How Indonesia overtook Nigeria
I had never before been to Jakarta, the chaotic and teeming capital of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.
But, as the plane dodged in and out between the clouds, there it lay below. And just as I had been told it would, it looked like my former home – Nigeria.
“Indonesia and Nigeria?” I’d protested to the friend who first suggested the comparison to me some weeks earlier.
“They’re 7,000 miles apart. One’s Africa, one’s Asia. There’s no comparison to make.”
It was late 2003, and I was flying in from Singapore – a smart, modern Asian city, now two hours behind me to the north. I’d just been appointed Asia editor for the AFP news agency, after four years as its Nigeria bureau chief.
Lagos, my former home, is Africa’s megacity, the country’s hustling, bustling, trading capital. It is noisy, sometimes violent but pulsing with life.
From its crowded waterfront districts to the low-rise slums inland, it hums with activity; people making deals, making money, taking a chance and just getting by.
Looking down out of the plane’s window, I took in the airport below.
“Ok, so it looks like Lagos,” I thought.
Then, emerging minutes later from the plane, I settled into my taxi for the long drive into the city center.
When we stopped at a crossroads, crowds of noisy children emerged as they would in Nigeria to hawk their wares, offering us everything from spicy foods to soft drinks, typewriter covers to newspapers.
Both Indonesia and Nigeria, my guidebook told me, are the giants of their region, home to tens of millions of people. Both were formed as one nation by Europeans around 1900. Both were governed by the colonial system of “indirect rule”. Both once made money from palm oil, and later discovered oil and gas.
At independence, the standards of living in the two countries were comparable on most measures. And since independence, both have suffered three decades of military misrule and corruption.
Nigeria and Indonesia in figures (2010)
Gross national income, per capita
Gross domestic product
Nigeria: $207.12 billion
Indonesia: $510.73 billion
Population below the poverty line
Sources: UN, World Bank, CIA World Factbook