Islamophobia is rising worldwide, particularly in the United States where Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to deny visas to Muslim countries. Meanwhile, here in Southeast Asia, a young Indonesian mayor welcomes one and all to his city, Bandung. This young mayor recently made headlines in Indonesia, when he took issue with ultra-orthodox religious leaders banning LGBT from Muslim communities.
Mr. Trump also has something against the LGBT community, immigrants, Mexico, women, African Americans, and many others including Filipinos (he initially thought that the Philippines was Islamic and situated in the Middle East). While he would close US doors to everyone but white Americans, Mayor Ridwan Kamil would open Bandung’s doors to all who could enrich Bandung.
We had the rare privilege of listening to Mayor Kamil share his experiences as a mayor in democracy, governance and development within the context of Islam. He was the keynote speaker during the 2016 Islam and Democracy Forum (IDF) organized by the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) and the University of the Philippines Law Center on August 9. The forum, entitled Islam, Democracy and Leadership: The Bandung Experience in Creating a Smart, Happy City, supported by the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and Manila Water Company Inc, was held at the GT Toyota Auditorium in the UP Asian Center.
Former Indonesian ambassador to the United States, H.E Dino Patti Djalal, introduced Mayor Kamil, who had just flown in from Jakarta that morning. I thought how remarkable that a very important leader such as the former Indonesian ambassador to the United States would be the one to introduce a local government executive. Then I found out that many Indonesians (over 2 million who follow him on Twitter) view Kamil as a possible presidential candidate. However, Kamil describes himself as the “caretaker of loveable Bandung.” Believing that the happiness of his residents should be at the center of the city’s development, he says, “Happiness has to be there because a happy society creates a better society.”
A well-known architect, Kamil earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and a master’s from the University of California, Berkeley. He later practiced his profession in New York and San Francisco. But after seven years of success, he decided to go back home to Bandung and use his skills to do good by helping his community. He returned and taught at ITB. In an interview, Kamil said, “My profession at that time was to fix a city as an urban planner [working]abroad. But every time I came back to Bandung, it had become more chaotic and more disordered. So I braced myself, though with nothing to lose, and set out to become mayor.”
Kamil sought to transform Bandung into a “happy, lovable, smart city” in collaboration with his community. He said that people, not industry, should be the focus of development.
Together, the mayor and the Bandung people first renovated the town square – which used to be dark, dirty and a favored spot for crimes such as drug pushing and theft – into a well-lit and beautiful park where kids play into the night. The mayor had to issue a statement asking parents to make sure their children don’t stay out late. Hundreds of thousands of tourists now enjoy the park, “taking selfies,” according to the mayor. “This is an example of how an open space that was considered negative can be turned into a positive,” he said.
Bandung has received more than 100 awards under Kamil, including one from the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last year for its diligence in reporting and controlling bribery. But the mayor states that his proudest achievement is instilling a sense of community engagement in his city. Collaboration between government and the governed is key to his administration, one that grows because the people trust their leader and cannot be imposed.
Kamil’s development plan will build on technology, creativity and the youth. He has started the Bandung Teknopolis, built in Gedebage and inspired by Silicon Valley in California, United States. He tapped his profession to reshape the environment of Bandung City to one that generates a positive vibe among people. He says that people, not industry, should be the focus of the government’s development plan.
Last year, Bandung City was judged as one of the top five “smart cities” of the world, together with Amsterdam. How did Kamil manage this? He tapped his profession to reshape the environment of Bandung City to one that generates a positive vibe among people. Today, each of the villages in Bandung (kampong) has an architect as adviser, all working pro bono. Some quotable quotes from the mayor:
“BE CREATIVE to make a change in society”
“A place where happy people live in makes it a better place to live”
“If helping the people in my city is what I intend to do, then serving these people as a mayor is the best thing to do rather than as an architect.”
Kamil has much to share with our mayors who face the same development challenges. When asked, he said that he would be willing to go to Mindanao and share his experiences. Kamil believes that criminality, such as the illegal drug trade, will only prosper when the community loses its humanity and merely becomes the site for business growth. The job of the mayor is to ensure the welfare of all his residents. He said, “Happiness has to be there because a happy society creates a better society”.
Perhaps that is what we, in the Philippines, have to regain – the “bayanihan” spirit that made our towns a real community, animated by friendship, as well as kinship. Perhaps the change that we are looking for is to renew the communal ties that bound our barangay units into a village of people who live together, not just a political subdivision of voters.
About the Author: Amina Rasul is one of the Outstanding Alumnae of the University of the Philippines School of Economics. She obtained her Masters Degree in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School in 1999. Amina is championing the cause of Mindanao and is now the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.