A new report from the International Crisis Group, ICG, on the gradual collapse of Central Asia’s infrastructure has provoked a debate about the specific challenges facing closed states like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
“Central Asia: Decay and Decline”, which came out on February 3, notes the slow but steady decline of roads, electricity networks, hospitals and schools built in Soviet times, and the disappearance of a generation of experts able to maintain them.
In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, civil and political rights are severely limited and the state controls all aspects of life. Both governments cover up social problems like poverty, unemployment, rising HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis rates, and the exodus of workers to other countries.
The ICG report noted that the Uzbek and Turkmen leaderships consistently claim they are achieving substantial economic growth, but said such “extravagantly upbeat public statements bear no resemblance to reality”.
In Turkmenistan, experts who spoke NBCentralAsia focused on problems with education, while in Uzbekistan they called for a relaxation of controls so as to allow private enterprise to grow. The common theme was the need to allow skilled human capital to develop and find a role in society.
When Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov came to power in 2007, he restored ten-year secondary schooling and five years of university, which his predecessor Saparmurat Niazov had reduced. But the improvement has yet to make a difference, experts say.
“The duration of study has increased in arithmetic terms, but in practice the curriculum was not expanded, so that tenth-graders have to repeat material they’ve already learned,” a teacher in the southeastern city of Mary said.
Annadurdy Hadjiev, a Turkmen economist living abroad, believes the government needs to focus on creating new jobs, especially by investing in electricity network infrastructure.
In Uzbekistan, analysts say the intrusive state and endemic corruption are a major brake on development as they crush private enterprise.
Ronash Dustov, a Tashkent-based analyst, argues that private ownership is not really respected despite existing in law, so that the authorities feel free to seize and demolish residential homes, shops and cafes whenever they want, and farmers are forced to grow cotton for the state even if they make a loss doing so.
“A businessman who feels insecure and subservient, who has no guarantees, and who is always worrying about having to pay bribes is likely to prefer [illegal] currency-trading or money-lending to investing in a long-term business,” Dustov concludes.
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.