[…] Since its founding 25 years ago out of the ashes of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan’s economy has grown 10-fold thanks to its oil riches. Central Asia’s “big brother” has been a haven of stability and prosperity in a region plagued by Islamist radicalism, poverty and drug trafficking.
Most Kazakhs credit one man with this success: Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 76-year-old president. A former Communist party boss, Mr Nazarbayev navigated post-Soviet independence from 1991. He threw the doors open to foreign investors, privatised key parts of the economy and created a westernised elite by sending tens of thousands of young men and women to study in Europe and the US. He is also credited with forging a national identity in a country where forced migration in the Soviet era had made the traditionally nomadic Kazakhs a minority in their own homeland.
Kazakhstan has benefited enormously from its founding father’s pragmatic economic policies and geopolitical savvy, but the question of succession looms large. Over the past two years, Kazakhstan has been battling the fall in oil prices, a recession in Russia and a slowdown in China. And while it has managed to avoid a recession, it has seen strikes at its oilfields and protests over planned land reforms this year.
“This is the moment when you need a real risk manager. Right now there is no real successor to deal with such a dangerous situation,” says Aidan Karibzhanov, general director of Visor Holding, an Almaty-headquartered investment house with assets across Central Asia.