On clans and government bureaucracy

This article on hiring policies of Kazakhstani president was written by a famous scientist and history PhD, professor Nurbolot Masanov. Even though it was written back in 2005, its contents are still relevant and gives us an idea of how decisions are made on a government level.

During Soviet Times, a communist nomenclature was formed in Kazakhstan that was tied together by mutual guarantees and a feeling of full impunity. There was a nomenclature of different levels – CCCP, regional, oblast, city and rayon ones.

Following the collapse of the Union and declaration of independence Kazakhstan went on the path of creating its own bureaucratic system. On one hand, during the 90s there was unending remaking of the structure of institutes of power, when some ministries either closed or merged or were included into the structure of other ministries. Many institutions were created from scratch.

At the same time there was a process of choosing employees. Personnel policies were always a key factor in the domestic politics of Kazakhstan. The act of personnel switching indicated a priority in solving of socio-economic, political and ethnic issues.

The specifics of functioning of bureaucracy in independent Kazakhstan was in the way Soviet nomenclature was replaced with a system of foster-client relations. Nursultan Nazarbaev’s personnel policies played a key role in cadre assignments. He has the power of appointing all representatives of executive power, including members of cabinet of ministers, prosecutor’s office, national security committee and courts of all levels.

Moreover, if during Soviet times, nomenclature was of a corporate nature, centered around the communist party, in modern Kazakhstan, government bureaucracy of all levels is centered around Nazarbaev’s persona, who has attained support of the ruling class through a mechanism of total corruption in exchange for political loyalty.

Main downside of such a mechanism of consolidating of government bureaucracy is that in its existence only depends on two factors. First of all, it aims to correspond to political and economic interests of Nazarbaev, and secondly it is not interested in anything beyond corruption gains, since there is an absence of mechanism of public control of the activity of bureaucratic class and individual government bosses. In this case, interests of the government are far beyond the sphere of interests of government bureaucracy, they are situated on the periphery of public life. Personal interests and interests of your patron come first. This is why many of the decision of Kazakh rulers cannot be logically explained and do not satisfy public needs.

An important factor, in sustainability of Kazakh bureaucracy is a system of personal connections, nepotism, clan relations, etc. One of the key factors is a tribal allegiance. It is important to emphasize that “juz clans” were never functional organizational structures the way they are in Africa and some Asian countries, or in mediaeval Scotland. Juz clans in Kazakhstan is first of all a way of thinking and interpreting of the events in the social space of governmental-political processes through the prism of genealogical ancestry of a given politician or ruler or of a group of bureaucrats. It is a method of explaining, interpreting, regulating and arguing of the processes of social and political consolidation of society.

During Soviet times, this principle of interpreting of socio-political processes, innate to all Kazakh traditionalists, transformed into a universal way of identifying political processes, happening in the country and processes of personnel switching in the industrial and Soviet institutions. Thus, Kazakhs by default, estimated the level of influence and authority of their or other juz/tribe through representation of personnel in the structures of power.

In other words, status of a given juz/tribe depended on positions its members held. At the same time, they mythologized the persona of the leader. Thus, Kazakhs of the elder juz, back in the day, idolized the First Secretary of Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Kunaev, since he was considered a native of group ysty of the elder juz and was considered one of their own. At the same time, Kazakhs from middle and lower juzes had never looked at him as being on of their own.

Today, in Kazakhstan, the clan factor is a very important, however, not the only method of interpreting and characterizing of socio-political processes and personnel shifting. Today, it is more of an important psychological factor, that affects the political life of society and mostly affects the personnel placement of various government bosses, their selection and career advancement.

This has to do with the fact that people view their resources and abilities through a prism of imperative characteristics of their “juz-clan” adherence. There are stereotypical views about what role in the political life of a society different juzes play; they are pretty simple and easy to understand for any Kazakh. Their characteristic depends on their genealogical rank and their numbers. Elder juz, just like an elder brother, has a lawful right to govern. Next, middle juz, as the largest one and the most educated one, also has the right to demand power. Lower juz, like a younger brother and the smallest one in numbers, has no right to demand power, etc.

Thus, the clan factor determines the validity and level of demand of a given individual, for occupying a given position, and also feeds his or her ambitions and hopes; it determines the lawfulness of his or her stay in the institutions of power and affects the ability to play an independent role in the political life of society. It is the clan factor that often determines the limits of power of a given government boss, limits of his or her career advancement and limits of possible manipulation of his or her activity and limits of the duration of their stay in power.

At the same time, one should remember that no one juz is consolidate enough and inner-clan struggle is just as common among Kazakhs as the inter-clan struggle. A lot depends on a given region and give people, but a famous example is a middle juz struggle between argyns, naimans and kypchaks, some of whom can’t stand each other. Inside the lower juz, alimulis and bayulis look down to jetyru. Inside the elder juz, the most influential are shaprashts and dulats, that prevent the advancement of representatives from other clans. In the Chymkent oblast, there was always a competition of elder juz dulats, and middle juz konrads.

In Kazakhstan, where president Nazarbaev has established a strict personal ruling regime, clan affiliation is an important factor in manipulating of public opinion and  personnel appointments in the personal interest of the president in order to prevent competition, “corporate” solidarity and appearance of political competitors in the sphere of government.

In that environment, one researched had justly noted that “among traditional qualities, existing in recent times, one typical one is a strengthening of tribal relations that happened as a result of regeneration of medieval tribal, nomadic relations, especially in rural areas. Publicly they are declared pernicious but factually are legalized in all central Asian republics, since they support a comfortable environment for ruling regimes”. *

Often, the clan factor serves as a method of juxtaposing ambitions with each other, and serves as a peculiar traditionalistic mechanism of checks and balances. Even during D. Kunaev’s party rule, he banked on the party officials from the lower juz for positions in the Bureau of Communist Party, since they wouldn’t compete with him for power and couldn’t become his successors due to their low numbers, lack of influence in the capital and other factors.

Other competitors from middle juz were kept at secondary, but formally important positions of chairman of the council of ministers, secretary of obkom of party, but never let them have any serious presence in the Bureau of Communist Party.**

President Nazarbaev builds his personnel policy in a similar fashion. After getting independence, understanding the dissatisfaction and ambitions of the political elite and intelligentsia of middle juz – the most numerous and urbanized juz, Nazarbaev has always kept a formal representative from the middle juz, who was supposed to be a public evidence of the balanced character of the president’s personnel policy.

Such a role was played until 1996 by the vice president Erik Asanbaev, who was then sent into a decorous exile as an ambassador to Germany. Later, a formal evidence of the balance of kuz-clans at the higher level, in president’s opinion was supposed to be played by A. Kajegeldin, who in the eyes of middle juz, intelligentsia wasn’t fit for that role, since he was descended from one of the smallest tribes of the middle juz – uaks. In other words, middle juz bureaucracy, both during Kunaev’s times and now, was supposed to play a role of a docile creation, in order to symbolize an equal representation of all juz-clans at the highest level of power, in public’s eye.

In reality, however, the most important positions in the country, in recent times, were held either by members from the higher juz, mostly close relatives of Nazarbaev, or by members from the lower juz, who in the public’s eye cannot be considered legitimate and competitive contestants for power, and cannot play any sort of independent role on the political arena. This tendency that wasn’t as pronounced during initial years of Kazakh independence, now becomes more and more accentuated, and as the power becomes more and more concentrated in the hands of president Nazarbaev, it becomes progressively apparent.

In the meantime, among the 10-15 most influential people in Kazakhstan, that really influence decision-making process, besides the president himself, the rest are mostly his closest relatives and fellow clan members from the elder juz. Among them are former head of the presidential administration S. Kalmyrzaev, foreign minister K. Tokaev, senate speaker N. Abykaev, deputy-chairman of the senate O. Baygeldi, minister of agriculture A. Esimova, head of the Supreme Court K. Mami, head of the National security committee N. Dutbaev, members of the presidential family, including his eldest daughter – head of the largest media holding company, D. Nazarbaeva, her husband first deputy head of the minister of foreign affairs, R. Aliev, president’s nephew, head of the NSC K. Satybaldy, son-in-law Kulibaev, and others.

A smaller, but nonetheless serious presence in the ruling institutes is held by members from the lower juz. Among them are former prime-minister Balgimbaev, former speaker of  high assembly and state secretary A. Kekilbaev, deputy head of the presidential cabinet M. Tajin, former prime minister I. Tasmagambetov, etc. President’s appointment of non-legitimate, in public’s eye, government officials from the lower juz, facilitates the increase of his influence and serves as an effective tool for getting rid of potential opponents from the political sphere.

Middle juz, that today doesn’t have any serious or authoritative representation in the highest structures of power, has received a peculiar and as usual, formal compensation; moving of the capital from Almaty, situated in the area of traditional settlement of Kazakhs from the elder juz, appointment of the loyal D. Ahmetov into position of prime-minister and the appointment of U. Muhamedjanov to the formally important position of the speaker of Majlis of the parliament. A very peculiar patroness of the middle juz, is the wife of Nazarabev, Sara Anzarbaeva.

As for serious personas, any more or less famous political leaders of the middle juz, are currently either in opposition (former PM Kajegeldin, former akim G. Jakiyanov, former speaker S. Abildin, and others) or simply are not in power (former opponent of the president O. Suleimenov, and others).

Thus, Kazakh juz today have an asymmetric and unproportioned presence in the structure of power, with an evident tilt towards members from the elder juz, in the highest echelons of power.

In other words, as the power keeps concentrating in the hands of N. Nazarbaev, clan factor will keep transforming from a symbolic method of balancing of representation of juz-clans in the institutes of power, a certain tool for checks and balances, during soviet days and first 3-4 years of independent. It will eventually become into a tool of weeding out of political opponents, in order to create a proverbial “desert” around the president.

Clan division of society into an elder, middle and lower juzes is one of the starkest examples of Kazakh marginality, inherent to 95% of Kazakh agrarian and marginal population, and foreign to a small group of hereditary Kazakh urbanites, who are carriers of an individualistic lifestyle and mentality. This system greatly affects the choice of personnel by the president and the balance of power of government bureaucracy.

⃰Akishev A. K. Old clothes of the new khans // Kazakhstan’s political elite: history, modernity, prospects. Materials from the roundtable, Almaty Feb. 5 2000. Almaty 2000 p. 101

⃰  ⃰See: Masanov N. E. Kazakhstan’s political and intellectual elite: clan adherence and inner-ethnic competition // Eurasian herald. Acta Eurasica N. 1. (2). Moscow 1996.  P. 46-61.


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