Each year, Jakarta’s population swells after the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Some 70,000 Indonesians from rural areas came to the city for the festivities last year, and a good number of them stayed in the hopes of finding jobs in the capital. The same exodus from the countryside is again occurring in this year’s post-Ramadan period.
Such flows of people into the city make Indonesian leaders nervous. Though the Jakarta government has tried to stem population growth by only granting residency to those who have a place to live and a job, the rules aren’t always followed. In 2015, the city’s population hit 10 million, making it an official mega-city, one that deals heavily with issues such as pollution, traffic congestion, and poverty.
In response, government officials recently announced the resurrection of a movement dubbed “Return to Village,” which urges Jakarta’s newcomers to, well, go back home. In the past, the initiative didn’t have funds to back it up, and it didn’t find much success. This is in part because the wealth disparity between the Indonesian countryside and cities, especially Jakarta, is a key driver of mass urban migration in the country.
This time around, the movement is accompanied by a cache of “village funds,” which the government began distributing last year. A village can receive as much as 2 billion rupiah ($152,000), with the idea that the resources will help it develop into its own, self-sufficient economic center. The thinking is that with more opportunities in villages, fewer people will be tempted to leave.
The funding is also meant to help counter radicalism. In January of this year, Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen attacked central Jakarta, killing two civilians. It was the first time ISIS had targeted Indonesia, and the perpetrators, while directed by an Indonesian based in Syria, were local. Village funds, noted Chief Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan in a February 2016 government meeting, “will reduce poverty and with it the desire for people to engage in radical activities.”
Even with an influx of money supporting it, critics point to corruption and discrepancies in the disbursement of village funds. Studies also show that poverty is not always a predictive indicator of whether someone will radicalize.
Still, the University of Indonesia economist and demographer Aris Ananta tells CityLab via email that some Indonesians—both the old and the young—who moved to big cities are in fact starting to return to the country. While older Indonesians often seek retirement in their hometown, the young may return for opportunities or migrate to smaller urban centers. “Village development is now promising,” he writes.