Kazakhstan seeks peace, international prosperity in year of turmoil

The last 12 months have been another disappointing year for all who want to see peace, prosperity and co-operation in our world. We must hope future historians, when they look back at 2018, can see the beginning of positive trends. But without the benefit of this hindsight, there seems little to cheer on the global stage as we enter the final days of the year.

There have, of course, been areas of progress. Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, which had loomed so large earlier in the year, have been reduced thanks to face-to-face talks. But on too many other international issues, we are seeing positions entrenched. There seems to have been little appetite to overcome obstacles to progress.

Syria’s tragedy, with terrible consequences for its people, is approaching its ninth year. The conflict in Yemen may have been shorter but the United Nations warns it has already sparked a humanitarian catastrophe. Fighting continues, too, in Libya as it does, sadly, in Afghanistan.

These conflicts are having an impact well beyond their borders. As we have said before, they are encouraging violent extremism which has again been responsible for terrorist attacks this year in cities many hundreds of miles away as we sadly saw in Strasbourg again this month. They have also forced millions to flee the fighting and lack of opportunities bringing both difficulties to the families concerned and the pressures on those communities and countries where they seek refuge.

What also continues to be a major concern is how these conflicts have drawn in other countries, leading to increased divisions and suspicions.The result is that instead of the cooperation we need to see on the international stage to tackle shared challenges, we are witnessing rivalry and distrust.

These same factors have had a damaging impact on the global economy. Trade wars, protectionist tendencies and the imposition of economic sanctions for political reasons have all acted as brakes on global growth and prosperity in 2018.

Given this worrying background, it would be easy for countries, such as Kazakhstan, to retreat from their faith in the rules-based international order and the need for international cooperation. But a look back at what has happened in 2018 shows Kazakhstan has stayed true to the principles which have underpinned its foreign policy since independence.

Through its position as a member of the UN Security Council, it has worked tirelessly to promote peace and dialogue. The main focus of Kazakhstan’s efforts, especially during its one month presidency January, as promised, has been on the steps needed to remove the threat of nuclear weapons from our world. Priority was also given to increasing international support for Afghanistan, which is so important to the stability of Central Asia.

The 6th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions showed a continued commitment to increasing understanding between the great faiths and preventing their abuse by extremists. Well over 70 countries have already backed Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative by signing the Code of Conduct Towards Achieving a World Free of Terrorism.

Astana, too, has continued to host talks to try to find the basis for a solution to the Syrian crisis. It is a difficult and challenging process but it has also underlined Kazakhstan’s commitment to playing its full part in ending conflict whenever it can.

At the same time, Kazakhstan has taken the regional lead both in deepening links across Central Asia and the Turkic world and in demonstrating the positive benefits of cooperation.  The country’s involvement in the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative are now helping drive increased trade and growth.

The launch of the Astana International Financial Centre is beginning to pull in additional investment into the region. Major strides have also been taken with neighbouring countries to put in place the legal framework for the sustainable development and protection of the Caspian Sea and to step up efforts to tackle the Aral Sea’s environmental disaster.

These efforts have been spearheaded by President Nazarbayev himself on a series of high-profile visits. Over the course of the year, he has travelled to the United States, China, Russia, Turkey and Brussels as well as widely across the region while also welcoming dozens of fellow leaders to Astana. He remains a respected voice on the international stage and a strong advocate of peace and cooperation.

It is these goals which, as we approach 2019, we must all hope move to the top of the international agenda. They remain, wherever we live, our best hope of the happier and more hopeful new year we all want for our families.



A strong, flexible constitution remains key to any nation’s development

The death of veteran U.S. Senator John McCain last weekend led to heart-felt tributes from both sides of the American political divide and from across the world. They touched on his bravery and sacrifice as well as his long political record.

But in their remarks on their one-time political adversary, Bill and Hillary Clinton went further. They said Senator McCain had throughout his long life of service been guided by his strong belief that every American had a responsibility to make something of the freedoms granted by their constitution.

It was a reminder of the critical importance of a constitution to a country and its citizens. For, to be effective, a constitution must do far more than dryly elaborate the structure of government. At its best, it provides guidance to how both the nation and its people conduct themselves.

The U.S. constitution is now, of course, well over 200 years old. But no one would doubt its relevance to modern America. It is something debated loudly on an almost daily basis, the centre of political life.

But the importance of a constitution, as we have said before, is perhaps even greater to a young country like Kazakhstan than it is to those which have been shaped by many generations as independent nations. It helps identify shared values, provides a national purpose and road map for the future. It is the role which is celebrated this week.

Looking back over the years since our constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum on Aug. 30, 1995, it is very clear how important it has been to our progress as a country. It has provided both the principles and mechanics which have enabled Kazakhstan to rise to every challenge it has faced.

The strong emphasis, for example, placed on individual rights and equality before the law has helped forge a tolerant harmonious society which has won international respect.

But all these achievements could have been put in jeopardy if a constitution prevents a country from meeting changing circumstances, challenges and ambitions.  For thanks to the efforts of its people, Kazakhstan is now at a very different stage of development.

Twenty-three years ago, the main challenges were how to pull Kazakhstan out of the chaos, which was the collapse of the old Soviet Union. It was escaping poverty not building prosperity which was the central task for the country.

There is, of course, more to be done to ensure that everyone shares in the country’s progress. But the national goal now is to join the ranks of the most developed and prosperous nations by the middle of this century.

As we said in these pages on its 20th anniversary, the danger is that a constitution acts as a straitjacket, limiting the right response to changing conditions. Kazakhstan has not fallen into this trap as the 2017 constitutional reforms have underlined. Decision-making has been devolved and decentralised, oversight and accountability improved and the separation of powers strengthened so that the country is ready for the next stage of its development.

While Kazakhstan is to continue with a presidential-style system, significant responsibilities have now been transferred to the government and parliament. In future, the President will take a more strategic role while the Prime Minister and Cabinet have been made more accountable to Parliament.

At the same time, the role of the Constitutional Council has been strengthened and the judicial system modernised. The aim is to meet the highest international standards and strengthen protection of rights of the individual.

These significant democratic and institutional reforms are aimed at ensuring the constitution is an important platform for Kazakhstan’s success in the next two decades as it has been in our first two as a modern independent country. It is a role and ambition which is worth celebrating this week.  



Denis Ten: a great loss and an inspiration

The terrible news of the passing of Denis Ten, one of Kazakhstan’s most celebrated Olympians, has shocked Kazakhstan and the global community. It is difficult to accept that Denis has been taken from us at such a young age, especially under such tragic circumstances.

This is a loss not just for his parents and Kazakhstan, but for the entire sporting community.

The sorrow and sadness will never fully disappear. But let us pay tribute to our champion, who was an inspiration to many aspiring young athletes.

Denis Ten was the first figure skater from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic medal when he secured bronze at Sochi 2014. His diligence, determination and passion for the sport was clear for all to see.

He showed that hard work can eventually pay off. Very few people would have predicted that an ice skating athlete from Kazakhstan would ever stand on a podium with a medal around his neck.

Yet through his dedication and commitment to his sport, Denis became the first skater from Kazakhstan to win an International Skating Union competition at the 2008–09 ISU Junior Grand Prix event in Belarus, aged just 16.

Four years earlier, at the age of 12, Denis competed with adult skaters at the Kazakhstan Championships and won. He then achieved even greater success by winning the Olympic bronze medal in 2014, as well as a silver and a bronze medal during the world championship in 2013 and 2015. He became a national icon in Kazakhstan and was admired all over the world.

Despite his successes as an athlete, Denis did not forget about his studies. He received a diploma from the Academy of Sports and Tourism in Kazakhstan, later enrolling and graduating from the Oil and Gas Institute.

Tributes have been pouring in from all over the world following the tragic news of his death. The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev led the tributes highlighting that Denis’s “outstanding achievements glorified our country and helped popularise sport among youth. Denis was not only a prominent athlete, whose talent was recognised and revered in many countries of the world, but also a man of marked individuality, a true patriot.” President Nazarbayev also instructed high officials to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime would be brought to justice.

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has described Denis “as a warm personality and a charming man”. American figure skater Adam Rippon tweeted that Denis “was so kind to everyone and a huge inspiration to me and so many other people”. The International Skating Union President commented that “Denis Ten was a very talented skater and a true ambassador for figure skating”.

Denis captured the hearts of many Kazakhs as well as sports fans around the world. Thousands of people have paid tribute to our hero across the country by lighting a candle and laying flowers and attending the services in Astana and Almaty on July 21.

During his short life, Denis has made a significant contribution to the development of figure skating and Kazakh sport in general. He was, and always will be, a great role model for the youth of Kazakhstan.

Thank you, Denis, for everything you have done for the country and for being a great champion. You will be sorely missed.



Astana International Financial Centre benefits investors and region

It would be hard to find many countries geographically more different to Kazakhstan than Dubai and Singapore. They are, after all, both tiny in size, border the sea and enjoy hot climates all year round – something which those of us who live in Astana know full well is not the case here.

But look beyond geography and it does not take too long to find striking similarities. In global terms, we are all relatively new countries whose success was, by no means, assured. Each are situated on ancient trade routes, which have found a new relevance in modern times.

In recent decades, all three have been fortunate as well to have benefited from the stability and ambition of visionary leaders. Major public investment has in all three countries provided a powerful springboard for economic growth. With the launch of the Astana International Financial Centre this year, we could be seeing the beginning of another important similarity.

Dubai and particularly Singapore are, of course, already major financial centres. Astana and Kazakhstan are just at the start of this journey with many challenges to overcome. But both states have shown not only what can be achieved in a relatively short time frame but also the positive wider impact on prosperity and the economy.

Singapore has grown from a banking backwater to become one of the world’s most important financial centres in just half a century. More than 200,000 finance professionals are based there in a sector which contributes as much as one fifth of its GDP. The investment which flows through the city state has helped modernise, diversify and strengthen Singapore’s economy as well as provide the money to support development across the region.

Dubai’s progress has, in some ways, been even more remarkable. Its financial centre was only launched in 2004. While, of course, far smaller than the one in Singapore, it is already recognised as a major source of investment for the Middle East and increasingly the fast-growing economies of Africa and South Asia.

Around 2,000 companies have set up a base within the centre’s purpose-built complex. Its continued growth, and that of Dubai’s financial sector as a whole, is seen as crucial for the further development of a modern, diversified and resilient economy.

These are the same ambitions which lay behind the decision to launch the Astana International Financial Centre. The AIFC is an important element in Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s vision for Kazakhstan to join the ranks of the world’s 30 most-developed nations. It is seen as key to improving the country’s investment climate, supporting the move to a market economy and encouraging innovation.

On a wider front, the goal for the AIFC is that it will quickly become the acknowledged financial gateway for Central Asia as well as provide partners and investors access to the wider Eurasian Economic Union area, the Caucasus and Western China. It is hoped it will play a major role in supporting the ambitions of the Belt and Road Initiative in improving links between Asia and Europe and spreading prosperity across the region as well as strengthening links with the global economy.

These are big ambitions in a very competitive area. It is why, in creating the AIFC, great care has been taken to learn the lessons behind successful financial centres including Singapore and Dubai. Understanding the importance of the need for the highest international standards to give investors confidence, the bold decision has been taken that it will operate under the principles and rules of English common law.

A new commercial court – the first in Eurasia – has been set up and is being chaired by Lord Woolf, the former English chief justice, with the help of a team of senior U.K. judges and lawyers. An International Arbitration Centre has been established to help settle disputes, if the parties agree, without the need for full court rulings.

On a practical level, red tape has been cut to make it easier for firms to work with, and within, the AIFC which is based on the convenient and modern site of EXPO 2017 with its first-class infrastructure. Additional incentives, such as tax advantages and rent-free periods, are being offered.

Following in the footsteps of Singapore and Dubai and, of course, other financial centres such as Hong Kong and Shanghai will not be easy. As we have said, a thriving financial sector delivers huge direct and indirect benefits to the country where it is situated. But increasingly Central Asia is recognised as an area of growing importance and great potential. And the ambition, planning and hard work that has gone into setting up the AIFC means that it is in a prime position to meet the needs of both investors and our region.



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.