Sastromihardjo: Miracles happen when you keep working

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What you need to know:

  • I am still coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be actively involved in diplomacy anymore.
  • . I keep telling my staff to do their best in everything.

For the last four years, Soehardjono Sastromihardjo has lived in Kenya as the Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Kenya. His term has come to an end and he will be leaving the country soon. Over a Zoom call last week, he spoke of his yet-to-be-achieved ambitions, and the qualities that make a good leader.

Do you get annoyed when people mispronounce your name?

I know it is a long one, and I often encounter problems when I travel to some countries. That’s why I prefer to go by my nickname - Djono.

How did you end up in this field?

I like travelling and the best way to travel for free is to become a diplomat. I get to visit new places while serving my country, and I can even bring my family along, giving them the opportunity to experience and explore different cultures.

To become a diplomat in Indonesia, you have to be a graduate and attend a diplomatic school. Then you start off at the lowest rank. A diplomat can experience between four to six postings during his or her career.

What part of your work do you enjoy the most?

Troubleshooting and coming up with solutions. It gives me the adrenaline rush, the same one I get from drinking good coffee.

I also believe that I need to make things better wherever I work no matter what. At the moment, my priority would be to improve international relations between Indonesia and our partners.

What is the most difficult part of your work?

Some people do not know where Indonesia is. I have had a hard time convincing such individuals that Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands. It is also difficult to get people to understand the status of Indonesia’s economy. That Indonesia is the largest economy in South East Asia.

You came to Kenya in 2016, was it your first time here?

Yes. It was also the first time I was getting posted in Africa. I like it here, especially the clement weather and the golf courses. When I was preparing to relocate here, a colleague told me that Kenya is a golf paradise. Turns out he was right!

What surprised you most when you eventually got here?

I was amazed to see wild birds roam freely! I was also impressed by the strict implementation of the ban on single-use plastic bags.

You are in your 60s. Have you achieved all you set out to?

Well, I don’t know where you got that conclusion from. Being an “oldie” doesn’t necessarily make one a “goldie”. We may acquire more wisdom as we grow older, but we are also losing the health and physical strength of our youth. For me, being wiser is the positive side of being 65.

Is there anything that can shake your confidence now?

I am still coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be actively involved in diplomacy anymore. It is now up to the younger generation to fight at the frontline. In the end I will belong with the frail and elderly that require care and protection.

What dreams do you plan to achieve?

My daughter studied culinary at Hattori School of Nutrition and Culinary in Japan. She doesn't want to become a diplomat like me. She wants to open her own restaurant and I wish to support her.

What are you most passionate about outside work?

I love cooking and gardening.

What attributes should young people have to succeed?

Lead by example, be hands-on, and do spot checks regularly.

What Kenyan story will you carry with you back home?

Aside from the fact that you jealously protect your animals and wildlife, I am impressed by the nationwide use of the cashless mode of transaction - M-Pesa. It is amazing.

Also, the brotherly relationship between Kenya and Indonesia. I want to see trade relations between our two countries continue. Every year we organise Trade Expo Indonesia (TEI). However, this year it was postponed due to Covid-19. It is usually a great opportunity for business people from the two countries to interact and network.

What do you wish to be remembered for?

That wherever I went, I tried to bring positive change. I keep telling my staff to do their best in everything. There are many ups and downs in life. However, one shouldn't give up. Miracles happen when you keep trying.