Independent Kazakhstan: Facts and Statistics

December 16 2016 marked the 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence. However, another special day for Kazakhstan is also coming this summer. June 22 2017 will mark the 27th anniversary of Nazarbayev’s coming to power. It happened in 1989 when he was elected the First Secretary of the Communist Party, in other words, the Moscow’s “lieutenant general” in Kazakhstan. Let us see what the country has accomplished under Nazarbayev’s governance.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1989. The Soviet Union collapsed. The Kazakh Socialist Soviet Republic turned into a sovereign state called the Republic of Kazakhstan. The centrally planned economic system disappeared. The world around us has changed completely. Nursultan Nazarbayev, however, still rules the country. A whole generation of young Kazakhstanis has grown and reached adult age under the “star” of the president.

This is becoming a major problem for the country. Consider, first, the quality of the high-school and university level education in Kazakhstan and, second, the determination of the propaganda machine to turn Nazarbayev into a deity. They say that, thanks to this deity, Kazakhstan has been able to achieve all it successes and is now proudly marching towards an even more prosperous future. However, this is a myth and any myth distracts us from what is really going on around us. Therefore, in this article, we propose to turn back to reality and look at the facts. Let us analyze the statistics of 1989, when Nazarbayev assumed power, and compare it to the 2014 data. *

*This article was published in the Respublika in 2014. Therefore, we refer to the 2014 data.

For this analysis, we use the Kazakhstan Statistics Agency’s data. We will examine a table called “Kazakhstan’s Basic Socio-Economic Indicators”. The subtlety is that the document covers the period starting from 1991, the year that was marked by a deepest social, economic, and political crisis. The collapse of the Soviet Union was one of its outcomes. Therefore, for objectivity purposes, we only use the 2013 indicators from this table. We have found the 1988 statistics in different data books.

We purposefully do not analyze the gas, oil, and nonferrous metals data. The successes in this sphere are appropriated by a small group of people or seized up in the Kazakhstan National Fund. Instead, we consider those indicators that are relevant to the lives of the regular Kazakhstan citizens. Understandably, we had to leave out the monetary indicators such as GDP, per caput consumption, export, import, labor productiveness and others. We would be glad is statisticians filled these gaps in our research.

To maintain a maximum information accessibility, we conflate the data into several short tables. Each one is accompanied by a brief commentary. We believe these numbers show what Kazakhstan has achieved during the rule of Nazarbayev in a much more objective manner.

Table 1

The population increase from 14464,5 thousand in 1988 to 17160,8 thousand in 2013 is, undoubtedly, a plus. It is especially true considering the mass emigration of the non-Kazakhs from the country after 1991.

However, next to the neighboring Uzbekistan where the population had grown from 19430 thousand to 28528 thousand over the same period, this achievement seems more like a failure. Especially so since the density of population in Kazakhstan is still too low. This is one of the major factors adversely affecting the social and economic development of the country.

On a positive side, life expectancy in men as well as in women had grown and infant mortality rate dropped. However, the decrease of natural population growth shows that the level of socio-economic well-being in 2013 was lower than in 1988.

Table 2

There is no doubt that, in terms of social welfare, Kazakhstan has rolled far back. So far, in fact, that the return to the 1988 indicators does not seem feasible, perhaps not until 2030 or even 2050. And the total number of hospitals, schools, and kindergartens is not even the main point. The major issue here is the quality of the medical and educational services available to the Kazakhstan citizens. Still, even the date presented here give enough evidence that the country cannot be called a socially oriented state.

The only sectors where we can see a progress are vocational school and university level education. However, in this sphere, the increase of the quantitative indexes does not equal success. It simply means that private businesses began to play an important part in the sphere of education. Consequently, the general level of education in Kazakhstan has decreased.

Table 3

There is no reason to trust the official data on the number of the unemployed in 2013. If we take the 470,7 thousand and add the self-employed (yet very ineffective) workers to this number, we will see that more than 2 mln people need steady employment in the country.

Note another interesting fact. In 25 years, the general population in Kazakhstan had increased by 695,3 thousand although the economically active population had increased by 1306,6 thousand. Undoubtedly, the answer lies in the structural changes when, thanks to the increase of the Kazakh-speaking population and the mass emigration of the non-Kazakhs, the population in general had grown younger.

Table 4

Judging by these data, the Kazakhstanis had increased their mobility rate 6 times in 25 years. This is how much passenger transportation had expanded. The level of cargo transportation had also grown. This means Kazakhstan had achieved a certain success in its aspirations to become the transit route between Asia and Europe. This also tells us that the country’s economy had changed dramatically.

It is a good thing that Kazakhstan had managed to preserve its stock. Although the dramatic decrease in the livestock population, apart from horses and birds, confirms the fact that the Kazakhstan citizens had been moving from villages to cities on a massive scale. This is happening not simply because life is easier in the city. The matter is that there is not enough work for them in a village.

The decrease in construction volume of new houses and facilities intended for social needs refutes the state propaganda thesis that the life in Kazakhstan is becoming better thanks to Nazarbayev’s rule. Perhaps, for a certain group of people, is holds some truth but, in general, the citizens of Kazakhstan have suffered significant losses since 1988. At least, the facts and statistics say so.


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