Amien Rais’ Agenda Mendesak Bangsa Selamatkan Indonesia!: Lessons to learn about being an optimist citizen

amien rais

If I have had to compare between the Indonesia’s condition in 1990s and its current condition and needed to mention one dramatic change happened to our country, it would have been how we (Indonesians) have become increasingly pessimistic than ever before. We have been through the devastating East Asian financial crisis in 1997, substantial political changes, a series of natural disasters, etc. Whilst it potentially has a long-term positive implication, reformasi (the Indonesian reformation) was considered by many of us to be costly. Social riots in some regions were obvious evidence of this costly movement. The reformation, to some extent, might have also triggered instability in the Indonesian economy. One may argue that the fundamental causes of all of these problems had been there for years. Regardless, many still view that the reformation was more or less a journey without a clear end. This leads to another evidence of what our experience may have changed us. Again, it is how pessimistic the Indonesian young generation is facing the future.

It could be true that we might lack of role models. We lack of individuals whose values we share with; who have been able to fulfil their dreams and show us the pathways to do so; who have a vigorous commitment to their integrity; who can be optimistic when we are very much pessimistic. How on earth can we be an optimist? My recent re-reading of Prof Mohammad Amien Rais’ book entitled “Agenda Mendesak Bangsa: Selamatkan Indonesia!” (The country’s urgent agenda: Save Indonesia!) (2008) motivates me to rethink how to address the question.

Pessimists would say being an optimist is possible but almost impossible. We are living in (or a citizen of) ‘a broken country’ where all problems seem to be too complicated to be solved; where no one seems to be able to offer solution; where we don’t know where we should begin; where, again, (almost) everyone seems to be a pessimist.

Here is what I’ve learnt from Prof Rais’ inspiring book:

(1) Learn from mistakes

George Santayana (1863-1952), a Spanish philosopher, defined:

‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them’.

Isn’t it exactly what the Prophet Muhammad PBUH described?

‘Those who make today better than yesterday are fortunate; those who make today the same as yesterday are unfortunate; those who make today worse than yesterday are bankrupt’.

I’m sure our country has learnt so much (well, let’s hope so). The question is whether and how this learning process makes us a better person? We also know that there is no end to learning.

(2) Understand our weaknesses

The term ‘inlander’s mentality’ could be one of the most frequently used words in Prof Rais’ book. Prof Rais might be true that this could be our greatest weakness. What does the term mean? Inlander was a term to name indigenous Indonesian people as an insult during the Dutch colonialisation. It is widely accepted that colonialisation has devastating consequences in both short and long terms. Prof Rais defines that the experience of being colonialised has shaped the characteristics of Indonesians to be unconfident and always perceive that everything from overseas (be it ways of thinking, products, systems, etc) is better than their own achievements.

We should give credit to Bung Karno and Bung Hatta for lifting up the confidence of Indonesians. Yet, whilst we thought that we’re capable and confident enough to move the country onto a more developed stage, the inlander’s mentality was possibly still there. During the Suharto’s era and prior to the reformation era, we were pretty much having a wishful thinking. We thought our country was right on the track; five-year development planning seemed to say everything we wished to hear; we adopted foreign values and these values were said to be ‘adjusted appropriately according to our cultural and religious values’. Unfortunately, we also let multinational companies take over the ownership of our valuable natural resources. I do appreciate many achievements that former governments of Indonesia achieved. However, there are too many ‘sins’ that we, the commoners, were not let to realise or were not able to detect. Prof Rais quoted the Quran to describe such situation where; 1) we don’t learn from our mistake; 2) we think we’re doing the right thing: QS 18: 103-104

‘Say (O Muhammad PBUH): Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their deeds)? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds’.

May we be kept away from such deeds.

(3) What’s next?

My mother often says, ‘Analysis means nothing unless you are able to provide conclusion and offer solutions.’ We’ve learnt from the past; we’ve identified our weakness; then, we need to figure out what strategies of our next movement and what our priorities are. In his final chapter, Prof Rais provides a thorough list of what we must do. This list is not a substitute of his comprehensive discussion. Readers are highly encouraged to read the whole chapter. Yet, this list might give a bit of ideas about what we need to do. Many of his ideas emphasise the importance of choosing ‘the right leader’.

  • Choose a leader who doesn’t have ‘inlander’s mentality’; It’s about time to support young leaders with excellent national as well as international knowledge; who understand that leadership is a mandate that has to be fulfilled with honesty and hard work; who understand the urgency of (re-)campaigning Indonesia’s independence;  who have strong commitment to combat ‘state capture corruption’ and refuse to be part of it.
  • Whilst we need to open up our economy and engage with other countries; we need to do so in the spirit of welfare equality and mutual benefits.
  • We should include economists in the corruption watch committee (KPK) to detect economic crimes.
  • We need to stop being ‘a debt addict’.
  • We must put more attention to our farmers who have been neglected for so long
  • All strategic regulations and laws should be reviewed including laws on mining, capital investment, state-owned entities, agriculture, electricity, forestry, etc to ensure that these regulations cater people’s needs.
  • Media as ‘the fourth estate’ should also plays its role as a watch dog and be ready to take over the parliament or DPR’s role as social control if DPR is too weak to strive for people’s needs.
  • Law enforcement is paramount.
  • We should involve young generation to design a blue print of Indonesian economic development.
  • We, Indonesians, have six fundamental references: national anthem ‘Indonesia Raya’, national flag, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language), Bhineka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity), police and military forces (TNI and POLRI) and five principles Pancasila, to which we should refer the direction of our future development.

In the name of Allah SWT, Prof Rais motivates us to be an optimist and be ready to overcome any barriers and face enormous challenges ahead. We must believe that (QS 94: 6):

Verily, along with every hardship is relief

Bung Karno once said:

For a fighting nation, there is no journey’s end

The Qur’an states more clearly: QS 94:7-8:

So when you have finished (your occupation) devote yourself to Allah’s worship. And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your) intentions and hopes.

 This is a long overdue call to stop laughing at ourselves and rather think how we can contribute to our beloved country.

Wallahu A’lam.

Adelaide May 6, 2011

*materi kultum (kuliah tujuh menit) di pengajian mingguan An-Nisa Adelaide


[The Quran] Khan, M. M. and M. T.-u. D. Al-Hilali (1996). “Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Quran in English Language”ed. Riyadh, Darussalam Publishers and Distributors

Rais, M. Amien (2008). “Agenda Mendesak Bangsa: Selamatkan Indonesia!” Yogyakarta, PPSK Press.


About Risti Permani

A native Indonesian, Risti Permani is a development economist at the University of Adelaide. Her research interests include development economics, agricultural economics and regional economics. See this link for more details:

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Book Review, Human Capital, Indonesia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: