Just a decade and a half ago, we witnessed the official presentation of the capital of Kazakhstan and the appearance of a new name on the world map. Today, we are watching the embodiment of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s vision of the construction of the main city in the heart of the country.
Sixteen years for a man is just the beginning of adulthood, the time when he receives the document certifying his identity, his passport. For the state, living in conditions of severe scarcity of historical time, as President Nazarbayev put it, it is a whole layer of history, an epoch.
Since the transfer of the capital to Astana, more than 4.7 trillion tenge (US$25.6 billion) in both public and foreign investment has been put in its construction. From 2015, Astana plans to become a donor to the national budget, along with the oil regions and the city of Almaty. This is a very important result and achievement.
In order to understand the progress made in these years, we should consider the basic statistical indicators and sociological development of the new capital in three periods: 1997, when the decision to move the capital was made; 2008, the year of its 10th anniversary; and finally, the data for 2013-2014.
First of all, it’s worth noting that Astana’s gross regional product has increased by 105 times since 1997 and more than doubled since 2008. By the end of 2013, the gross regional product of the capital amounted to 2.7 trillion tenge (US$14.8 billion). Astana’s share of the total gross regional product of the country has reached 9.4 percent. In 1997, it was 1.7 percent; in 2008, 3.0 percent.
An important advantage of the new capital is its status as the country’s political centre. No less important is the development of industry and production. There is already one industrial zone in the capital and a second industrial zone is being created. Industrial production has increased from 15.7 billion tenge (US$85.5 million) in 1997 to 263.2 billion tenge (US$1.4 billion) today, by almost 17 times. Astana has become attractive for investors. The total housing area here has almost quadrupled compared to 1997 and grown by 1.6 times since 2008. In 2013, the total housing area approached 16 million square metres. In 2013, investments in fixed assets reached 545.7 billion (US$2.97 billion). This is one third higher than in 2008 and 13 times more than in 1997.
The population of the capital continues to grow steadily. In 1997, about 287,200 people lived in Astana; in 2013, this number grew to 825,400, an increase by a factor of four.
The unemployment rate in the city decreased from 13 percent in 1997 to 5.3 percent in 2014. (In 2008, unemployment in the capital was at 6.6 percent.) Average wages rose from 12,886 tenge (US$70.20) to 153,109 tenge (US$834.13), increasing by almost 12 times. Wages almost doubled between 2008 and now.
A very positive social attitude and high expectations of further material growth has been observed in the population of Astana. Three quarters of the capital’s residents are satisfied with their living conditions, compared to 42.5 percent in 1997.
Kazakhstan’s capital is a venue of important international forums. It has hosted four Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions and summits of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and, most recently, the seventh “Asian Davos” – the authoritative and meaningful Astana Economic Forum (AEF).
Astana is a bold and dynamiccity that has already achieved unprecedented heights but is still striving to conquer new peaks and make a name for itself worldwide. A unique opportunity to do this will be the international specialised exhibition, EXPO 2017. The expo marks a new stage in the development of Astana. The basic message is that Kazakhstan, aiming to be among the 30 most developed countries of the world, must do everything possible to bring its central city to join the 10 most powerful capitals of the world. These challenges are set by the head of state.
In this way, Astana is facing new challenges and at the same time encountering new opportunities, because the city must become an important centre of science and technology, with advanced education, media, transport and communications, as well as smart homes and a green economy. All this is being done today in Astana.
The capital has achieved great results, and the whole country must be connected to them. The expression, “Astana’s prosperity is Kazakhstan’s prosperity,” is relevant as never before. In general, the consistency of the capital is the consistency of the entire regional policy. And here, we have to do much in terms of developing agglomerations and improving policies in rural areas.
In other words, the meaning of Astana and its value is actually the representation of the President’s deep-rooted idea of a strong regional policy.
The transfer of the capital created a centre to attract human resources to a promising but labour-deficient region. Today, the state’s role in balanced regional development continues to grow. The northern regions have significant agricultural advantages, but they need human resources, good governance and new population centres.
The experience of Astana also shows the importance of creating new industries and productions, and not only in traditional industrial centres. Therefore, the establishment of the main city and its success should inspire us and give us an understanding of future actions.
Astana is a bright page in our modern history. This choice and the transfer of the capital was the political and personal mission of the First President of Kazakhstan, Leader of the Nation Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Astana is not only our success today; it is our great hope for the future.
The author is director of the Institute of Philosophy, Political Science and Religion of the Committee of Science under the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan and a correspondent of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan. She is a doctor of social sciences.