As Turkmenistan is seeking to reengage with the global community after years of isolation, it is trying to figure out how to balance interests of its immediate neighbors with others around the world. Issues of interest to the global community are plenty – for instance, last week’s inaugural session of the US Annual Bilateral Consultations (ABC) with Turkmenistan’s government focused on Afghanistan, human rights, security, energy, and economic cooperation. The U.S.-Turkmenistan Business Council organized a three day mission to coincide with the ABC and looked to facilitate U.S. investment in the energy, agri-business, aerospace, technology, and infrastructure spheres.
A statue of Turkmenbashi (former President Sapamurat Niyazov) in Ashgabat (Photo: http://www.monocle.com/sections/affairs/Web-Articles/Turkmenistan/)
In a world that continues to be shaped by growing global economic integration and fragmentation of political power, states resistant to change are finding the status quo more and more difficult to maintain. While most national leaders acknowledge the realities of economic and political interdependence, some are hesitant to release domestic economic forces due to fears of political change. Of the many countries that fit these parameters, Turkmenistan provides a fascinating case study.
Anti-Corruption Conference in Astana
Two weeks ago I attended an international conference
on fighting corruption and promoting good governance in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that took place in Astana, Kazakhstan and was co-organized by the OECD and the Financial Police of Kazakhstan. This was a particularly significant event because it was the first conference of this kind in the post-Soviet space since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Over 150 delegates from over 40 countries from as far away as Latin America to as nearby as Kyrgyzstan included high-level dignitaries and anti-corruption specialists who descended onto a seemingly empty, but posh capital city of Astana for several days. It is difficult not to think of fighting corruption and improving good governance as two of the most fundamentally critical pillars for increasing widereaching national economic prosperity and developing sound, transparent and accountable democratic institutions. Disappointingly, however, civil society was notably absent from this event.
Several years back, I had the privilege (and challenge!) of teaching English for a couple years in a rural village in Central Asia. Almost before I got out my very first “Good morning, class!” my students were asking me why they should even bother learning a language they would never use. Ah ha! I had come to class prepared; I told them that  learning any new language is a good mental exercise and can help us understand things about other cultures as well as our own,  knowing English gives you a huge advantage in a developing economy – many of the new job opportunities opening up (in IT or tourism, for example) almost require English proficiency, and  you just never know when it might come in handy.
My answers were met with blank looks. I could hear the placid chewing of the local cows standing outside in the mud, right below our classroom window. Munch, munch…
I was going to have to do better than that. Some of my students quietly agreed with me (these were the ones who had planned to go to university to become English teachers), while others gently and bemusedly reminded me that they really didn’t need to know how to speak English to be good at herding sheep on the jailoo. I didn’t get a great response from the future potato farmers, either. As the weeks passed, many of my students actually became quite excited about learning a new language and made very thoughtful contributions to our class, but I had already learned something very important about teaching: the lesson must be RELEVANT.
Posted in Eurasia, Global, Middle East and North Africa
Tagged central asia, civil society, education, efham, egypt, entrepreneurship, global entrepreneurship week, international education week, MENA, middle east north africa