Digital Kazakhstan programme key to country’s development

The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) signed a memorandum of cooperation in October with EXANTE, a Maltese technology investment company, signalling their intention to cooperate on new digital projects.

The memorandum of cooperation confirmed the AIFC’s interest in blockchain technology, which is widely praised as one of the most significant economic developments of the past few years, and represented the first steps of progress between the AIFC and a company renowned for its expertise in bridging forward-thinking government institutions with new technologies.

One of the proposed projects is the AIFC’s adoption of a cryptocurrency platform named Stasis, which will serve as a foundation for “a new digital asset secured by fiat.” What this means is that a new digital cryptocurrency operating on a blockchain platform will be secured, supported and regulated by government decree, which in turn will be informed by experts in blockchain technology.

Through regulation, the AIFC will be able to mitigate the traditional risks associated with cryptocurrencies, whilst allowing investors to enjoy distinct benefits. For example, Statis will enable virtually instant payments with no risk of devaluation or hyperinflation for the digital asset, and as the CEO of Stasis Gregory Klumov noted, there will also be several indisputable advantages of “transparency, immutability… and reduced cost.”

Although this project has only just begun, getting to this stage is the culmination of much work by the Kazakh government, which has created a working group to develop rules and regulations for the digital assets market. Governor of the Astana International Financial Centre Kairat Kelimbetov himself praised “Astana’s leading financial regulators [who] have already commenced their work and are laying the foundation for Kazakhstan’s fin-tech ecosystem … [so that] the AIFC can become an international hub for blockchain operations.”

The memorandum of cooperation between the AIFC and EXANTE also represents a big step forward for the Digital Kazakhstan government programme. This state-led initiative was launched earlier this year and has seen departments throughout the Kazakh government engage in discussions and debates to facilitate interdepartmental and sector-wide efforts to modernise Kazakhstan’s economy.

The Digital Kazakhstan programme specifically aims to facilitate Kazakhstan’s digital modernisation by focusing on four key priorities: creating a high-speed and secure digital infrastructure; digital transformation within all appropriate sectors of the economy; government proactivity in digital affairs; and the development of competencies and skills to permit a creative and digital society. Implementation has begun throughout government, with institutions, departments and administrative bodies all encouraged to evaluate areas where digital transformation could have a positive impact on public services.

This has already yielded results. For example, the National Bank of Kazakhstan recently announced that it is exploring the creation of a mobile application for the population to conduct transactions to buy and sell securities using blockchain technology. In this instance, the underlying blockchain platform would be used for the accounting of executed deals and for ensuring the safety and inalterability of information on transactions, showing how new technologies can add security and reliability through untypical means.

There are also a number of larger projects expected to be launched over the next few years. Digital infrastructure initiatives, such as the creation of a technology hub where start-ups and entrepreneurs are given the resources to innovate and prosper, will bring tangible benefits to both the Kazakh population and the region more widely. All this will also directly contribute to Kazakhstan’s development at a time when it powers on in its trajectory into the world’s 30 most developed states.

Although news about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is often deemed inaccessible owing to its specialist terminology, the news of this prospective collaboration between EXANTE and the AIFC is significant in much broader sense. With appropriate consultation around its implementation and specialist counsel about proper legal regulation, the AIFC stands to be one of the first prominent institutions worldwide to incorporate blockchain technology in a regulated and intelligent manner.

At the same time, this is just a single example in a growing trend. Through these announcements and digital initiatives, we are seeing the Digital Kazakhstan programme solidify Astana’s role as regional hub for innovation, and Kazakhstan’s international standing as an adopter of the world’s newest technologies. Only time will tell what the future holds, but we can all be sure that the Digital Kazakhstan programme is going to play an important role in shaping it.



Kazakh government needs to continue consolidating its strategy of attracting more foreign investment

Nearly a decade after the 2008 global financial crisis, the global economy is improving. The most recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast, issued in July, projected global growth at 3.5 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2018, up from 3.2 percent in 2016. Unemployment in the world’s biggest developed economies has been falling. Despite the positive outlook, however, risks remain. Just last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) warned that the global economy is at risk of a fresh crisis and is also ill-prepared for the likely disruption from the digital and robot age.

Kazakhstan, as an open and outward-looking nation, is not immune to any potential shocks to the global economic system. That is why the government has been securing future benefits by actively enhancing Kazakhstan’s competitiveness. Since our independence, major improvements have been made to our economic and investment environment. According to the WEF Global Competitiveness Index, Kazakhstan has decent labour market efficiency and technological readiness. In addition, there are some reasonable investment incentive packages in place, including a visa-free regime for citizens of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) member states and exemption from custom duties for equipment and raw materials and from land and corporate tax. Of course, there is always room for more progress. According to WEF, there is a need to improve access to financing and continue eliminating corruption.

Astana understands the importance of creating a more favourable investment climate and attracting foreign direct investment. This is why in August the Kazakh government approved a national investment strategy for 2018-2022, which seeks to increase foreign investments by 26 percent in five years. Obviously, Kazakhstan’s economy is currently dependent on natural resources, especially oil, ferrous and non-ferrous metals and uranium, and they will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in the growth of Kazakhstan’s economy.

But the government made a decision that the new investment strategy should also centre on attracting foreign direct investment in non-resource sectors focused on exports. This makes sense, as there is no denying that diversifying Kazakhstan’s economy is essential to its long-term prosperity, especially with relatively low oil prices.

To facilitate the diversification away from the resource sector, the Ministry for Investment and Development of Kazakhstan, together with the World Bank, has identified priority sectors which are considered the most important to attract new investments. The first group includes industries such as food production (agriculture), mechanical engineering and deep processing of oil, gas and other natural resources. The second group includes sectors such as IT, tourism and finances.

Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector deserves special attention as it is about to undergo an impressive transformation. Some of the world’s most innovative technologies and practices that will soon be introduced in Kazakhstan’s agricultural sector were presented during EXPO 2017 in Astana. These include state of the art agricultural machinery and equipment.

In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture recently established the centre for transfer and commercialisation of agricultural technologies, which will actively study the use of new technologies. The agricultural sector has already played an important role in Kazakhstan’s economy. Now, it is likely to expand even further. The Ministry of Agriculture provides food producers with inexpensive equipment and favourable lease terms, making farming a favourable sector for investment.

Despite Kazakhstan’s size and geostrategic location, many foreign businesspeople are unaware of the investment potential and business opportunities in Kazakhstan. Steps have been taken to rectify this. The government, as part of its new investment strategy, established Kazakh Invest together with a network of its international representative offices and domestic regional branches. This national company promises to become a major player in facilitating the attraction of investment by establishing links between local companies and foreign investors and providing a full range of services on the principle of a “one-stop shop” to support investment projects from the idea to the implementation stage.

There are clear signs Kazakhstan is becoming a competitive force in the global market. The fact that Kazakhstan ranks 35th out of 189 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index demonstrates that at least some of the government initiatives are paying off. With the launch of the Astana International Financial Centre in January and the ongoing privatisation programme, it seems more may be coming.



Kazakhstan’s experience shapes its actions on UNSC

As world leaders and foreign ministers prepare to fly to New York for United Nations General Assembly next week at a time of real challenge for the global community, we must hope the chance for formal and informal discussions can play its part in reducing tensions and divisions.

There is no shortage of issues to discuss. North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests have sent shockwaves around the world. They are a severe test to global non-proliferation and the crisis they have sparked has again raised fears of how misjudgements or misunderstandings could spark nuclear catastrophe.

Conflicts in the Middle East and the threat from violent extremism continue to destabilise not only the region but the wider world. Out of the headlines, fighting in Africa – both within countries and across borders – brings misery to millions and remains a major challenge to development. Almost two-thirds of the agenda of the UN’s Security Council is devoted to trying to bring peace to areas of that continent.

It would be hard enough to find solutions to these and many other challenges if there was agreement on the way forward. But too often there are acute differences of opinion along with suspicions of motives.

This is the worrying global background, which has faced Kazakhstan in its first several months as a member of the Security Council. But it is also a time when the country’s commitment to promoting cooperation, dialogue, the rule of international law and disarmament have never been more important.

It is a responsibility which the record shows Kazakhstan has taken with the utmost seriousness. In the first six months of the year, Kazakhstan participated in more than 120 formal Security Council meetings and made meaningful contributions to more than 20 resolutions.

The country has been entrusted with chairing committees on Afghanistan, enforcing sanctions against ISIL and Al-Qaida and on the Horn of Africa. As is always the case when member states take on such added responsibilities, there have been increased pressures on the nation’s diplomats. But the experience will serve them and Kazakhstan well in the years ahead.

There has been progress, too, on areas which Kazakhstan promised would be a focus for its time on the Security Council. The future of Afghanistan was singled out as a major priority – a recognition of the importance of Afghanistan’s stability for the region and the need to support its long-term economic and social development in the battle against extremism.

Within the UN, Kazakhstan has been working hard to step up international efforts to help Afghanistan’s elected government combat extremism and spread prosperity and opportunity to its long-suffering citizens. The arguments being made are all the more persuasive coming from a country within the region and show the importance of Central Asia having a voice at the global table.

It is also a voice which carries more weight because of the active role Kazakhstan continues to take, wherever it can, to promote dialogue and end conflict. The Astana Process, for example, still holds out hope of progress towards ending the tragedy in Syria despite many obstacles. At a practical level, too, Kazakh military observers have joined the international peace-keeping operation in Western Sahara with plans to help support a second UN mission next year.

It is in January 2018, too, that Kazakhstan will take on the task of presiding over the Security Council. It is a role which will further enhance the country’s stature and influence within the international community which will have an impact beyond the next two years.

Among plans being considered for its presidency are, Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said last week, a debate at the highest level on how to improve international peace and security as well as ministerial level discussions on Central Asia and Afghanistan and regular formal discussions on the Middle East – both among the priorities for action Kazakhstan set out when it took its seat on the UNSC.

But it is the priority Kazakhstan gave to nuclear disarmament – which President Nazarbayev called the cause of our time – which strikes the loudest chord at this difficult time. Kazakhstan’s experience and commitment to a world without nuclear weapons has never been more relevant nor more important and it is important its message is heard loud and clear on the Security Council.



EXPO 2017, OIC and its first ever Summit on Science and Technology

Science – and the practical technological developments that spring from advances in knowledge – affect every moment of our lives. They are the reasons we live longer and healthier, are more prosperous and have more opportunities than previous generations. Science has transformed our lives for the better.

We should be grateful, too, that the pace of scientific advances is not slowing down. We are depending on science to find the solutions to many of our most pressing global problems.

Look, for example, at the challenge of climate change. It’s thanks to science that we are aware of worrying changes in our atmosphere and the impact on our climate and societies now and in the future. We have seen these warnings realised in the devastating flooding in Bangladesh and the southern United States in the last few days. But we are also relying on science to help us find solutions to this increasing climate crisis.

It is, of course, important that countries collectively and individually act to reduce the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. But we also need to develop technology, which will help us mitigate and adapt to the climate change underway. And it is as critical that all these steps are taken while allowing countries to continue to grow their economies and improve living standards.

Some of these answers like generating more electricity from solar and wind power rather than fossil fuels are already well known. But if we are to maximise the benefits of such green energy sources, there is still a great deal of work to do. We need to find ways, for example, of storing efficiently the power generated when the sun shines and wind blows.

The switch to renewable and sustainable energy sources is, of course, the central theme of EXPO 2017 which is now entering its final days. It put science and technology centre stage, showcasing the latest developments in the area of future energy and identifying areas where we need to make faster progress.

It also fascinated and thrilled the millions of visitors to the exhibition site and its many pavilions. We won’t know the final figures until sometime after EXPO17 finally closes its doors, but it looks as if it will have attracted approximately four million people over the summer. Surveys have shown that they have overwhelmingly enjoyed what they have seen and experienced.

Not surprisingly, most of those attending have come from Kazakhstan but there have, as anyone living in Astana has noticed, a steady stream of visitors from far further afield. As well as the physical legacy that EXPO 2017 has been designed from the start to leave behind, one of its intangible impacts will be helping to put Kazakhstan more firmly on the global tourist map.

The main long-term aim of the exhibition was, however, to share knowledge about science and forge partnerships to accelerate advances in the future. There are plenty of signs that the exhibition has already encouraged such developments. And it is this same spirit which lies behind the hosting of the first Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit on Science and Technology in Astana next week.

This first summit is an important development for an organisation that is growing in global importance. It will decisively push science, innovation and education up the OIC’s agenda, which is key to modernising economies and meeting the needs of its 1.5 billion citizens. There is massive scope for increased cooperation in science and technology, which will not only benefit individual member countries but the world as a whole.

The summit will also provide a powerful answer to those few voices who try to suggest that somehow Islam is against science and education. It is a distorted and backward view which anchors Islam in the past and ignores the extraordinary contribution of Islamic science to the world.

It was, after all, Islamic scholars, physicians, mathematicians and scientists who kept the light of learning burning when Europe was trapped in the Dark Ages. And today, scientists from Islamic countries continue to play a key role in advances in knowledge in every continent and in every field. These contributions should be celebrated and encouraged to make our world a healthier, more prosperous and peaceful place.



A milestone in nuclear non-proliferation: IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank in Kazakhstan

The long-awaited launch of the Low Enriched Uranium Bank on Aug. 29 is a bright spot in what has been a gloomy period of increasing international tension. It is a practical solution to help tackle two of the most serious global challenges. It is also a model of what can be achieved through vision, persistence and cooperation.

The two challenges for which the bank can help provide answers are, of course, climate change and nuclear proliferation. Both seem more pressing by the day.

As extreme weather events continue to grow in frequency and severity, scientists warn that this is just a foretaste of what uncontrollable climate change will mean. Heatwaves, storms and flooding, which just a few decades ago were rare in their ferocity, are now becoming both commonplace and affecting far larger areas.

But tackling climate change has to be done in a way which allows economies to continue to grow. Without offering countries the chance of improving living standards, we are not going to bring about the fundamental switch we need from fossil fuels.

Wind, solar and other green energy resources are going to have an increasingly larger role in driving sustainable economic growth. So, too, will nuclear power. As countries are already showing, nuclear power plants can be a major part of the energy mix, helping economies grow without burning fossil fuels.

It is why nations in many parts of the world are either actively developing or considering starting their own civilian nuclear programmes. But the danger is that these plans risk making worse the challenge that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has rightly called the cause of our time – reducing the threat of nuclear war.

Nuclear reactors need enriched uranium to produce electricity. Countries making the huge investment in civilian nuclear programmes need to make sure they have supplies of this fuel. But the problem is that any facility which produces it could technically be altered to produce the more highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

The LEU bank is the answer to the challenge of how countries can be guaranteed supplies of the uranium they need for reactors without making the proliferation of nuclear weapons more likely. It will hold, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), around 90 tonnes of low enriched uranium which can be accessed by countries if their usual market supply is disrupted, provided they do meet the IAEA clear-cut criteria of adherence to non-proliferation.

This guarantee from the independent IAEA takes away the need for countries to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities. By doing so, it both reduces costs for them and also suspicions that the civilian plants are just a cloak to hide a nuclear weapons programme. It should help cut both carbon emissions and international tensions.

Before the bank could move from drawing board to reality, it needed both funding and a secure site. Initial funding came from the Nuclear Threat Initiative – thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Warren Buffet – with the non-governmental organisation’s $50 million donation being topped by government contributions from countries such as the United States, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates as well as the European Union.

Kazakhstan, right from the start, made clear it was ready to host the bank. As a country with extensive nuclear expertise, a track record of campaigning for nuclear non-proliferation and a trusted member of the international community, the offer ticked all the boxes and was accepted with enthusiasm by the IAEA.  The site chosen is the Ulba Metallurgical Plant, which has been a nuclear facility for over 60 years and meets all health, environmental and security standards, and Kazakhstan has made its own in-lind contributions to the construction of the unique storage facility.

It is fitting that the opening ceremony in Astana takes place on Aug. 29, 26 years after Kazakhstan announced it was closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. That surprise announcement had a much wider impact as it gave fresh momentum to efforts for a global agreement to end testing – momentum which the world urgently needs to rediscover.

That is why the true prize from the launch of the IAEA LEU Bank would be if its impact went beyond enabling countries to develop their civilian nuclear programmes without increasing fears of nuclear proliferation. We must hope that, by demonstrating what can be achieved through international cooperation, ambition and determination, it will give fresh impetus to finding agreed global solutions to common problems.



Kazakhstan’s progress to be represented by stories of everyday people

The strength and success of any community or country is made up of many strands. Leadership is, of course, vital, to set the right direction. But leadership alone can’t make this vision real. This requires the sustained efforts of tens of thousands of people at all levels.

Governments, for example, aim to establish the right framework for economic growth and rising prosperity. But it is entrepreneurs who have the vision and courage to spot opportunities and the drive to set up businesses and create jobs.

In every city, town and village, there are individuals who are the cornerstones of their community. It might be their dedication to their job which explains why they have such a positive impact. They could be teachers who, year after year, inspire their pupils to reach their potential or medical staff whose care and compassion saves and transforms lives.

But these contributions go beyond working lives. They could be caregivers who look after children, volunteers who are the backbone of their community or neighbours who are always ready to lend a helping hand.

Look, for instance, at the example of sport. It is elite sportsmen and women whose names are known to millions and who win international titles and competitions. But they invariably owe a huge debt, as they themselves would be the first to admit, to local volunteer coaches who first set them on the road to success.

It is, of course, the same story with a country. Like these top athletes, Kazakhstan has found itself striding up international tables. We have been fortunate in the leadership that Kazakhstan has enjoyed. But as President Nursultan Nazarbayev never tires of pointing out, our country’s achievements are the product of extraordinary efforts across our whole society.

It is vital that these many and varied contributions are not neglected. It is not just that these individual efforts deserve recognition. By telling these stories, we also help improve national – and international – understanding of the progress that has been made, how it has been achieved and what needs to be done to ensure improvements continue. Importantly, this recognition can also help encourage others to step up their own efforts.

Celebrating these contributions is the aim of the 100 New Faces initiative. Launched as part of the Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity programme earlier this year, the intention is to find 100 individuals drawn from every region, sector and age group.

Together, they will form a true cross-section of our society but united by the fact that each, in their own way and through their own talent and effort, have helped build modern Kazakhstan. It is also intended that these names – the brightest and best that our country has to offer – will go far beyond the well-known. Minister of Information and Communication Dauren Abaev has said he wants to see unsung heroes and heroines identified and celebrated.

Identifying these role models can’t be done without the full involvement of the wider public. It is often, of course, only their own colleagues, neighbours and friends who know how valuable their efforts have been and the sacrifices that they have made. It is why the public has been asked to help by nominating individuals who should be considered.

The initiative has clearly struck a chord. More than 1,000 individual nominations from the public have already been received and more are arriving every week at the specially designed website 100esim.el.kz. Other names have come from national and local organisations. Rightly the public has also been promised a role in selecting the final 100 faces after nominations close next month. After all, it is their story that the winners will be helping to tell.



Getting the balance right on religion in secular Muslim-majority state

Religious faith has had a hugely positive impact. It helps people make sense of life as well providing comfort at times of distress. Even more importantly, the compassionate values – which the great religions have in common – have shaped for the better our attitude to each other and to society as a whole.

The desire to look after those less fortunate than ourselves is not, of course, restricted to those of faith. But religious beliefs have been and remain a major driver of charitable work as many of the individuals and organisations caring for the victims of humanitarian disasters around the world today underline.

The positive role that religion plays in the lives of billions of people and in strengthening the bonds of community is why a solid and clear relationship between state and religion is essential. We all benefit – whether or not we are religious ourselves – if those with faith have the opportunity to make their full contribution to society.

At the same time, however, we have to recognise that religious belief can be distorted and exploited. It is not something restricted, in any way, to modern times or to one religion. There have been many examples, over the centuries, of the terrible damage caused by the hatred and division unleashed by religious extremism.

But there is also no doubt that warped and violent ideologies based on distortions of religion are among the most serious threats in every continent and region today. We have seen, too, around the world how radical interpretations of religious beliefs are being used to divide communities, foster discrimination and, on occasions, encourage the breaking of the law.

The challenge for all countries is how to strike the balance between nurturing all the good that religious belief brings while protecting ourselves from the way it can be abused to sow division and hatred.  Getting the balance right is critical for the long-term stability of societies and the safety of our citizens.

This is particularly important for a country like Kazakhstan. In a region where, sadly, religious extremism has a strong foothold, we pride ourselves on having built a stable, tolerant and moderate society from a diverse population of many different faiths and backgrounds.

The citizens of Kazakhstan may largely be Muslim but the state is secular and those belonging to all the great religions have the same respect and equality before the law. It is a significant part of Kazakhstan’s identity and success.

But as we have sadly seen throughout the world, no country, no matter how stable, can afford to relax in the face of religious extremism and terrorism. In recent years, Kazakhstan, too, has been the victim of terrorism rooted in twisted versions of religious extremism, including the deadly attack in Aktobe a year ago. As in many other countries, too, small numbers of our young people have been attracted by the savage ideologies of groups like Daesh.

On a broader scale, as well, we have seen in some communities more extreme interpretations of religion take hold, which are entirely alien to the history and traditions of the Kazakh people. They threaten the secular nature of our state, damage our children’s education and promote damaging gender inequality.

It is to counter this threat – particularly to the young – while protecting the right of the overwhelming peaceful majority to worship freely, or not to worship at all, that Kazakhstan has developed a new framework on the relationship between religion and the state, called the Concept of State Policy in the Religious Sphere for 2017-2020. It is a key strand in helping ensure Kazakhstan continues to have a strong modern identity and stable, cohesive society equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities of the coming decades.

It is a framework that draws heavily on Kazakhstan’s national traditions and achievements but also looks at how partners as diverse as America, the European Union, China and Russia have responded to these challenges. It underlines the secular nature of our state – which has been the foundation of our stability – while emphasising the important role that religion plays in our national life and promoting good relations between the 18 faiths followed in our country.

The framework clearly sets out in law respect for religious beliefs and the continued freedom to worship for individuals and the work of over 3,500 faith associations.  As Minister for Religious Affairs Nurlan Yermekbayev has said, it is not the role of the government or state to interfere in the internal workings of religions. But it is its responsibility to ensure support is not being given to those preaching hate or division.

Greater transparency over finances will help prevent any misuse of funding to support religious extremism. It must be right as well to prevent religion being used as an excuse to flout the law. We should expect all marriages, for example, to be registered legally by the state. Nor can religion be used as an excuse not to vaccinate children.

But new rules and regulations to identify and root out abuse can only go so far in tackling this threat. They must be coupled with effective education programmes at the national and local level.

The framework sets out how education will be strengthened to counter the appeal of religious extremism and improve the understanding of different faiths. It is ignorance, which provides fertile ground for the religious extremists. Religious values should help unite people not drive them apart which is why it is so important that faith leaders are fully involved in these educational initiatives.

We now have the chance to put the relations between state and religion on a more solid footing. By enhancing freedom of worship while ensuring the tiny majority of extremists do not abuse religious beliefs, we can protect the stability of our country, enhance the safety of our citizens and build a relationship which is true to the character and history of Kazakhstan.



Kazakhstan finds its future without losing its past

As a country, Kazakhstan has set its sights firmly on the future. The continued modernisation of the economy and society is rightly seen as essential to provide our citizens with the opportunities and living standards they deserve in the decades ahead. The goal of joining the ranks of the top 30 most-developed countries by 2050 encapsulates this ambition.

But as well as having a clear idea of the intended destination, it is also important not to forget from where you have come. Successful societies are those which don’t forget their history, traditions and culture but build on them. Without this understanding and appreciation, the risk is that connections are lost and societies become rootless and unstable.

It is a danger that President Nursultan Nazarbayev recognised earlier this year when, in calling for a modernisation of society and attitudes to complement the modernisation of our economy, he stressed at the same time the critical importance of tradition and culture to what Kazakhstan is and wants to become.

So along with the bold decisions, for example, to ensure our young people are fluent in English to enable them to compete globally and to switch gradually to the Latin alphabet, he called for determined efforts to support local communities through the Tugan Zher (Small Homeland) programme. Importantly, this was to be coupled at a national level with a new initiative to map and preserve the country’s cultural and religious landmarks.

We have, perhaps, in the past taken what academics call this Sacred Geography for granted. When you consider how far our country has come in the last 25 years and the obstacles we have overcome together, it is easy to see why attention has been focused on other challenges.

But the President is right to underline how important this unique and rich heritage is. By both protecting and celebrating this history, we provide the basis for a modern patriotism, which helps strengthen connections between citizens and also provides a barrier to cultural traditions from outside our borders. A society that is comfortable with its own roots finds it easier to push back against foreign and damaging religious and ideological influences.

And the President was right to say that Kazakhstan has an extraordinary heritage. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi in Turkestan, for example, has a significance which resonates far beyond our borders. Its importance explains why it was listed internationally by UNESCO as World Heritage site in 2003 and draws pilgrims from across the world.

But Kazakhstan’s history, of course, goes back many centuries before the acclaimed poet. Neolithic settlements and Bronze Age cave paintings are included in the 500 major sites already identified for enhanced protection. So, too, are the burial places of the descendants of Genghis Khan.

Identifying and providing additional protection, where necessary, is essential. But the President’s initiative goes beyond simply preserving monuments. He called as well for a concerted national education campaign to underline their importance for every citizen and to Kazakhstan’s history. As he said, these diverse sites provide the thread which binds the Kazakh people through the centuries.

The communication efforts around the comprehensive mapping, for the first time, of these heritage sites should also provide a major boost for domestic and international tourism. Enthusing Kazakhs about their own history will lead to many more visiting other regions. Internationally, it will help Kazakhstan capitalise on the increased global interest and ensure the country continues to feature high in the global lists of must-visit destinations.

Any society which loses sight of its history is storing up trouble for the future and putting in danger all its achievements. By taking the time to celebrate its rich religious and cultural heritage and reminding all our citizens of why it is important, Kazakhstan shows it is not going to make this mistake.



EXPO 2017 opens to success, offers path to the future

With EXPO now well under way, there are clear signs of lessons from the past few decades underpinning the objectives of this event. Hosting EXPO has, for instance, enabled our government to particularly focus on infrastructural progress, the improvement of education and the promotion of Kazakhstan’s culture to international audiences in time to mark its transition to a third stage of modernisation.

In our country’s development roadmap, known as the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, President Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined key areas, which would serve to aid our accession to the world’s top 30 economies. One of these was developing our country’s infrastructure and transport under the Nurly Zhol programme, to facilitate Kazakhstan’s role at the heart of the New Silk Road initiative. Hosting EXPO 2017 in our capital city has permitted our government to focus on supporting the needs of the event’s foreign and domestic visitors by establishing new facilities, ensuring Astana’s prospective role as a regional hub for finance and investment.

The impressive results of this programme include the creation of the new Nurly Zhol railway station in Astana, which expects a passenger flow of approximately 12 million people a year and the addition of a new terminal to our capital’s airport. Long after expo finishes, these initiatives will continue to benefit our country by establishing new transport routes, attracting visitors and creating hundreds of new jobs. It’s no surprise, therefore, that our President has already described these new facilities as the “new pride of Astana.”

Yet it is not only our capital that has benefitted from EXPO 2017. President Nazarbayev made a point in his opening speech of inviting everyone to visit all of Kazakhstan for the amazing nature as well as the historical heritage that we have to offer. The expo has also brought together Kazakhs from all corners of our country to appreciate our united progression.

Another focal point for EXPO 2017 has been its beneficial effect upon the younger generations. The exposition aims to inspire children from all around Kazakhstan to play a role in developing these futuristic technologies by immersing them in the research at the forefront of science worldwide. The French pavilion’s main exhibition of a new Peugeot project, for example, is highly commendable for engaging with children to interest them in the fascinating design of electric cars.

This focus of EXPO 2017 on the future pioneers of Kazakhstan builds upon a range of initiatives, which provide the resources for children to excel. For instance, Kazakhstan’s Minister for Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiyev, recently announced that 93 percent of final-year students who achieve consistent top marks receive the prestigious Altyn Belgi recognition, which allows them to attend any university in Kazakhstan with all of their tuition subsidised by the government.

Schemes such as this reaffirm our commitment to supporting education, and our country is already seeing tangible results. Only last year did the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study rank Kazakh students eight out of 57 developed countries for their education in the sciences.

EXPO 2017 has also brought Kazakhstan’s existing strengths and values to the attention of the international community, reiterating our country’s commitments to moving forward together. The attendance of our opening ceremony by prominent world leaders, such as President of China Xi Jinping, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and King Felipe VI of Spain, as well as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, goes to show the magnitude and importance of EXPO 2017 on the global agenda.

In this regard, it is astonishing to consider how far Kazakhstan has come in the 25 years of its independence and the confidence with which it has done so. This has only been possible due to the assured leadership of President Nazarbayev and our government’s willingness to learn from its mistakes. Although we can be sure of more lessons to learn from the event’s proceedings, the first few weeks have been testament to the painstaking work of the organisers whose collective efforts are to thank for what has been an unforgettable opening to a momentous event.



Astana ready to welcome the world for EXPO 2017

2017 will undoubtedly go down as a momentous year in the history of Kazakhstan. In January, the country took up its seat on the United Nations Security Council, the first time a Central Asian nation has been given such a responsibility.

This gives our country a vital and important role in helping shape peace and stability around the world. Secondly, Kazakhstan has made valuable contributions in the search for a solution to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian disaster in Syria. Several rounds of talks under the Astana Process have taken place, bringing together all the sides of the devastating civil war, and the so called guarantor states, to help them find a lasting settlement. Now Kazakhstan has the responsibility to deliver a successful EXPO 2017 in Astana for visitors from near and far.

In many ways, EXPO 2017 has similarities with these important global responsibilities. The event spearheads an international effort to address the energy challenges of the 21st century as it helps create a more stable and prosperous future for the entire planet. This forward-looking approach to long-term stability and prosperity is entirely consistent with President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s call to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for “a strategy that would eliminate for good the threat of war and its causes.” A plentiful and sustainable energy supply to all parts of the world will help create conditions for peaceful co-existence.

Kazakhstan is blessed with a rich abundance of natural resources. Our country is  a major global exporter of oil and gas, as well as uranium and other rare earth metals. So, some may be surprised that Astana is hosting a major event that is dedicated to renewable energy. But Kazakhstan sees no contradiction between supplying today’s energy needs while also being committed to the development of sustainable and cleaner energy that will benefit future generations. The two are not mutually exclusive in our progressive vision.

For those attending EXPO 2017 under the title Future Energy, there will be the opportunity to visit numerous awe-inspiring exhibits. From pavilions hosted by dozens of countries from around the world, to the incredible gravity-defying “Reflekt” show by Cirque de Soleil, it promises to be an experience that will live long in the memory. Indeed, EXPO 2017 was a driving factor in helping Kazakhstan become one of the New York Times’ “top 52 places to visit in 2017” as it hailed the country’s “earnest transition from oil state to eco-destination.”

EXPO 2017 is more than about being just an entertaining and spectacular destination, as important as that may be. Nations from every corner of the world are coming together to share and discuss one of the most pressing issues that faces mankind – our future energy. It’s arguably the biggest and most important event that’s focused on creating a clean and sustainable future for us all. Kazakhstan has an abundance of oil and gas reserves but we are also the first to admit that global supplies are finite, which is a sign of a mature and future-looking nation that considers the long-term future of this country and all others on Earth.

The exhibition will showcase developments from around the world in the field of renewable energy, including the latest advances in areas, such as wind power, solar energy, renewable fuel and clean coal technologies. It, therefore, promises to stimulate the mind as much as it does the senses.

The event has a major role to play in Kazakhstan’s goal of becoming one of the world’s top 30 global economies by 2050. Indeed, it has been designed to “drive the next stage of our industrial development and diversification with a new emphasis on sustainability, high-tech and skills.”

The global event will also act as a catalyst for tourism to Kazakhstan by giving the opportunity for visitors from near and far to experience Astana for the first time. They will be able to take in the wider sights of our capital city, including its world-class architecture, culture and cuisine. They can also be assured of the warmest welcome and famous hospitality that the people of Kazakhstan will provide like few can do elsewhere on Earth.

So, the world, welcome to Astana and welcome to Kazakhstan!