The year 2016 will go down as one of the most unpredictable and volatile years in recent history. The election of Donald Trump – which few anticipated – as well as the unexpected outcome of the UK’s referendum on its EU membership, have surprised everyone. On a global scale, the world has faced many challenges. There was the outbreak of the Zika virus in South America before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Terrorism has continued to plague the whole world, while conflicts in the Middle East continue to cause suffering and destruction. The global economy has remained volatile.
Kazakhstan has not been immune from some of these global challenges. Economic growth slowed due to the recent falls in oil prices. Some budget cuts had to be made to take into account the new economic reality. Kazakhstan’s Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev recently announced that the country will be looking to reduce oil production by 20,000 barrels, following the recent meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers in Vienna. The drop in oil prices have in part been mitigated by steps taken by the government to diversify the nation’s economy by putting forward measures and initiatives that help attract foreign investment and encourage growth in the numbers of small and medium sized businesses. The diversification of the Kazakh economy will not happen overnight, but tangible progress is being made. It is also worth noting that despite the obvious economic challenges, Kazakhstan is still an area of stability in Central Asia and remains the most attractive destination in the region for investment.
However, this year, Kazakhstan has unfortunately been the target of terrorists and extremists too. In June, an attack took place in Aktobe, killing seven people, while in July five people lost their lives in Almaty. The recent atrocity at the Christmas market in Berlin reminds us how terrorism continues to affect all corners of the world. This is why it is absolutely imperative that the international community follows the proposal voiced by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the UN General Assembly’s 70th session in 2015 to establish a global coalition network to fight terrorism and violent extremism.
Kazakhstan also faced social challenges in 2016, primarily public protests regarding proposed land reforms. It was a divisive issue, but the government’s swift decision to listen and engage with the people turned out to be the right path to take and demonstrated the willingness of the government to take into account the people’s and civil society’s concerns. The peaceful manner in which the issue was resolved demonstrated the maturity of our nation. It now makes sense to wait for better conditions before restarting the process of discussions of these market economy-driven land reforms.
While noting the challenges faced by Kazakhstan in 2016, we must also remember the achievements of the past 12 months. Kazakhstan, of course, celebrated its 25th year as an independent nation. During this momentous year, Kazakhstan was elected to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2017-2018, the first country from Central Asia to be given this honour and responsibility. Indeed, Kazakhstan has demonstrated why it deserves a seat on the UNSC. President Nazarbayev’s leadership has been credited with mending the relations between Russia and Turkey. Kazakhstan’s role as a mediator may be utilised again after Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed that negotiations between the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition should take place and after the Kazakh President confirmed readiness to host them in Astana. So, the Syrian crisis is likely to be one of a number of challenges that will need to be resolved in 2017.
However, there is also plenty to look forward to next year. Astana will welcome visitors to EXPO 2017 between June and September. Following this global event, the EXPO site will be used for the Astana International Finance Centre. Meanwhile, Almaty will host the 28th Winter Universiade Games from Jan. 29 to Feb. 8.
There is no denying that 2016 has seen its ups and downs, but Kazakhstan as a nation must continue to look forward. Despite all the challenges, Kazakhstan has enough reasons to be optimistic about 2017 and be prepared to embrace all the opportunities it may bring.