Will Kazakhstan Be Ready at Half Past Eight?

In 1997, the Kazakh government announced its long term development strategy entitled “Kazakhstan 2030.” Suddenly, in Almaty there appeared light displays emblazoned with the numbers 2030 on buildings across the city. If you are so inspired, you can read the text of the original proclamation here. In addition to the official 2030 statement, Nazarbaev (president of Kazakhstan, 1991-present) regularly referred to 2030 in the media as an almost mythical time when all of the country’s problems would be solved.

For many who were here, negotiating their lives through the economic turmoil, Kafka-esque bureaucracy, and continuous abuse of power by state officials, the 2030 slogan seemed like another incarnation of empty Soviet era platitudes. As a way to undermine the levity of the rhetoric about 2030, residents began referring to it as “half past eight” (think of a digital 24 hour clock – 20:30). When I was living in Almaty in 2002, few if any people seemed to have confidence that the government would deliver on the lofty goals in its 40 year development plan, and 2030 took its place as the butt of many jokes.

Now, almost nine years later, Almaty is nearly unrecognizable to me. The level of economic and political development has skyrocketed since the 1990s. Corruption, at least at on the level encountered by basic citizens, has been significantly curbed. Huge investments have been put into infrastructure and education. Private business is booming.

Suddenly, 2030 doesn’t seem so laughable. Or course, bringing it to pass is still a distant goal but one that no longer has a patina of ridiculousness.

The results of this for quasi-formal economic arrangements, like those found in bazaars is potentially profound. Already, in cities like Almaty and Astana the bulk of trade has shifted from bazaars to shops. If Kazakhstan continues to move towards stricter regulation and transparency, how will this affect overland trade in neighboring states?

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