2009 UK academic
study on the investment climate in Solo reported that most
businessmen describe the business license administration as
friendly. To discourage corruption and inefficiency, Joko
drops in unexpectedly in city offices and gives out his
personal cell phone number so that people can complain to him
directly. He also has a personal reputation for being clean,
content with the wealth from his business.

8. (SBU) Asked how Solo can afford to provide all these
services when richer cities cannot even fix potholes, he said
his small city budget is more than enough to do everything,
so long as the money is wisely spent and none of it is

9. (SBU) Solo's cultural heritage also is booming. He
branded Solo as Indonesia's "City of Performing Arts" because
of its quality dance and theater. During Solo's cultural
coming out party last year when Solo hosted the World
Heritage Cities Conference, the Mayor allowed a local dance
company to perform a highly suggestive dance, just to see if
the radicals would scream foul. They didn't. He knows that
the arts require freedom to thrive and wanted to test the


10. (C) Joko's approach to radicalism has been a simple one:
alleviate poverty, provide good public service, create jobs,
and listen to the people. When he first became mayor, Joko
held many meetings with radical leaders, including JI leader
Bashir, to convince them to not disrupt Solo. Many of the
radicals, really little more than hoodlums, were given jobs
as security guards. He holds weekly meetings with
representatives from all the radical groups.

11. (C) One reason why the mayor can reason with radicals
might be explained by the underlying syncretic nature of even
some of the most conservative Indonesian Muslims, whose
Islamic faith is layered upon centuries of mysticism,
Hinduism and Buddhism. The Ambassador observed how this
complex cosmology works when he visited the revered Sukuh
Hindu temple in the hills outside Solo. The temple's
caretaker told the Ambassador that every powerful person who
leads or hopes to lead Indonesia visits the temple to pray.
These Muslims have included: former presidents Suharto,
Abdurrahman Wahid, and Megawati (who has slept at the temple
recently); presidential aspirant Akbar Tandjung was to visit
the temple a few days after the Ambassador visited; and JI
leader Bashir has visited the temple twice, a fact which
would ruin his fundamentalist credentials if this were
publicly known.

12. (C) The Ambassador's visit was covered by all the local
media and some national press. Stories reported how
comfortable and welcome the Ambassador said he felt in Solo
and about future Solo cooperation with the U.S. A few days
later, Joko held his weekly meeting with radical groups.
They did not even mention the Ambassador's visit, but rather
asked that liquor distribution be reduced. Joko politely
told them this would hurt tourism.


13. (C) Joko embraced the Ambassador's suggestions on how to
better promote Solo's image, still clouded by its previous
reputation. The Ambassador has already arranged for a
National War College delegation to visit Solo in May and the
mayor welcomed this. There are plans to send visiting U.S.
journalist delegations as well and the Ambassador has urged
international media to tell Solo's story. A Voluntary
Visitor delegation led by the mayor is in the works for later
in the year, to explore urban planning, cultural exchanges,
inter-religious understanding, and so forth.

14. (C) Solo is not unlike most of Indonesia-with tolerant
hard working people who just want government to give them an
opportunity to make a living and to live their lives as they
want. They elected a mayor who represented their
aspirations, and the radicals have slunk away.

JAKARTA 00000773 003 OF 003