Joko Widodo: From Humble Beginnings, to Jakarta’s Leader
Joko Widodo is set to become the new governor of Jakarta, thanks in large part to his success in transforming his hometown of Solo into an efficient town.
When he was elected mayor of Solo in 2005, however, not everyone thought a 44-year-old businessman could run a city.
Jokowi, as he is called, surprised his critics with his successes, preserving much of the old heritage sites and introducing many cultural activities that attract tourists from around the world. His efforts built pride among its residents.
During his many business trips, Jokowi was envious of European towns, each with its own trademarks and characteristics. He concluded that Solo, the home of the Surakarta princedom, needed a face-lift and a brand with which would sell itself.
Jokowi came up with the slogan: “Solo, the Spirit of Java.”
He reorganized the many food hawkers invading the city’s public areas and moved them to key locations that were controlled by healthy businesses.
He revitalized the city’s parks, which had long been abandoned by the city, and introduced regular activities in which people of all ages and backgrounds could mingle and enjoy life.
In 2007, Solo hosted the World Music Festival in an abandoned Dutch fortress — the Vastenburg — which was initially going to be destroyed for a shopping mall.
“I don’t think there is a need to overreact with my current position,” he told his former campus’ student magazine Kabar UGM during his time as Solo mayor. “What is clear is that I have more responsibility because I bear the trust of the people of Solo to lead them to a better, more developed and more prosperous Solo.”
It is a humble tone for a man in a high position, one that won the hearts of rickshaw drivers and the underprivileged in Solo. He can now try to win the hearts of Jakarta residents.
Jokowi’s sympathy for the underprivileged can be traced back to his father, a carpenter living in a slum on a Solo river bank, salvaging old wood and selling it as cheap furniture.
Jokowi enrolled at Gajah Mada University as a forestry major in Yogyakarta before graduating in 1985.
He worked in Aceh for a state-owned company before returning to Solo and joining a private logging company.
“In 1998, I tried to independently venture into the furniture business, particularly in exports. Praise Allah, after a series of downfalls, my business is able to provide for me and my family,” he said.
He later achieved his dream of developing his beloved hometown, and was tagged as one of the world’s best mayors in the process.
“I have the same obsession [as my backers],” he said of his decision to enter politics. “I am really serious about developing Solo toward a better direction, locally, nationally and internationally.”
But in an area 10 times the size of Solo and a population of eight million, critics argue that Jakarta’s problems are far more complex. Time will tell if Jokowi can prove them wrong as well.