Indonesian Ambassador to Namibia Agustino Sumartono is counting the last days of his diplomatic posting to Namibia. New Era’s Fifi Rhodes caught up with the outgoing ambassador who has been in Namibia since 2012.
Your Excellency, share with us your experience of the four years you have spent in Namibia?
First and foremost I would like to thank all Namibians for warmly welcoming me. Although I am sad to be leaving Namibia, I can assure you that I will carry Namibia forever in my heart. Over the past four years I have tried to elevate the relationship between Indonesia and Namibia to a higher level. In doing so, my point of reference is the key document in Indonesia-Namibia bilateral relations, which is the Minutes of the First Meeting of the Joint Commission held in Jakarta 11-12 May 2009. Within that document, the two countries have agreed to promote cooperation in 20 different areas, among others trade, agriculture, education and capacity building. Our trade relations have yet to achieve a satisfying number. It fluctuated from US$ 6.6 million in 2012, to US$ 3.3 million in 2013 and US$ 4.4 million in 2014. The data from last year is quite encouraging. Until October 2015 the bilateral trade stood at US$ 8.2 million.
What is the direction of the relationship existing between Windhoek and Jakarta?
I am optimistic that there is room for improvement to these numbers. This is the reason that every year we invite Namibian businessmen and officials to participate in the Trade Expo Indonesia held in Jakarta. During the expo, the Namibian delegation gets an opportunity to interact with Indonesian counterparts to explore future cooperation. Likewise, we continually invite Indonesian businessmen to come and visit Namibia. Last year, we had representatives of Indonesian companies participating in the Ongwediva Trade Expo.
What are some of the programmes that Namibians attended while they were in your country?
As a proponent of South-South Cooperation, Indonesia continues to increase its role by implementing capacity building programmes in various developing nations including Namibia. The programmes that have been carried out and benefited Namibian recipients focused on micro-finance, public administration, service delivery in the hospitality industry, bioethics, animal quarantine, aquaculture, wireworks jewellery, diplomacy and peacekeeping.
How attractive is Indonesia as a tourist destination?
Indonesia and Namibia are separated by a distance of over 10 000 km, more or less 20 hours of flight. Therefore it is imperative for the Indonesian Embassy to get people from our two nations to know each other better. During my term, I have always explained that Indonesia is a big country with a long history dating back to the 7th century. Now, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with over 250 million people. We are also the world’s largest archipelago with 17 000 islands. Indonesia consists of many different tribes so diverse that we have more than 700 different local languages.
Your Excellency, could you share with us the interactions between Indonesia and Namibia?
Of course action speaks more than words. To enhance people to people contact, our embassy continues to introduce Indonesian culture, arts and cuisine at our national day reception as well as at several different occasions or events. We have also organized an Indonesian film festival, screening different genres of Indonesian movies. The film festival has become a window for the Namibian people to understand more about the Indonesian way of life. Another effort I would like to mention is the media trip to Indonesia, which was organized last year. Eighteen Namibian journalists from the electronic and print media joined the trip and brought back fond stories about Indonesia.
Tell us more about the scholarships being offered by your country
Education is another important field to highlight. Through our two programmes, the developing countries’ partnership and Darmasiswa, we continue to offer scholarships to Namibian students to come and study in Indonesia. In addition, we also have two cooperation frameworks existing between our universities, namely the University of Namibia with the University of Gadjah Mada and the Namibia University of Science and Technology with Politeknik Negeri Bandung.
On the diplomatic front what is there to celebrate?
On the political front, the year 2015 was a special milestone for both Namibia and Indonesia. The people of Namibia celebrated their Silver Jubilee anniversary as well as the peaceful and successful transition of leadership from His Excellency Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba to His Excellency Dr Hage Gottfried Geingob. In Indonesia, we celebrated 70 years of independence since 1945. We also reinvigorated the spirit of the Asian-African Conference 1955 by inviting leaders from the two continents to Jakarta and Bandung for the 60 Year Commemoration of the Asian-African Conference.
Indonesia enjoys cordial relations and mutually beneficial interactions with Namibia. As fellow developing countries who share many common interests, it is important to join hands and work hard towards a better and fairer international system.
What else would you like to share with us?
I have consistently pushed for the opening of a Namibia High Commission in Jakarta. I welcome the official appointment of an Honorary Consul of Namibia to Indonesia, made on November 3, 2014. The presence of an Honorary Consul plays a critical role in helping to provide trade, investment, tourism and cultural information from Namibia to the Indonesian people.
Besides your line of work what else would you want to tell us?
In the social field, my wife together with the Indonesian Women’s Association have worked to try and make a difference in the lives of underprivileged Namibians. The funds raised through participation in various bazaars are used to buy food and other basic needs for a number of charities in Windhoek and the surrounding area. In conclusion, looking at the overall relationship of Indonesia-Namibia, it has undoubtedly gone up. Not to say there haven’t been challenges, but I think the relationship has become even better and this was my goal these past four years. This could not have been accomplished without support from all stakeholders in Namibia: executive, legislative, regional government, religious leaders, academicians, NGOs, and many more. Indonesia stands ever ready to help Namibia move forward and I am honoured to have actively taken part in this endeavour. May the cooperation between our two countries continue to prosper.