Indonesia - A Country Overview

Information on Indonesia; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Indonesia...


Indonesia is an archipelago situated on the equator in South East Asia with over 17,500 islands. It lies between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans and shares land borders with East Timor, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Other neighbouring countries include Australia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Of its 17,500 islands only 6,000 are inhabited, the largest of which are Java, Borneo, Sumatra, New Guinea and Sulawesi. In total the islands cover an area of some 1.9 million square kilometres making Indonesia the world's 16th largest country.

Its situation on the confluence of three tectonic plates makes Indonesia a seismic country. There are over 150 active volcanoes including Krakatau and Tambora. The country is also characterised by mountainous areas that reach as high as 4,800m above sea level.


Fossilised remains of Homo erectus have been discovered that date back approximately 500,000 to 2,000,000 years. Homo sapiens reached the area around 45,000 years ago and shared the region with Homo floresiensis, a miniature humanoid that stood three feet tall.

Austronesian people from the Taiwan region arrived in the area around 2,000 BC and brought advances such as wet-field rice cultivation, bronze working and weaving. Ideal agricultural conditions fuelled by volcanic ash and a tropical climate saw kingdoms flourish across the area.

Remnants of early Hindu and Buddhist culture can be found in Indonesia dating from the first century AD. Flourishing and diminishing over centuries, kingdoms such as Medang, Srivijaya, Singhasari and Majapahit ruled the areas now known as Indonesia until the spread of Islam in the 13th century. Many temples, relics and monuments still remain from the early pre-Islamic states.

The beginning of the 16th century saw the arrival of Europeans to the area seeking to break the monopoly on spices by Muslim merchants in Venice. The Portuguese were the first to arrive in Indonesia with their modern weapons and ship building techniques. They quickly established trading posts, forts and Roman Catholic Missions on islands such as Ternate, Ambon and Solor, but were unable to establish control in the region after skirmishes with local tribes and the Dutch.

The Dutch East India Company was awarded a monopoly in the area by the Dutch parliament in 1602 and they quickly sought to establish a foothold by conquering the West Javan city of Jayakarta and establishing Batavia (the modern city of Jakarta). With organisation, weapons, brutality and financial backing, the Dutch East India Company succeeded in establishing a colony that became one of the world's richest.

The company was dissolved in the early 19th century due to bankruptcy and the colony was taken over by the Dutch government after a short period of British rule. After crushing an uprising in the Java War, a cultivation system was put in place that brought enormous wealth to the region.

From 1908, nationalist and communist movements began to spring up across the country. The Communist Party of Indonesia led a revolt against the Dutch in 1924 that resulted in the arrests of some 13,000 usurpers.

Dutch rule in the area was ended in 1941 by the invasion of Japanese forces. At the end of the war and the surrender of Japan in 1945, Indonesia was proclaimed an independent state with the Dutch officially recognising it in 1949. In August 1950, the last of the federal states was dissolved and the country declared the Republic of Indonesia.

After short-lived coalition governments a system based on the traditional village system was proposed that appeased the army, Islamic groups and the Communists alike. The new authoritarian government was appointed rather than elected and remained the guiding rule in Indonesia until 1999.

The government received backing from the USA in 1968 and as a result the country saw substantial economic growth over the following three decades. However, in the late 1990s Indonesia was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis. It suffered massive discontent from within culminating in the 1998 revolution. The new president, President Habibie quickly moved to sure up the country's finances, release political prisoners, relax controls on freedom of speech and reform the government. Indonesia had its first elections in over 40 years on 7 June 1999.

Politics and Government

Indonesia is a republic with a presidential system. Its head of state is a democratically elected president with power being controlled by one central government. The president appoints a council of ministers and may only serve two consecutive five-year terms.

The legislative branch of Indonesia's political system is known as the People's Consultative Assembly or the MPR. This consists of elected members of the People's Representative Council and the Regional Representative Council. Currently the membership of this chamber is 700. As well as having the power to impeach the president, the council is responsible for supporting and amending the constitution, state policy and inaugurating the president. All members are elected by proportional representation for five-year terms.


Indonesia has a market economy, is a member of the G-20 and has the largest economy in Southeast Asia. The government controls large extents of the economy by owning 164 national enterprises and fixing the price on goods such as fuel, rice and electricity.

As one of the world's emerging market economies, the national GDP stands at around $540 billion. In 2005 it was estimated that the service sector was the country's largest, accounting for 45.3 percent of GDP with industry (40.7 percent) and agriculture (14 percent) making up the remaining sectors. Agriculture is by far the most employee-rich sector employing over 44 percent of the workforce of 95 million.

Indonesia's main export locations are Japan, the USA, China and Singapore and it has extensive natural resources such as oil, tin, copper, gold and gas. It exports textiles, foodstuffs, petroleum and extensive agricultural products.

The currency of the country is the Indonesian Rupiah.


As it lies along the equator Indonesia has a tropical climate with two distinct wet and dry seasons. The wet season usually occurs from October to April and the dry season from May to September. Humidity is high and ranges from 70 to 90 percent.

Rainfall is plentiful and the average annual figure ranges from 70 to 125 inches in the lowlands to 240 inches in the mountainous regions.

Temperatures vary little throughout the year due to the country's warm seas with the average daily temperature range across the country being from 23-28 degrees.


There is an ongoing terrorist threat in Indonesia as well as the constant threat of seismic activity. It is advisable for those wishing to visit Indonesia to check before travelling:


According to some statistics, Indonesia has a very small immigrant population of less than one percent and numbering some 160,000.


Indonesia offers tourists a wealth of character and tradition. Deserted islands, ancient monuments, elaborate ceremonies, bustling cities, diving sites, mountains, beaches and jungles all provide the tourist with a host of activities.

The attacks in Bali in 2002 and the subsequent travel warnings by other countries saw Indonesia's tourism industry shrink and tourist numbers dwindle. Conversely, in the latter part of the last decade, tourism figures have been on a steady climb in the country - up to 7 million in 2010 from 6.43 in 2008. In 2010 it was expected that tourism would contribute 4.8 percent of the country's GDP.