Why Indonesia is Not a Failed State

Published August 3, 2012
By Krista Hendry
The Fund for Peace Commentary
We at The Fund for Peace have been very excited about the way the Failed States Index (FSI) is being publicly debated in Indonesia. Our main goal in creating the Index is to call attention to issues and challenges many countries are facing. It is not meant as a shaming tool against any government. Rather, it is a tool we hope government and civil society will use to perform more in-depth analyses of the issues we measure based on local knowledge. They can then better map priorities, measure progress on issues, and hopefully identify gaps where they can work in collaboration to strengthen the various social, economic, and political indicators we assess.

Despite its name, we are not calling any country a "failed state." We prefer to think of it as a barometer of the continued pressures on the state, and capacity of the state and the society to cope with and mitigate the pressures they experience. The fact the debate in Indonesia has begun to move away from a focus on the term “failed state” to a discussion of how people in Indonesia locally define the issues is very welcome. For policy making we believe government and civil society within the country should work together to consider the issues and set priorities – and measure progress over time.

An international organization like The Fund for Peace is able to call attention to global issues by creating a global index. These are useful tools, but they are not the end of an assessment, but just the beginning.

An index like the FSI takes the events of an entire year for an entire nation and provides a single snapshot. In many countries -- and Indonesia is probably one of the most diverse -- the variances between different areas of the country are incredibly important to understand when setting priorities. This is not something we do with the FSI, but with our more in-depth assessments. In several countries, we have set up programs that train local civil society on using our framework so they can assess the indicators themselves. We don’t have such a program in Indonesia, but given the importance of the country in the region and in the world, we believe a more in-depth assessment based on local knowledge is very important. We are very supportive of such a process.

Indonesia is a complex environment that has made significant progress when looking at the long-term trend of the country. I have been lucky enough to spend a good deal of time in Indonesia and have experienced firsthand the progress and seen the remaining challenges. For example, public infrastructure improvements must be pursued, because while the economy is doing well, there continues to be a wide gap between rich and poor. This is a challenge for every country, and evident in Indonesia just when one tries to walk the streets or use public transportation, even in comparatively well-developed Jakarta. The government must also address the issue of corruption, which is still plaguing the state institutions; there also must be a commitment to protect citizens from religious persecution by other citizens. These are some of the challenges that are known and these must be priorities for the country.

In a democratic country, such as Indonesia, opposition parties and others will use the FSI to question the current administration’s record of improvements, but this should be constructive criticism. And this should be responded to also in a constructive manner. We look forward to seeing if Indonesia moves this debate into a collaborative process with all stakeholders. While having some significant challenges, the state will more than prove itself to be quite the opposite of failed if it openly discusses these issues and commits itself to priorities agreed through a collaborative process with its civil society.