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A new capital for Indonesia

Laura Puttkamer

The Indonesian parliament wants to spend a total of 28 billion euros on Indonesia’s new capital in the rainforest called “Nusantara”.

Jakarta has to tackle severe environmental problems. It is the fastest sinking city worldwide due to rising sea levels from global warming as well as from excessive extraction of groundwater. So, the government plans to replace its capital with Nusantara, which is currently in the planning. (c) Afif Kusuma on unsplash




6000 hectares of land are to be cleared for the new Indonesian capital on the island of Borneo. The Indonesian parliament wants to spend a total of 28 billion euros on Indonesia new capital in the rainforest”. Because: Jakarta is sinking into the sea. “Nusantara” will be the name of the new capital. It will be about 2,000 km north-east of Jakarta.

New details on Indonesia new capital revealed

Recently, Indonesia’s gran plan to move its capital to a new location moved a step closer to reality. The country’s parliament approved legislation that sets out other details of relocating the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan. Details around funding and governance are getting clearer too: The new capital will cost around 28 billion Euros.

Around 6,000 hectares of forest will be cleared in East Kalimantan, Borneo’s eastern area, to build important buildings such as the new presidential palace. The move is necessary as the current capital on the island of Java is already sinking quickly and might be completely covered by water as early as 2050.

A large majority of members of parliament voted for the law on Indonesia’s new capital. President Joko Widodo decided on “Nusantara” as the name for the new capital. This old Javanese word means “outer islands” and is a synonym for the Indonesian archipelago.

First offices will move to Nusantara in 2024 – shortly before the end of President Joko Widodo’s second and last term. The new capital will be about 2,000 km north-east of Jakarta.

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A realisation of economic equality and justice

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced the plans for moving the country’s capital on August 16th, 2019, which came as a surprise to many. His vision has been grandiose: “A capital city is not just a symbol of national identity, but also a representation of the progress of the nation”, he said in 2019. “This is for the realisation of economic equality and justice.”

Apart from creating an environmentally safer capital, the government also hopes to redistribute wealth in Indonesia with the new capital. Jakarta currently houses 60% of the country’s population and more than half of its economic activity. While the city will remain the commercial and financial centre of Indonesia, government administrative functions will move to the new capital in the regions of North Penajam Pser and Kutai Kartanegara, allowing a redistribution of investment.

A vision for Indonesia’s new capital

The relocation plan intends for 1.5 million inhabitants of Jakarta to move to Nusantara. This is not the first attempt to move the Indonesian capital: In the 1950s, President Sukarno already suggested something similar. The idea floated around for decades but was always stifled due to logistical difficulties. President Widodo has stuck to this vision despite many debates and doubts.

Relieving environmental challenges?

Jakarta is facing many challenges. Perhaps most urgent are the current capital’s environmental difficulties. The 11 million inhabitants are already facing regular floods, especially in the coastal areas of the metropolis. Due to excessive ground water extraction, the city is sinking quickly. Parts of the northern areas of the capital are falling at about 25 cm per year. Even the seawall, designed as a buffer, is sinking, while sea levels are rising. All of North Jakarta could be flooded by 2050, according to experts.

Indonesia’s new capital will be in a location less prone to sinking. It will also be out of reach of natural disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis. However, the country still sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, exposing it to future disasters.

Daily traffic jams with traffic collapses and a worsening air pollution are additional problems that are hard to tackle in Jakarta. It remains to be seen how the new capital would offer improvements on these fronts.

Critical voices

Indonesia’s new capital does not come without criticism. Environmentalists are warning that Nusantara will accelerate pollution in East Kalimantan. The planned destruction of rainforest has drawn much outrage. The area is home to orangutans, sun bears and long-nosed monkeys.

Another worry is that the new capital might displace indigenous people in Kalimantan. Even its name, Nusantara, has drawn criticism, as it is a Javanese word rather than a word in one of the many local Kalimantan languages.

Indonesia’s new capital might also centralise power in a non-constitutional way: Legal experts at Mulawarman University in Samarinda have raised concerns that Nusantara would be governed by a personal directly elected by the president. Already, Jokowi’s running mate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Prunama, a former governor of Jakarta, is a contender for the role. Observers are also missing transparency and participation in laws and plans surrounding Indonesia’s new capital.

The eye-watering costs of the project are one more criticism of Indonesia’s new capital. About a fifth of the price will be covered by the government, with state-owned enterprises and private sector financiers covering the rest.

The next steps for Indonesia’s new capital

The construction of Indonesia’s new capital has been postponed due to the pandemic. However, construction is set to start in 2022, with first moves expected in 2024. Clearing the land will mark the first step.

Similar projects such as the construction of Brasilia in Brazil or Canberra in Australia have taken decades to complete. Both cities have faced criticism for being not very attractive to live in and for being artificial – it remains to be seen how Indonesia’s new capital is tackling challenges of liveability.

Planners are hoping to create an Indonesian metropolis that is as attractive as Bangkok or Hanoi, for example. Currently, Jakarta is not exactly a tourist magnet, which might be because it does not “capture the international imagination”, as Aljazeera puts it. Expectations for Nusantara are high.


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