Sunday, July 17, 2016
I just got back from two days in Almaty Kazakhstan. Due to the collapse of oil prices Kazakhstan is now cheaper than Kyrgyzstan despite the fact that Almaty has a level of development comparable to most European cities. Indeed going from Bishkek to Almaty is a lot like going from Mexico to the US in terms of architectural modernity. The cityscape of Almaty thus is in many ways much closer to that of cities in the EU and North America than it is to Bishkek. Even the old Soviet apartment blocks in Almaty look a lot newer and better maintained than those in Bishkek. The huge Megacenter mall has a lot of US franchises that I have not seen in many years including Burger King, Costas, Gloria Jean's, and Hardees. In addition to Central Asian food it has restaurants serving Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Georgian, Italian, and Croatian dishes among others. The tiny Ramstor at Vefa Center left Bishkek after 2010. But, the Megacenter has a huge and fully stocked Ramstor. Besides the Megacenter we also took the cable car ride above the city. It is like a ski lift but you take it down from the mountain and back. You get up the mountain in the first place on a minibus. I am not sure of all the reasons for the much greater development in Almaty than Bishkek. One clear reason is of course Kazakhstan's natural resources most notably oil and gas and the recent long run of high prices for these commodities. Another is undoubtedly political stability. Kazakhstan has been under the rule of the same man for its entire existence as an independent state. He was head of the Kazakh SSR for two years before that. In contrast Kyrgyzstan has had two major revolutions in recent years. They had one in 2005 and another in 2010. These two factors are undoubtedly major contributors to the much higher foreign investment Kazakhstan has received compared to Kyrgyzstan in the last decade. Finally, Almaty is a welcome relief from Bishkek and Accra in being free of NGO parasites from the EU and North America. For instance there is no Peace Corp in Kazakhstan. The absence of such organizations and their extremely corrupting influence on society undoubtedly has also played a significant role in Kazakhstan's recent social and economic development.