Jun 21, 2024 Last Updated 1:20 AM, Jun 20, 2024

Big projects, little people

Published: Sep 30, 2007

After 20 years, LEA JELLINEK returns to Jakarta's kampungs only to find many demolished for condominiums. The mood of their constantly evicted residents oscillates between resignation and resistance.

Raharjo's man-size photographs decorated with military medals stare down at me from the four walls of his little house in Kemayoran, an inner-city suburb of Jakarta. A pile of books on land tenure and land law rise up from the floor and block the television from view. Raharjo has been leading the battle for Kemayoran.

It is not clear what drives him, but he is a determined man with considerable contacts and financial backing. He says: 'It is justice for the poor'. He fought alongside President Suharto in the revolution. 'The villagers protected him then. It is now his turn to protect them'. The photographs on the wall are there to deter government security agents who might want to arrest him.

Trade Centre

In 1989 the Kemayoran community of 5,000 households - perhaps 30,000 people - was told they would have to move into flats. Kemayoran would be converted into the largest International Trade Centre in South East Asia. Kampung dwellers would be rehoused in flats and provided with new employment opportunities.

An agency was appointed to rehouse the kampung dwellers and attract foreign and domestic business to invest in the area. The government claims the project to rebuild the 450 hectare former airport and surrounding kampungs is in the public interest, and will bring new investment, jobs, and modernise the city.

The Kemayoran kampung dwellers believe they are being forced out of the area by private developers. They want to be able to bargain and receive commercial compensation rates for their land, not the low rates set by the government.

Since 1992, the Kemayoran delegates have lobbied hard for their cause with government officials, politicians and in the mass media. If kampung communities elsewhere lack leadership, the Kemayoran group is led by professionals, teachers, government administrators, Islamic heads, shopkeepers and former military men. Raharjo himself is a former public relations man for Garuda Airlines. Demolition of kampung communities is now beginning to affect a higher economic strata of more educated people and they are angry.


They have avoided the courts, saying 'kampung communities never get a fair trial'. But they do have faith in the good will of the President, and try to make direct contact with him. They also believe in a decree of his from 1993, which (they claim) states that 'all kampung dwellers, irrespective of legal title, who are forced to move from their land, have a right to negotiation and fair compensation'.

In January 1997, Raharjo impressed an international urbanisation conference in Semarang with a fiery speech. He told the speaker from the World Bank that Bank loans were used in infrastructure developments for the new International City. Yet a 1990 World Bank decree says that people displaced from their land as a consequence of World Bank loans should be fully informed, able to negotiate and get just compensation for the loss of their homes, jobs and social ties. After resettlement, they are supposed to live better than before.

The Kemayoran delegates say flats are too expensive and inappropriate for the kampung poor, and the compensation being offered by the government for their land and houses is too low. Most kampung dwellers are only offered Rp 75,000 (AU$40) per square metre for the land, when they themselves put its worth at at least Rp 2 million (AU$ 1,000) a square metre.

Under the bridge

Most have houses of around 10 to 30 square metres - the aged and poor have less. That means they will only receive Rp 750,000 to Rp 3 million (AU$ 400-1500) to spend on another house. A kampung house in Jakarta costs between Rp 25 million and Rp 50 million (AU$ 13,000-25,000). 'We may as well buy a TV and camp under the bridge', they say.

During the past four years, despite efforts to keep the community united in opposition to the government's programme, some 2,000 Kemayoran households have accepted the government's offer and moved into the flats. Surveys suggest, however, that most felt compelled. The mayor had threatened to use bulldozers.

Many of those who first accepted flats have since been forced out of them again because they were unable to keep up the payments. A third party - often Chinese or middle class Indonesians - have bought the units. Those who left often ended up renting accommodation in the city centre, close to work.


In the 1940s, Bambang came to Jakarta as a lone teenager, and trained himself as a motor mechanic and driver. His parents and siblings had died of malnutrition during the Independence struggle. In the 1960s he married and bought his family a kampung home. But today he sleeps on the table top of a stall. He is only one of the new respectable homeless. Just one of the millions who have lost their homes due to development, and not been able to afford an alternative.

Between 1989 and 1990, Bambang and his neighbours were told that the Jakarta city council needed their homes for the widening of a canal. It was a government project for 'public purposes', and bargaining for higher compensation was not allowed.

Houses adjacent to Bambang's were eventually pulled down without explanation or goodbyes. Neighbours, embarrassed that they had broken kampung unity by dropping their opposition to the government's demolition plans, left secretly in the middle of the night. When their houses were demolished, Bambang's house began to fall over, because it shared walls with them.

Rats, mosquitoes and rubble, cuts in water and electricity supplies, and constant harassment by land brokers made life unbearable. Bambang reluctantly accepted his compensation and received a meagre Rp 3 million (AU$1500). Only later did he learn that a private developer wanted to build a grand new hotel there, to rival the Borobudur and the Grand Hyatt.


Bambang was forced to return his wife to her mother's village, two hours to the northwest of Jakarta by train. She had previously been a cleaner in the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta. Now she had to become accustomed to washing her body, dishes and clothes in the village stream, and to cart water and fuel to her village home. After spending most of her life in Jakarta, she had to get used to a single bamboo house with earthen floors, and to living apart from her husband.

To save money from his income of Rp 400,000 per month (AU$200) as a chauffeur in Jakarta, Bambang sleeps close to his place of work on the tabletop of a stall. The clean shirts and pants his wife washes in the stream each week are neatly stacked and locked in a wooden box under the table. Dirty washing is placed in a plastic bag and tucked into the folds of the stall roof, awaiting his next visit to the village.

The stall is run and owned by a family from Semarang who have been in Jakarta for over 25 years. Forced to move many times, the stall is now in a narrow lane squeezed between roadway, canal and a booming hotel air conditioner. At least seven people sleep there each night.

Fed up

We sit around the table talking. The tarpaulin sides of the stall flap like sails, the kerosene lamp lights up and throws shadows on our faces. It feels like a yacht sailing on rough seas. Most of the people gathered here feel outcast. One asks me: 'Have you been to Megawati's?'. I reply: 'No, I haven't been lucky enough to be invited'. He smiles cheekily: 'I have been three times'. In fact he was in the PDI building on the 27th July 1996 when it was raided by the security forces. He saw many people stabbed. He says: 'We are fed up. We are prepared to die. The next generation will benefit and take over from us'.

In my 25 years of visiting Indonesia, I have never heard people speak this way. The most common word from the 1970s waslumayan (everything is OK). It still rings in my ears, but nobody uses it anymore. The words today are stres (stress), bingung (confused), pusing (giddy), andfrustrasi.

Only 20 years ago, kampung dwellers in Jakarta did not view housing as one of their problems. You could readily buy land and build your own house. Two thirds of people owned their own homes in the kampung. The remainder had to rent. Now that situation is reversed. Most people have to rent and housing has become a luxury. Many are permanently on the move, not able to get a foothold in the city or the village.

Bombed out

From the multi-storeyed buildings, the kampungs of central Jakarta look like bombed out sites. Once terra cotta tiled roofs covered this area, housing an average of 1,000 to 2,000 people per hectare. Seventy percent of the city's inhabitants lived in kampungs. Now, hardly a kampung remains unscathed.

Large patches of rubble where houses have been knocked down lie between the remaining houses or the multi-storey office blocks. If you walk into the kampung you hear that some people have left, while others are holding out for higher compensation.

Over the past ten years, the price of land has soared. Between 1987 and 1990 it rose from Rp 500,000 to Rp 1 million (AU$225- 500) per square metre. Since then it has more than doubled again. Some say the price in the central city is between Rp 5 million and Rp 10 million (AU$ 2,500-5,000) per square metre. Most kampung dwellers receive less than 10%, sometimes as little as 2%, of this.

Social justice requires that market value compensation be paid to people being displaced. This would help prevent the growing polarisation between rich and poor.

Lea Jellinek wrote the book 'The wheel of fortune: the history of a poor community in Jakarta', 1990. She is a freelance development consultant who lives in Melbourne.

Inside Indonesia 50: Apr-Jun 1997

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