The Indonesian government last week said it will build a new capital city from the ground up to alleviate pollution, traffic, and environmental hazards in its current capital, Jakarta.
The move, set to begin by 2024, could cost Indonesia about $33 billion. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, said the move is necessary because “the burden Jakarta is holding right now is too heavy as the center of governance, business, finance, trade, and services.” That’s true figuratively and literally: The area where Jakarta sits is prone to flooding and earthquakes, and the land is sinking by as much as 11 inches per year.
Where is the capital moving?
The nation’s administrative functions will relocate to the East Kalimantan province of Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia and Malaysia. The forested island sits about 1,250 miles northeast of Jakarta and is less susceptible to natural disasters.
“The location is very strategic—it’s in the center of Indonesia and close to urban areas,” Widodo said. The state will fund 19 percent of the move and collect the rest of the money from private investment and public-private partnerships. Officials expect the “smart city in the forest” to hold government offices and accommodations for about 1.5 million civil servants.
Ten million people live in Jakarta, and another 20 million reside in its greater metropolitan area. The densely populated city struggles to cope with traffic congestion and lack of infrastructure. Indonesian National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro told Reuters only 60 percent of the city has access to water utilities. The shortage has forced millions of residents and businesses to dig wells. “Jakarta is not doing fine at all,” he said. “The water condition is a cause for concern, wastewater, air pollution.”
The Indonesian government also plans to improve conditions in Jakarta. Brodjonegoro said officials will spend about $40 billion in renovating the city over the next 10 years.
Has any other country done this before?
Several other nations have made similar moves in modern history. In 1960, Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. The government designed the new capital to minimize traffic congestion and spur development in the country’s interior.
In 1991, Nigeria moved its capital from Lagos to Abuja, which is geographically centered and politically neutral.
Egypt is building a yet-to-be-named capital city to replace overcrowded Cairo, where more than 20 million people live. Egyptian officials boasted the city would have a smart traffic system and sensors to report smoke or fires to emergency services. But the $58 billion project faces financial hurdles after losing key investors.
Can Indonesia pull off the move?
The country has long dabbled with the idea of relocating its capital without plans coming to fruition, and analysts worry this time won’t be any different.
“Big projects in Indonesia generally develop in one of two ways: as a boondoggle that attracts corruption but eventually gets done or as a ‘clean’ project that never gets done,” Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, explained to Foreign Policy. “The challenge for Jokowi is to ensure it doesn’t turn into a boondoggle, but … he’ll have trouble attracting support if patronage networks don’t see themselves benefiting from the project.”
Some environmentalists also warn the move could cause more harm than good if not executed properly. “New roads cutting through forest areas break the continuity of the forest cover, and typically more slash-and-burn deforestation happens in their vicinity,” Petr Matous, a lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering, told Bloomberg.