Anarchy beats Megawati rule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2001, 12:00am

You will have noticed Indonesian Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri saying that her country faces the toughest crisis in its recent history and must reorganise its political life and government.

There is an immediate observation to make here. Who says that a Javanese empire created less than 50 years ago from widely dispersed ethnic and religious groups is really a viable nation state anyway?

The crises of its first years were mostly those of imperial aggrandisement, witness East Timor and the failed attempts to overrun Sabah and Sarawak. They ended but the Javanese dynastic idea remains intact.

Ms Megawati's biggest appeal in her rise to power was that Daddy (founding president Sukarno) once held the job.

And it is interesting to note that she talks of Indonesia's difficulties purely in political terms as if the economy will naturally follow when Jakarta rules supreme. Her plight is that the national government just cannot seem to pull the country together. People are going their own way.

Is that really so bad? Most of the violence that has resulted stems from failed attempts to force them together again. Ms Megawati would do better to consider whether the real day-to-day problems of livelihood that face people are not better addressed on the spot in Irian Jaya.

To emphasise the point, go a few thousand miles further west to Somalia, a country where government was destroyed in a civil war that started in 1988. Destroyed means destroyed - no government, no public institutions, not even an official currency and every piece of public infrastructure thoroughly and totally wrecked.

Here is one finding of a United Nations report on the results:

'One of the positive attributes of post-crisis in Somalia is the birth of a private-sector-led economy. The private sector has contributed significantly to the slow but steady recovery of the Somali economy. It has created jobs, provided badly needed services in water, power, telecommunications, airlines, money transfers and banking. It continues to grow and venture into areas that need investment . . .'

Or try these excerpts from a list of unexpected benefits:

'Establishment of well-developed private sector, civil society and community-based organisations that will have strong leading roles in the future.

'New opportunities for women as they become heads of their families and the main breadwinners in the society.

'Rebuilding of regions and districts neglected since independence in 1960.'

Well, hurrah for anarchy. The Somalis had to go the hard way about discovering the benefits of a market economy undistorted by government interference and it seems they have learned. A few others could benefit from their lesson too.

Open this newspaper almost any day and you will find a long list of people telling you that government should do this and government should do that and government should do the other thing too, in most cases because of earlier government failures in doing this, that and the other thing too. All we seem to get as a prescription is more of the malady that caused the ailment.

Anarchy has been given a bad name by the bomb throwers that espoused it in the 19th Century but the evidence mounts by the day that there is a great deal to be said for it. Yes, let's have our police, our courts and rubbish collection too, but you and I can do business perfectly well without having Ah-Tung trying to make it a party of three.

And as for Ms Megawati and her travails in Indonesia, let's have her pose her question in the right place.

'Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the best to rule them all?'

Not you, madam. Those dwarves you ignored look a lot better on their own. Stay at home and leave them at work.