Globalization of Localism: Lessons from Denpasar – Mossel Bay “Sister City” Cooperation


In order to carry out the constitutional mandate to “participate in the implementation of a world order based on lasting peace,” Indonesia continues to establish and strengthen diplomatic relations with various countries in the world. This is reflected in Indonesia’s most famous foreign policy slogan, “Thousand Friends, Zero Enemy,” which was echoed during the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This spirit of diplomacy continues to this day. Based on data collected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia (2023), Indonesia has been involved in at least 3282 international agreements, at the multilateral, regional, and bilateral levels, in various fields of cooperation. Interestingly, the database records as many as 68 cooperation agreements carried out by local governments. Thus, it can be concluded that the trend of Indonesian diplomacy has moved towards new diplomacy that no longer relies on the involvement of the central government but also involves sub-national actors. One of the exciting things to see is the sister city cooperation between the government of Denpasar City, Bali, and Mossel Bay City, South Africa. The cooperation between the two “beach cities” formed in 2019 is a form of a successful effort to create world peace at the local level in the context of globalization.

Sister City Cooperation Denpasar – Mossel Bay: The History

This cooperation cannot be separated from the history of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and South Africa. The bilateral relations between Indonesia and South Africa are unique because of the congruence of backgrounds as developing countries that have experienced colonialism. Both have officially established diplomatic relations since August 12, 1994. The level of bilateral relations has increased along with the signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership in 2008, automatically making South Africa the only African country with strategic ties with Indonesia (Kemlu RI, 2020). This strategic partnership is even more perfect through the Denpasar – Mossel Bay sister city initiative. Both have similarities as coastal cities that offer tourism advantages.

The establishment of this sister city took a long process. It began with an exploratory process in 2017 by the Denpasar and Mossel Bay governments. At this stage, both parties underwent a series of brainstorming, exchanging information about each other’s potential to become the basis for cooperation through regional visits to each other. After identifying the potential for cooperation, both parties underwent a negotiation process in 2018 to calculate the bargaining power and mutual benefits each party in the sister city cooperation can obtain. The outcome of this process was a Letter of Intent (LoI) which was agreed upon during the visit of the Minister of Finance of the Cabinet of Western Cape Province, South Africa, together with Executive Major Alderman Harry J. Lavendal to Denpasar on October 15, 2018. On that occasion, Western Cape and Mossel Bay City governments appreciated Denpasar’s government innovation and creative economy progress and were interested in adopting Denpasar Smart City practices. Furthermore, the sister city cooperation initiative between the two cities was further strengthened by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on November 27, 2019. The MoU was signed by Denpasar Mayor Ida Bagus Rai Dharmawijaya Mantra and Mossel Bay Mayor Alderman Harry J. Lavendal at a meeting at Diaz Hotel, Mossel Bay, South Africa.

Legal Review of Denpasar – Mossel Bay Sister City Cooperation

From an Indonesian perspective, the Denpasar – Mossel Bay sister city cooperation is a manifestation of the implementation of regional autonomy, the principle of decentralization, and the principle of deconcentration, which generally regulates the delegation of authority from the central government to local governments to carry out foreign relations. This practice is contained in various legal foundations of the Republic of Indonesia, such as Law No. 37 of 1999 concerning Foreign Relations, Law No. 24 of 2000 concerning International Agreements, Law No. 23 of 2014 concerning Regional Government, Minister of Foreign Affairs Regulation No. 3 of 2019 concerning Regional Government Agreements, Minister of Home Affairs Regulation No. 25 of 2020 concerning Procedures for Regional Cooperation with Regional Governments Abroad and Regional Cooperation with Institutions Abroad and Government Regulation No.50 of 2007 concerning Procedures for Implementing Regional Cooperation.

In addition, it is essential to look at the degree of legalization of the MoU that guarantees this cooperation agreement. The Denpasar-Mossel Bay sister city MoU generally has 14 of the 17 ideal elements of a cooperation agreement. First, the MoU contains the name of the agreement typed in capital letters entitled “MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CITY OF DENPASAR, BALI PROVINCE, REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CITY OF MOSSEL BAY, WESTERN CAPE PROVINCE, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA REGARDING THE FORMATION OF SISTER CITY COOPERATION”. Second, it contains a preamble that explains the philosophical basis and references underlying the desire of Denpasar and Mossel Bay to establish cooperation. Third, it contains the cooperation’s objective (Article 1), which is to establish sister city cooperation to promote and develop brotherly relations between the parties through effective and mutually beneficial cooperation. Fourth, there are areas/scopes of cooperation (Article 2), including (1) promotion of tourism and culture; (2) creative economic development; and (3) human resource capacity building. Referring to Article 1 and Article 2, it can be concluded that the Denpasar-Mossel Bay sister city meets the three dimensions of sister cities (O’Toole, 2000), namely the associative dimension to realize international friendship, the reciprocative dimension to develop a knowledge transfer system and the commercial dimension to create economic benefits for both parties.

Fifth, it contains rights and obligations (Article 3). Sixth, implementation (Article 4) explains that the costs incurred in this cooperation will be adjusted to the availability of funds and personnel. Seventh, there is an executing agency (Article 5) arrangement that both parties are obliged to form a joint working group in charge of planning, preparing, and recommending programs and supervising and evaluating the development of cooperation. According to the agreement, this joint working group can consist of representatives of relevant government agencies and private parties. Eighth, the principle of confidentiality (Article 6). Ninth, limitation of personnel activities (Article 7). Tenth, the MoU contains the settlement of disputes that conflicts or disputes that occur throughout the cooperation will be resolved through diplomatic channels through consultation and negotiation (Article 8). Eleventh, there is amendment that can be changed in writing based on mutual agreement through diplomatic channels (Article 9). Twelfth, it contains a final provision that contains the entry into force, the period of validity, and the termination of cooperation (Article 10). Denpasar – Mossel Bay cooperation is valid since the MoU was ratified for three years, ending in 2022. Thirteenth, there is a testimonium that explains that the MoU text is made in Indonesian and English. If there is a difference in interpretation, the understanding shall be based on the English text. Fourteenth, the MoU is closed by the signing page, which Ida Bagus Rai Dharmawijaya Mantra and Alderman Harry J. Lavendal affix. The three elements that are not contained in this MoU are definition, forms of cooperation, and intellectual property rights protection.

Referring to the elements of legalization (Abbott et al., 2000), namely obligation, precision, and delegation, this MoU has a weak degree of strength so that it can be called a non-legally binding agreement. In addition, what can be concluded from this agreement is that the sister city cooperation between Denpasar and Mossel Bay fulfills two points of the three layers of paradiplomacy (Lecours, 2008), namely the first layer related to economic interests through tourism and creative economy and the second layer related to multidimensional issues regarding knowledge transfer. The third layer regarding political interests is not found in this cooperation.

Success Story and Cooperation Challenges

Following the ratification of the MoU, the two cities then followed up their cooperation by developing a Plan of Actions (PoA). Based on the PoA, a series of agendas have been implemented by both cities. In 2019, Denpasar City sent a delegation to the Mossel Bay Festival. The delegation consisted of dancers who performed in a series of events and local Denpasar products that filled the festival exhibition. Denpasar City then sent a consultant to Mossel Bay to be a representative in the human resource capacity development agenda in 2020. In the same year, both parties held virtual action plans for creative economic development. 2021 was filled with three agendas, including a virtual tabletop between tourism actors, knowledge sharing on product packaging procedures from the City of Mossel Bay, and a workshop for business people on superior commodities. In 2022, the implementation of cooperation is filled with a series of webinar agendas which include tourism webinars, exporting webinars, Small Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMMEs) webinars, and human capital development webinars.

The successful implementation of the Denpasar – Mossel Bay sister city is also not separated from the existing obstacles and challenges. Looking at the series of agendas that have been implemented from 2019-2022, 75% of them were carried out virtually due to mobilization obstacles due to COVID-19 that hit the world a few months after the ratification of the agreement between the two cities. The pandemic then created time alignment barriers. The virtual agenda schedule had to be postponed several times because South Africa is 6 hours slower than Indonesian time. Another challenge was the market price competition of Denpasar products, with other countries’ products entering the Mossel Bay market. One of Denpasar’s superior products that is commercialized in Mossel Bay is local artisans’s painted shoes. Unfortunately, the demand for this product has decreased because it has to compete with cheaper Vietnamese shoes. Furthermore, the lack of community participation due to their ignorance about this cooperation is also challenging.

Potential Future of Denpasar – Mossel Bay Sister City Cooperation

The year 2022 practically ends the Denpasar – Mossel Bay sister city cooperation agreement. However, in the latest development, both parties re-signed the sister city cooperation agreement for the next five years. This ratification was carried out separately. Denpasar Mayor, I Gusti Ngurah Jaya Negara, initiated the signing on January 31, 2023, witnessed virtually by the Mossel Bay City government. On behalf of the Denpasar City government, the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia Cape Town met directly with the Mossel Bay City government and submitted the MoU document to be ratified by Mayor Alderman Dirk Kotzé.

The extension of this agreement indicates the desire of both parties to develop cooperation in a better direction than before. As the world enters the normal post-pandemic era, the Denpasar-Mossel Bay sister city cooperation should be more effective in achieving maximum goals for both parties and catalyzing world peace in general.

Annisa Nabilatul Khaira
Annisa Nabilatul Khaira
Annisa Nabilatul Khaira is currently pursuing her postgraduate education on Master of International Relations program at Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. Has an enormous interest on climate change issue, gender studies and human rights


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