Indonesia launches plan to move its capital city

By August 29, 2019

Indonesia (MNN) – Indonesia’s got some big plans. FMI’s Bruce Allen explains, “On Monday, August 26, President Joko Widodo announced that the government plans to shift the capital away from the megacity of Jakarta that’s on the island of Java, and put it on a totally new island: the island of Borneo.”

It’s not a new idea. History points to multiple efforts to move Indonesia’s capital city, beginning in 1945. This time, though, science is on Widodo’s side, says Allen. “Literally, Jakarta is sinking. This megalopolis of Jakarta and its suburb is already 40% of its area below sea level, and continues to sink up to eight inches a year.”

Back when Jakarta emerged as the capital city, planners considered it well suited to hold five to six million people. However, “this metropolis is now home to 30 million people. That’s creating a lot of problems, traffic, gridlock, pollution, litter, issues with groundwater.”   

Why East Kalimantan?

(Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR/Flickr/CC)

Widodo chose the area based on the availability of land, low risks of natural disasters (unlike the volcanic and earthquake activity of other islands) and existing infrastructure. However, the mere idea of moving a capital city not just a few miles, but almost a thousand kilometers away creates logistical nightmares for city planners.

“They’re going to build a whole new city on the island of Borneo, taking two regions in the province of East Kalimantan, which is a portion of Borneo. Widodo said he hopes we location will begin by 2024. Now is the time for all the planning and all the building that needs to take place.”

Issues the government factored in whilst considering relocation were, “‘Can we build a whole new city that will accommodate all the people that it would take for all the government offices (and the homes) for about one and a half million civil servants?’– things like that. ‘Where could we place them and do it safely–do it smartly in a new territory?'”

Another challenge: the economic factor. Allen says that since this is their party, the government will fund that part of the project. “But the government is also hoping that there’ll be a lot of private investment, especially in the construction sector. They expect the cost will be about $33 billion to construct this new city. The state wants to fund about 19% of it, and the rest would come from public and private partnerships, private investment.”

A crazy idea?

Indonesia isn’t alone taking on the arduous task of moving a capital city. It’s happened in the United States (albeit in 1790), Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and, most recently, Myanmar (2005).  The primary motivator in those moves was moving the seat of government closer to the people. Another idea behind it is that transferring away from isolation tends to lower corruption.  


(Map cred: Wikimedia Commons)

Now that there’s a decision, the question of building before moving in or building as you go needs an answer. Allen notes that the area is underdeveloped, so it’d be like starting from scratch. “It’s going to straddle two different districts. Those two districts are already home to about 900,000 people combined. But you’re going to add 1.5 million civil servants to that mix, so you’re going to be more than doubling the population of that area.”  

New opportunities

With roughly 6000 islands in the archipelago, Indonesia is known for its diversity. Allen goes on to say there’s a tremendous opportunity coming: “One of the challenges doing ministry in Indonesia is the fact that these people are diverse (and all the little subcultures), and they’re spread across many islands. Now with this movement of people, we’ll be able to hit representatives of each of those islands without having to go to the islands. The people are coming here.” 

(Photo courtesy of FMI)

FMI has developed church planting partnerships across Indonesia for more than 20 years. In 2012, the ministry began supporting workers in Western Kalimantan. Now, the network includes 20 pastors and evangelists on Kalimantan. 

Laying the groundwork

While East Kalimantan has a Muslim majority population, it is home to many people from the Dayak tribe who have embraced Christianity. Yandi, FMI’s director of partnerships on Borneo says, “We can help these Christians strengthen themselves and prepare to serve the Indonesians – mostly Muslims – from other islands who will move to work in the new capital.”  

He further explained that opportunities for evangelism around the new capital would be “wide and good at first, but those from the majority religion will probably try to [quickly] limit our evangelism with various local regulations.” To that end, Allen urges us to pray wisdom for FMI’s leadership in Indonesia. “We’re looking to take full advantage of a new window of exciting opportunity to share the Gospel with people from so many different islands while that window of opportunity remains open.”



Headline photo courtesy SWXXI/Flickr/CC

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