By Oleg Salimov (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon addressed the parliament in his annual speech on January 23, 2015. Rakhmon reviewed Tajikistan’s accomplishments in the socioeconomic sphere in 2014 and outlined his proposals for the country’s development in 2015. Rakhmon presented a highly detailed review of the work done by the Tajik government in 2014, highlighting numerous improvements supported by meticulous statistical data. In the speech, summaries of specific accomplishments were followed by appeals for further improvement.
In his annual address, Rakhmon focused mostly on economics, social problems, energy independence, transportation infrastructure, water resources, education and youth problems, and terrorism. Rakhmon specifically addressed the importance of developing a strong ideological basis in order to unify the people of Tajikistan and enhance their patriotism. Rakhmon also announced 2015 as the “Year of the Family,” translating into a separate set of tasks for the government and legislature in 2015. The president only cursorily mentioned Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections, even though these are scheduled to take place on March 1, 2015.
A few points in Rakhmon’s speech require closer attention. When speaking about economics, Rakhmon stressed the role of heavy industry, natural resources extraction, and Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power potential as it seeks to find its niche in the global market. In Rakhmon’s vision, the development of the agricultural sector is essential mostly for the country’s internal consumption and substitution of imported produce. According to Rakhmon’s speech, Tajikistan’s mid-term goal to transform from a largely agricultural society into a resource-supplying country with a perspective, in the long-run, to become a self-sufficient industrialized economy.
This enormous task can encounter such problems as insufficient human capital, technological deficiency, and inability of the state to attract necessary financial investments. Rakhmon touched on these problems as part of Tajikistan’s broader socioeconomic challenges, yet he made no direct reference to his proposal for economic transformation. The country’s transportation gridlock creates another obstacle for Tajikistan on its way to industrialization. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad project, which started in March 2013 and would have provided Tajikistan with access to the Caspian and South-Asian markets, stalled as the participating countries disagree on the route of the railroad.
Tajikistan also continually suffers from an energy crisis. Although the country possesses a significant hydroelectric power capability, it suffers from a constant deficit of electricity vital for industrialization. While Rakhmon reports a significant increase in electricity production, the power limit for residential consumption remains at 6 hours daily in the winter time. Additionally, the hydroelectric power company Barki Tojik, which Rakhmon sees as an important player in advancing Tajikistan’s energy independence and hydroelectric power export, struggles with considerable financial difficulties. The company’s debt to suppliers and Tajikistan’s Taxation Department totals US$ 300 million as of August 2014. Tajikistan’s state budget is also cash strained as the export of aluminum, the main income-generating item, was cut from 216,000 tons in 2013 to 121,200 tons in 2014, according to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sharif Rakhimzoda.
Another significant part of Rakhmon’s speech was an appeal for constructing an ideological platform for Tajikistan, which must encourage patriotism, pride of the national and cultural heritage, and loyalty to the country’s interests. This task was in large part delegated to the Tajik Academy of Sciences. The ideology has to counterbalance propaganda hostile to Tajikistan. Rakhmon also underlined that, among other tasks, the Academy has to intensify its efforts to study the Tajik Civil War of 1992-97 and presenting more accurate and objective information on the issue as compared to other sources. It should be noted that last year a Tajik scholar from Canada was arrested in Tajikistan when trying to conduct research on the Tajik Civil War, unauthorized by the Tajik government. The apparent motive behind these proposals is to increase the legitimacy of the current regime. Rakhmon’s image as a peacemaker has helped him retain power for almost two decades and he intends to continue to do so in the future.
In general, Rakhmon’s annual address to parliament presented the same set of issues that the country has been trying to resolve since independence. As in last year’s speech, the current proposals for export increases, industrialization, energy independence, and resolution of the transportation impasse lacked specific plans for action and follow-up reviews. Besides, several factors and actors supposedly assisting the economic development process have collapsed or struggle to function, as seen in the example of the TAT railroad and Barki Tojik. Therefore, Rakhmon’s proposals constitute the acknowledgment of problems rather solutions to them.