At year-end, ratings confirm Kazakhstan’s progress, note areas for further work

When taking stock of the last 12 months, it is always helpful to have independent analysis of the direction a country is taking. The last few days have seen no less than three reports – a World Bank study, the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index and US News & World Report Best Countries 2019 – which examine different aspects of Kazakhstan, compare its progress with other countries and, importantly, look at the challenges ahead.

No country, of course, agrees with everything in such reports. There are always judgements that will be considered unfair, policies that are misunderstood and data that is out-of-date. But where such reports can help is in giving an overview on whether a country is on the right course. Taken together, these reports give reason for confidence in Kazakhstan by not only finding progress, but also showing that the government has identified policy areas where change needs to be accelerated.

The World Bank’s assessment is the most up-to-date and concentrates on Kazakhstan’s economic performance. In what has been a momentous year politically, the report comments positively both on the orderly transition following First President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s decision last March to step down and the programme of the new government to build on his legacy.

There is strong support for President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s commitment to building a more responsive state and to continue increasing the role of the private sector in the economy. There is praise, too, for the financial help given to low income families. The additional social spending and investment is a factor, the World Bank says, in maintaining economic growth at 4 percent – a steady performance during a difficult time for the world economy.

Rather than detailed national analyses, the Best Countries 2019 report and the Human Freedom Index are attempts to compare countries globally. Their scale – and the inevitable time lag in data used – means their assessments can’t have the accuracy of the World Bank, but each report notes progress in Kazakhstan.

The Best Countries 2019 report looks at global perceptions of the 80 most developed nations and the impact they might have on economic growth. The report sees Kazakhstan, the only nation in Central Asia to be included, rising two places from last year to 68th on the table. High scores were achieved particularly on international perceptions of national distinctiveness and dynamism – a striking performance for a country almost unknown globally just two decades ago.

There was a strong showing, too, in the power category, which measures whether a country is seen as economically and politically influential and the strength of its international alliances. It is an acknowledgement not just of Kazakhstan’s strong economy, but also of how well regarded the country is on the world stage and its commitment to dialogue and cooperation.

In contrast, the Freedom Index attempts, using a wide range of data, to measure personal, civil and economic freedom in 162 countries. While there are good reasons to question the way some of the assessments are made, the latest report sees Kazakhstan achieving its best ever ranking at 73rd, improving its position by 12 places.

The highest marks were given on personal safety and security, gender and identity and freedom of movement. But just as important are the areas where the need for the most progress is identified, which include political reform and strengthening the rule of law and freedom of association. These are, of course, also issues which Tokayev has already made very clear are priorities for the new government and where policies, such as those discussed and promoted within the National Council for Public Trust, are already having an impact.

As we look to 2020, the global economic uncertainty and suspicion between nations that overshadowed 2019 still cloud the horizon. But despite this difficult outside environment and major political change at home, Kazakhstan has come through the last year in good shape and in good hands for the challenges ahead.