Prague, 6 June, Caucasus Times. This year the citizens of Kazakhstan will celebrate 20th anniversary of their country’s capital city. For Kazakhs, every milestone that has any connection to Astana is significant, and this is not a figure of speech. The capital’s history is a separate subject in schools and universities; movies, media reports and works of art are dedicated to it.
Astana is a young capital – it will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. Many are still debating the rationale for moving the capital from Almaty to Astana. Kazakhstan’s current capital has one of the most austere climates. Nevertheless, in 20 transformative years from late Tselinograd to today’s Astana Kazakh authorities successfully tackled the climate issue – “the green forest belt” is now circling the capital, having softened harsh winters.
Surely, Astana has more to offer. Transforming steppe into a modern metropolis remains one of President Nazarbaev’s proud achievements. It is no secret that Astana became the capital city by his political decree. According to the President’s vision, a new urban center would become a symbol of Kazakhstan. Astana would embody a young, modern country that had just gained its independence. It was an ambitious aspiration, which Kazakhstan triumphantly achieved. 20 years later all the data stands to confirm the success.
In 2017, Kazakhstan’s capital became the first post-Soviet city to host international exhibition EXPO on green and renewable technologies. It is, of course, no accident that Kazakhs are actively integrating these innovative technologies into urban planning and development – in Astana and beyond. Yet, Astana inevitably becomes the innovation hub and testing ground for the new technologies which are then replicated across the country.
In the coming years, Astana, with its population of one million, is expected to transform into a “smart” city. During Astana’s economic forum on May 18th, the city’s chief executive announced the plans to transform the capital into a global metropolis. Seeing the changes both across Kazakhstan and in its capital, one can’t help but get inspired by these ambitious plans. Kazakh authorities are looking at Singapore and Dubai as examples.
During the forum, it was announced that the city had already fully recovered its initial infrastructure investments – more than 2 trillion tenge, or 6 billion US dollars. No wonder Astana is seen as a major driving force of Kazakhstan’s economy. The emergence of the new capital boosted construction and manufacturing sectors, which in turn contributed to the growth of other supporting industries.
Astana is still developing. The authorities vigorously pursue private investors for the city’s large-ticket development projects. Official government statistics shows 300 billion US dollars in direct investments over 26 years of the country’s independence. This is more than 70% of all investments in Central Asia. The Netherlands, USA, Switzerland, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Italy, Japan, Belgium and Canada are listed among the largest investors. Almost 20 billion US dollars are invested in Astana. Needless to say, attracting investors and creating favorable investment climate is a key government priority.
By raising Astana from the ground up, Nursultan Nazarbaev demonstrated his country’s potential and ability to successfully pursue even the most ambitious goals. Economic indicators, which in this case confirm the government’s competency and efficiency, tell only part of the story. No less important is the overall message Kazakhstan is sending the world – Astana is a cosmopolitan capital. The city can take on any global challenges, including organizing international exhibitions and economic summits that attract top-notch international speakers and experts.
In 2017, Kazakh capital hosted Syria peace talks – and it was not at the request of Kazakh authorities. Astana was suggested by the participants as a neutral and trustworthy site that satisfied all the parties to this complicated process. It couldn’t have been a better endorsement for the young capital and its country’s leader!
It is no secret that modern political negotiations depend on the diplomatic skills and charisma of individual leaders. President Nazarbaev has rightfully earned the status of a wise leader. In many cases his authority becomes a determining factor.
The country’s leadership is already pursuing its next ambition – to turn Astana into international financial center. Following the EXPO, this is the next global challenge which is all but achieved. Recently the government announced that the new financial center “Astana” had registered 13 companies and has 20 on the waiting list. 100 companies will have registered by the end of the year and 500 hundred companies by 2021.
According to the capital’s mayor Aset Isekeshev, the new international financial center will further advance Astana’s development and cement the city’s reputation of political and global center. Then again, economically speaking, Astana already is a successful business venture. The government is planning to combine economic successes with cultural development, focusing first and foremost on the capital’s comfort and security. Having followed Astana’s development in the last 20 years, one can believe the new aspirations are within reach.