Rotterdam and Jakarta Forge a New Partnership i

By : rudi_pandjaitan | on 2:39 PM July 03, 2017
Category : Cover Story

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and the Dutch city of Rotterdam reflect various similarities, ranging from their geographical likeness as two major port towns, to the aspects of communities, governance, and the need for integrated public transportation systems. GlobeAsia met with Mayor of Rotterdam Ahmed Aboutaleb, the first mayor of a large city in the Netherlands who is both of immigrant origin and a Muslim. By Eko Prasetyo 

Indonesia’s links with Rotterdam stretch well back into history. It was from the Dutch port that ships sailed on the spice trade, the first step in a relationship between the islands of what became Indonesia and Holland that lasted 350 years. Today, the relationship is on a more even footing, and the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, still finds plenty in common with its Dutch.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Dutch Labor Party politician, had a busy schedule in Jakarta. When he talked to GlobeAsia, he had just met with Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat to sign a continuation of a partnership agreement for another two years, up to 2019.

The partnership maintains the orientation on flood and clean water mitigation in the capital, including the development of Jakarta’s giant sea wall and ports.

“I think the main collaboration that we have is in water management,” Aboutaleb said. “Both cities have difficulties with water, Jakarta has a lack of drinking water and we have a lot of water, on the other hand the city of Jakarta suffers from flooding — two to three times a year — where we do not have flooding but we have lots of rain water.”

To mitigate floods, Aboutaleb took an example of Rotterdam’s water pump system that stores rainwater until the river’s water level drops before pumping it out, which can be applied in Jakarta.

The mayor pointed out another crucial issue, saying that “(there is) a lot of pollution although the river is cleaner nowadays, better than it used to be in the past. Nevertheless, it is still polluted.”

Moreover, Rotterdam will assist the capital in improving its vital seaport, in order to “have a good port with good logistics.”

“The idea is how to make the feasibility study to enlarge the Port of Jakarta, (with help) from Rotterdam with its largest ports in the western hemisphere and lots of technical models available,” Aboutaleb added. “We are happy to share the existing knowledge to everyone, also with our sister city Jakarta.”

Sea highways and government

Aboutaleb expressed his fascination with the Indonesian government’s efforts to create equal distribution of prices and goods throughout its 17,000 islands.

“It is how to make the cost of living equal to all citizens of Indonesia, where the additional costs come from logistics and transport,” he said, praising the idea of making a maritime highway to connect a number of hubs to create a better atmosphere for trade between Indonesia and global communities, as well as within Indonesia.

“However, to transform these ports is not easy, because people are living there … and also the resistance from environmental groups who have their own ideas on how to deal with such developments,” Aboutaleb added.

The mayor advised dialogue with opponents of the plans. “In Rotterdam, we had to do that too, and we did that, so concerning environmentalists, sitting down with them in a round table could be part of the solution,” he said.


The partnership maintains the orientation on flood and clean water mitigation in the capital, including the development of Jakarta’s giant sea wall and ports.


Aboutaleb also commented on the continuity of governments, where state or city officials do things differently after elections, but still respect the need to maintain major policies.

He took the example of Jakarta’s traffic and pollution problems, where solutions are needed regardless of who the next leader will be.

“When it comes to the big issues, the thoughts and ways of thinking are different to create solutions.”

Integrated public transport

On public transport, Aboutaleb started by elaborating how the traffic has become more crowded compared to his visit in 2010, demonstrating an increase in the public’s income level which has allowed them to purchase cars.

While it might be a good solution for the people with higher incomes due to a lack of public transportation, there are no easy solutions to manage the traffic in a capital city like Jakarta.

“Solutions are only complex. What I have been seeing in Rotterdam is that solutions, not only in the city, sometimes need to be found in (surrounding) regions together, because people are coming also from outside into the city,” Aboutaleb said.

“You need railway connections, subway connections, metro connections, sometimes tram connections, and if you have a lot of water like we have in Rotterdam, we have what we call ‘water buses’,” he added.

“For me, it is unthinkable that you would run a city with the size of Jakarta without a metro (mass rapid transit). Nevertheless, Metro from point A to point B is not enough because people would like to go to all destinations — so you need additional connections between the end stations of the metro to places where people work,” Aboutaleb said.

Decentralizing and managing

The Rotterdam mayor also discussed the potential for decentralizing business activities. “It is possible to bring work to the people, to decentralize the commercial and business activities. Instead of having one place, you might have 10 or 20 places where people go to work,” the mayor said.

This possibility of spatial planning, according to Aboutaleb, is an alternative to only considering how to modernize the public transportation.

“It is how to use land for developments, businesses. We in Rotterdam do not develop business areas anymore. We develop integrated areas where people work, live and spend their time, so it is a multilateral space where living, working and leisure combine together.”

In terms of the population level, Aboutaleb elaborated on the challenges faced by Jakarta and Rotterdam in “keeping the cities livable,” taking the example of the recently created open area in West Jakarta, Kali Jodo.

“That is a very good example to create an open area and to give citizens oxygen, as well as making them responsible for their own area,” Aboutaleb said. “I think you need 100 of this type of open space.”

The mayor praised former governor Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama and Djarot, who has taken his place as governor, for initiating the measure. “That shows that your leader and your city know very well how to do it. They are not waiting for me to tell them what to do, they already know themselves how to do it,” he said. “They (Ahok and Djarot) do it with little money … and that is a good example.”

Another crucial issue Aboutaleb brought up was the question of limits to the growth of a city.  Growth affects various elements, including the labor market, overcrowded residential areas and health.

“From my point of view, city management should have a limit — in terms of a healthy way to run a city… To me, the moment that leaders of a city have no idea what happens in the neighborhood, that is a wrong signal,” Aboutaleb said.

City administrations in Indonesia, along with members of public, should discuss the necessary solutions covering welfare, livability of the city, crime, development and other related aspects.

Jakarta and Rotterdam initiated their partnership in 1986, and the two cities have conducted various partnership programs in areas ranging from waste management, information system management, museum management, empowerment programs on water management and the transfer of knowledge for the delta city development.