By: Ed Caffin
The end of World War II sparked a process of decolonisation throughout the World. The days of imperialism would soon be over. More than half a century later however, rich countries are still highly involved in developing countries. According to many critics, this involvement is nothing less than imperialism, often disguised as development aid. In a system often referred to as neo-colonialism, developing countries are still being exploited by developed countries. As we will see, neo-colonial practise has taken many forms. This is most definitely the case in Indonesia.
For decades, most “neo-colonial control” was established through extensive economic involvement in developing countries. First of all, this was done through financial “aid” that was offered. In return for funds and investments, poor countries were forced to comply with strict regulations. These regulations tied the economies of ‘weak states,’ mainly situated in South-East Asia and Africa. In effect, it put them under firm control of the economically strong states.
Indonesia has built up massive external debts, the main debtors being IMF, World Bank and Japan. Most of this foreign debt was incurred during the 30 year reign of Suharto, that started in 1967. From 1967 onwards, the economic policy depended heavily on the decisions of foreign parties.
These parties were gathered in a consortium called the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI), later reformed as the Consultative Group on Indonesia (disbanded in 2007). This consortium of mainly western lenders, including the IMF, had to approve the Indonesian budget and assess how much “aid” (loans) would be provided. It resulted in economic growth, but the strict conditions (e.g. forced privatisation in many sectors) and immense interest rates kept (and still keeps) Indonesia more or less imprisoned.
Also, rich countries started to focus on the raw materials of many of the developing countries, like Indonesia. As many other developing countries, Indonesia is rich of crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper, and gold. Most of these materials however, were exploited by developed countries like the US. In return for foreign investments, developed countries often obtained monopolies on these exploitations. Moreover, large-scale exploitation of these materials claimed massive land areas in Indonesia and other poor countries, threatening livelihood of local farmers.
Other ways of exploitation
Over the past decades, extensive foreign investment has covered all sectors in Indonesia. But, there are new ways of economic exploitation emerging. One of these developed against the backdrop of the recent food crisis. Various rich oil states are starting to buy land and agricultural resources in poor countries, trying to secure their own food-supply. This phenomenon, often referred to as ‘land grabbing’, further threatens livelihood of farmers in South-East Asia and Africa.
Neo-colonial exploitation operates not only in the economic or agricultural field but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural fields. Furthermore, as a result of the increasing globalization, countries are becoming even more subject to exploitation. With international culture becoming more and more Western-dominated, countries like Indonesia are changing, The number of Western style supermarkets and fast-food chains, for example, has grown enormously in only a few years. With this patterns of consumption are changing. Ultimately, this makes huge numbers of Indonesian consumers more or less dependent of Western multinationals. Not surprisingly, neo-liberalism and globalization have become subject of strong debate in Indonesia.
Mass tourism as neo-colonial practise
Among the innumerable ways in which neo-colonialism operates, also mass-tourism should be mentioned. As harmless as it may seem, mass tourism in the ‘Third World’ can have a very exploitive character. An important reason lies in the unequal relationship between the tourist, being economically dominant, and the submissive ‘local’, often regarded as an inferior ‘other’. This inequality can have dramatic effects. Not only through the neo-colonial attitudes with which tourist explore their destinations, but mainly through actual physical and cultural exploitation.
Two of these effects are mentioned here. First of all, mass tourism in South East Asia becomes more and more associated with sex tourism. In Indonesia and other parts of South-East Asia, it has grown into a massive industry. Mainly women, and sadly also many children, are often ‘forced’ into sex industry. Secondly, in popular tourist destinations like Bali, mass tourism is rapidly turning local culture into a global commodity. In these and many other ways, many developing countries have become dependent of all kinds of foreign involvement. The price of which seems to be high.
The rich and the poor
Decades after decolonization the long arm of imperialism still seems to stretch out into the far corners of the (developing) world. The rich: developed countries, continue to exploit the poor: old colonies and other poor countries. Indeed, colonial days are not over. And, as neo-colonialism was not invented overnight, probably will never be.