To Kill an Indonesian Mockingbird

"Republik Indonesia" is the third largest democracy, and the largest population of muslims (India is second, with more Muslims than Pakistan).  The country shares stewardship of the tropical islands of Papua New Guinea and Borneo.  It's the 4th most populated nation, stretching over island and archipelago... about three times the size of Texas.   It has some of the most densely populated cities, and some of the most sparsely populated forests.

Indonesia could go either way.

It could succumb to the "resource curse".  The same volcanic history that brought the tidal wave tsunami disaster of 2004 has also left copper, gold, and rare earth metals.  The rain forests are being systematically cut down, like the Amazon, to plant commercial crops - like timber and palm oil plantations.

Indonesia could also follow the path of the "Network of Tinkerers".   Like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, Indonesia's economy is building on the "geeks of color", the repair and refurbish and shanzhai knock-off economies.  Contract manufacturing has a leg in the economy.

Indonesia, the largest muslim economy and largest muslim democracy, stands in a pivotal position.  It must care about the environment, or we will lose the rain forests and species diversity, lose the fishing villages like those which built the port of the OK Tedi River, now a belching copper mine cyanide blister, visible from outer space.
"The Ok Tedi Mine is an open-pit copper and gold mine located near the headwaters of the Ok Tedi River, in the Star Mountains Rural LLG of theNorth Fly District of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. Discharges from the mine have caused widespread and diverse harm, both environmentally and socially, to the 50,000 people who live in the 120 villages downstream of the mine..." [wikipedia 2011.10.16]
But if the Indonesians who care about the environment accept the bad advice of the Basel Action Network, and lobby for closure of the semiknockdown / SKD refurbishing market, they may cast the deciding vote in favor of the resource curse economy.

PT Mag, PT Imtech, and Mag Innovision and Panasonic have a reason to abandon their contract assembly factories in Indonesia.  Tossed by the tsunamis, the nation is ill equipt to compete with China's manufacturing handouts and incentives.  But it also represents tremendous demand.   The 3B3K nation is thirsty for internet, as any emerging market democracy.  It's a market which could be spoon-fed new product, or could become a white box manufacturing competitor in the Good Enough Market.


The Ewells, Radleys, and Finch Families from America's emerging southern economy, can be found on the streets of Jakarta.   Whether Indonesia remains a plantation state or a sun belt Asian Tiger is at stake.  Whether Indonesian women will run factories like my friends in Malaysia and Mexico, or will be field workers and concubines like Mayella Violet Ewell, depends on environmentalists.

"Primitive, wire-burning operations".  It was a racist comment, sinced replaced in the Boston Globe.  But the bell has not been unrung.   Natural Resources Defense Council shot Tom Robinson.  It was an honest mistake, they believed the press they were perpetuating.  But the organization now has a moral and ethical obligation to support fair trade recycling, to read the Basel Convention (Annex IX), and to right the past wrong of accidental racism.

This will be difficult... NRDC has a starring role in the CBS 60 Minutes Wasteland e-waste controversy (false accusations of "primitive wire burning" at a village which never touched the monitors in the story), and they have a gigantic conflict of interest on their board of directors (E-Steward Wendy Neu, owner of WeRecycle, a non-export company).   NRDC markets E-Stewards.

NRDC Describes Indonesian Factory: "Primitive"
But I do believe that the organization is a friend to the environment.   I believe they have enough depth to see beyond the "cures" that Prohibition serves.  If they come out in favor of the Green Thompson bill, NRDC will have pushed Indonesia into the Resource Curse anti-utopia of mining and cotton farming.  The coral islands which are already dredging tin for "leadfree" solder for China's manufacturers will become the economic rudder.   The shanzhai, reverse-engineering, contract manufacturing, white box, gray market network of repairpeople and tinkerers, thrives on the streets of Jakarta and Semarang.  The same youthful geeks, who are the basis of Egypt's democracy, will struggle, as their techie counterparts in Guangdong have struggled.   We must defend the brilliant arrows of youth who fix and refurbish the display devices which rich nations would have you and I pay money to shred.

It is critical that universities study the history of economic development and the success of democracy in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.   It is vital that the choices we are making be documented.

Democracy vs. Resource Curse
Tinkerers vs. Miners
Fishing villages vs. Cyanide Plume Rivers
White Box Good Enough Internet vs. Access of the Haves

OK Tedi Mine in Indonesia Rainforest

Malaysia and Indonesia are at the crossroads, they can tip in either direction.   Environmental community has a decisive vote.  NRDC, Greenpeace and others owe it to their legacy to give their position on refurbishing another look.

Fair Trade Recycling is when exporters sacrifice profits to pay for cleaner, safer facilities, run by Emerging Techs of Color.   If you are a former Peace Corps Volunteer, a former hippy, a former regulator, a donor, or a student of International Relations, you know where Tom Friedman and Fareed Zakaria will land when this finally blossoms.

"This is your blind spot..."

The song is also a good afterplay for To Kill a Mockingbird.

This time I've been on earth, I chose what is best.  Trade with tinkerers, hosting my house with geeks of color, seeing people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.

It was a twist that the Crusade against Exports was mounted by a fellow environmentalist.  He got the job I didn't, at Greenpeace in Amsterdam.  I graduated a year late, and went to teach kids in Africa.  We could have been friends.

But the false accusation of the repairpeople in Indonesia, March 2010, was the last straw.  I began with reason, like Atticus, but wound up shouting like a panther.  Environmental pride and accolades can keep us from admitting to our mistakes.   The California Compromise came close... in the end they played it like it was a big favor to me.  It was a favor to California, and in the long run, would have allowed the Watchdogs to correct an error.   The only thing my friends in Indonesia would have gotten out of it was acknowledgement and right to exist.

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