Digital Kazakhstan: The Central Asian Tiger Leaps Ahead
Kazakhstan, in response to deteriorating world commodity prices, has launched a new technological revolution. The Central Asian economic dynamo intends to drive the fourth industrial revolution: Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, exchange of “big data” and other technological leaps will become a main feature of the Central Asian country’s push.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in his 2017 address to the Nation, proposed a comprehensive plan to deliver the next stage of the country’s economic modernisation, his aim being to set Kazakhstan firmly on track to join the elite club of the most developed countries.
“Only those nations that are capable of determining their future and decisively facing their challenges, instead of just standing and waiting, will be the eventual winners,” was the key message of Nazarbayev’s address.
Kazakhstan has surpassed its initial quarter century development plans and then some. In just 25 years, the journey from the ruins of the Soviet Union to an economic powerhouse has been all but achieved.
Kazakhstan has completed the transition from a planned economy to a market oriented one. Through careful political and economic management, the authorities have successfully kept the country from the turmoil, civil war and economic collapse that unfortunately afflicted many other post-Soviet states. Kazakhstan has come out of this period with minimal losses and maximum advantages.
Since 1991 the authorities have carried out two modernisations of the economy. But now the situation is changing rapidly. The world has stepped up to a new global reality – the world has become faster.
“Now we need to boldly step forward and begin the Third Modernisation,” the Kazakhstani leader has stated.
“I see our main priorities as being to ensure a level of economic growth above the world’s average indicators, and to achieve a level of sustainable development at least equal to the 30 most advanced countries,” he added.
Kazakhstan is planning to launch the program “Digital Kazakhstan”, which will contribute to the development of communications and ensure universal access to fibre-optic infrastructure.
In order to be the first to introduce new technologies in the field of IT, Kazakhstan intends to open its own “Silicon Valley” – an International Technological Park for IT-start-ups.
“This will become a platform for attracting entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. This requires appropriate infrastructure and a favourable environment, including tax incentives, simplified visa and labour regimes,” the President announced.
To solve this ambitious goal Kazakhstan needs to nurture the necessary talent. Therefore, number one priority is to invest heavily to improving the quality of human capital.
“The role of the education system must change. Our task is to make education central to the new model of economic growth. Training programs should be focused on the development of critical thinking abilities and the skills of independent thought,” says Nazarbayev.
In Astana, it has long been understood that the language of new technologies today is English, so the country plans to introduce the language of Shakespeare into schools as a compulsory subject.
“Starting from 2019, teaching in a number of subjects in the 10th to 11th grades will be conducted in English” the President stated.
Another innovation to help achieve this goal is “Free vocational education for all” which has already started this year. Furthermore, special attention will be paid to the quality of the higher education system.
“Free education should cover unemployed and self-employed young people and people of working age who do not have a professional education. It is now necessary to give impetus to the development of a professional education system for the training of qualified specialists within the market economy,” said Nazarbayev.
A new high-tech economy requires an appropriately trained workforce, and through substantial investment in education Kazakhstan is creating a reservoir of future talent.
Alongside the drive towards economic and technological progress also comes a commitment to social obligations.
Pensions and welfare security in Kazakhstan will increase – Nursultan Nazarbayev emphasised this in his address to the Nation.
Kazakhstan has chosen the right moment for this economic transformation. Oil prices are rising, and are higher than that which was budgeted for by Kazakhstan. Whilst the country still receives dividends from the export of raw materials, it is preparing for the moment when this period draws to a close.
Nursultan Nazarbayev paid great attention to the development of agriculture. The agrarian sector should become the new driver of the economy, and the country should become Eurasia’s “bread basket”.
It is hard to fault that ambition, because Kazakhstan has significant potential in its increasing agricultural production – in terms of acreage, the sector is the 9th largest in the world – and is now attracting foreign investment.
“Kazakhstan’s agro-industries have a promising future. We can be one of the world’s largest producers of many agricultural export products, most notably of organic food. The ‘Made in Kazakhstan’ brand should become the benchmark for these organic food products,” Nazarbayev stated proudly.
Within five years Kazakhstan intends to create the conditions required to integrate more than 500,000 households and small farms within community-based agricultural initiatives, and at the same time to increase the area of irrigated land by a massive 40% to two million hectares.
And this is just the beginning. By 2025 the country plans not only to implement digital technologies in all spheres of activity, as well as to reform the agricultural sector, but also to develop logistics, and to increase the transit of goods through its territory 7 fold, and to support SMEs and improve the banking sector.
Kazakhstan is creating its own unique model of economic growth, and it is working. The next phase of modernization shows promise of success, and the country is catching up with the most advanced countries of the world.
It is time for the G20 nations to start looking over their shoulders!