President of Kazakhstan highlights challenges in pragmatic speech


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The state of the nation address by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kazakhstan, highlighted how 2021 is a jubilee as the country celebrates its 30th anniversary. But far from qualifying the country’s situation as ideal, Tokayev was pragmatic. “We must be ready to face all challenges and threats, continuously improve and always move forward,” he noted with cautious pessimism in his opening remarks as the country, and the world in as a whole, continues to fight the pandemic and as Central Asia prepares for a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Additionally, two areas where the government is particularly keen to move forward are energy, as Nur-Sultan and Washington recently signed a new agreement to help Kazakhstan develop a low-carbon strategy, and the digitization of the country to help the economy grow.

The future of clean energy

“Today it is no longer just words, but concrete decisions in the form of taxes, duties and technical regulatory measures,” Tokayev said, referring to how countries are trying to have greener economies and industries. In his speech, Tokayev reminded citizens that by 2060 the country must achieve carbon neutrality. Further, he stressed that the nation must be prepared for energy challenges, including power shortages, in the near future.

While Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev had a somber tone, positive developments have also taken place in recent weeks. In August, a company called Tetra Tech ES, Inc., running USAID Power Central Asia activity, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Samruk-Energy, Kazakhstan’s largest diversified energy holding company. “Under the MoU, USAID Power Central Asia activity will help Samruk-Energy develop a low carbon strategy with the overall goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 2060, alongside plans of Kazakhstan to achieve carbon neutrality by the same year as part of the country’s updated national climate plan, ”USAID explains.

Another project concerns Nur-Sultan and the quasi-holding Samruk-Kazyna, which are studying the possibility of developing environmentally friendly nuclear energy. To be fair, these proposals are not particularly new. As Global nuclear news explains: “Kazakhstan has 12% of the world’s uranium resources and is the world’s largest producer of uranium. A Russian-designed BN-350 sodium-cooled fast reactor operated near Aktau in Kazakhstan for 26 years until 1999, producing electricity and desalting water. The issue of nuclear power in Kazakhstan has been the subject of discussion for many years, with large and small reactors included in various draft energy plans over the past decade.

In other words, the future of nuclear power in Kazakhstan is uncertain. Kazakhs generally have a negative attitude towards nuclear energy. On the other hand, the government wants to do its part to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in greener energy sources. It will be important to monitor how Nur-Sultan balances these different goals and attitudes in the years to come.

Afghanistan, the next regional security challenge

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also touched on regional geopolitics, in particular developments in Afghanistan. Although Kazakhstan does not border on that state, the return of the Taliban is a regional concern – the issue was reportedly discussed at an August summit of Central Asian heads of state in Turkmenistan.

Given this new geopolitical reality, it’s no surprise that during his speech Tokayev announced a restart of the country’s military-industrial complex and military doctrine. “Strengthening our defense capacity, increasing responsiveness to threats should also become priorities of national importance,” he explained. “We need to prepare for external shocks and worst-case scenarios. “

As for recent developments in the field of defense, Kazakhstan and India carried out the KAZIND-21 exercise in early September. The two armies have a long history of working together, and these exercises will help Kazakh troops stay well prepared and ready for any situation. Regarding the purchase of new equipment, the Kazakhstan Air Force is currently receiving a fleet of Sukhoi Su-30SM “Flanker-H” military aircraft from Russia and has announced an order for two Airbus transport planes. These new units will help the military protect its borders and quickly transport personnel and / or equipment if needed.

As for the Kazakh operations in Afghanistan, military planes evacuated Kazakh citizens, diplomats as well as representatives of several Afghan states in recent weeks. It is not known if there are any Kazakhs left in the troubled country.

Pragmatic economic governance

In his speech, Tokayev also gave a fairly pragmatic summary of the country’s economic challenges. He underlined how the pandemic is a global challenge not only for global health services, but also for the global economy. Unsurprisingly, Kazakhstan’s economy, like everywhere else, has received a serious blow.

According to world Bank, the economy contracted by 2.5% in 2020 due to falling oil prices and other effects related to the pandemic. Nonetheless, he predicts that the economy will grow “by 2.5% in 2021 and support higher growth of 3.5% in 2022”. In fact, Moody’s Investors Service announcement in August, it upgraded the long-term rating of Kazakhstani issuers in local and foreign currencies to Baa2 from Baa3 and changed the outlook from positive to stable. The news shows that Moody’s has confidence in the government’s economic policies in the second year of the pandemic.

In addition, the government remains committed to diversifying its economy and attracting more investment in non-energy projects. The goal is to become one of the 30 most developed nations by 2050. In his speech, Tokayev noted that “a new instrument, the Strategic Investment Agreement has been introduced to attract more [foreign] direct investment. “

He also recalled that at the end of 2020, “for the first time in 10 years of industrialization in Kazakhstan, the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the development of the economy exceeded the share of the mining industry”. The country is a global producer of minerals like uranium, coal, iron and chromium ore, in addition to well-known oil deposits. So the fact that manufacturing surpasses mining is a huge development. The president also added that his government’s medium-term goal will be “to increase manufacturing exports 1.5 times by 2025, to $ 24 billion, and labor productivity by 30. % “.

Is the IT sector the future of Kazakhstan?

For Kazakhstan, there is a clear link between national development and the country’s information technology sector. To profit from this constantly growing field, human capital is of crucial importance. Thus, Tokayev noted that “young, educated and motivated staff” should be involved in IT related projects. He specifically mentioned his government’s national digitization project and the need to “train at least 100,000 highly qualified computer scientists”.

Tokayev is betting heavily on the benefits that technology can bring to the country. In his speech, he explained that “exports of digital industry services and goods are expected to reach at least $ 500 million by 2025”. To achieve this amount, a “complete digital public sector restart” will be required.

Nur-Sultan has several plans to carry out this national program. An initiative is called Digital Kazakhstan, which aims to raise the “standard of living of the inhabitants of each country, using digital techniques”. The program’s website explains that the program has “accelerated [economic] growth of the Republic of Kazakhstan and [has] improved living standards, [and] created the conditions for a transition to a fundamentally new path: the future digital economy.

According to Tokayev, the country’s potential for information and telecommunications is significant and the capture of the digital sector will have geopolitical ramifications. “Kazakhstan is expected to become a central digital hub in a significant part of the Eurasian region. To be fair, Kazakhstan has been trying to develop its own “Silicon Valley” for several years, but achievements remain limited, although the country certainly performs much better than its neighbors.

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Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s recent speech was a pragmatic summary of the situation in Kazakhstan. Unlike other regional governments which tend to deny or downplay challenges, Tokayev’s speech was quite pragmatic, explaining the goals and challenges for the foreseeable future, especially the importance of energy diversification and the digital sector. for the future of Kazakhstan, and the necessary military preparations to deal with the ramifications of a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

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