In this Facebook post an Indonesian man named Edi complains about KKN, the acronym for korupsi, kolusi, dan nepotisme (corruption, collusion, and nepotism) by which corruption in Indonesia is popularly known. Edi does not merely write for an exclusive Indonesian audience or about Indonesia in isolation. The crux of his complaint consists of a juxtaposition between Indonesia, where he says money runs people and people compete to break the rules, with the United States, where he imagines people rely on knowledge and skills and comply with rules.
What Edi’s post neatly captures is that dissatisfaction with corruption in Indonesia is often voiced through unfavorable comparisons with imagined Western elsewheres. Such unfavorable comparisons are confirmed by corruption watchdog lists and a long history of development programs, and thus form part of an already well-established narrative of Indonesia’s and Indonesians’ shortcomings. But what would happen if we try to disentangle complaints about corruption from these well-worn narratives that recognize Indonesians as corrupt and imagined Western others as good examples? Edi might find he has more in common with “American people” than he thinks.