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The State and Prospects of Analytics Development in Uzbekistan

“For a long time, analysts in Uzbekistan existed not to critically analyze events and foster development of new proposals but rather to confirm and consolidate the country’s already established political and economic course” – notes expert Nazima Davletova in an article written especially for CABAR.asia.


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Analysis is a “litmus test” of the state, its development, and prospects of state policy. Political and economic analysis is the intellectual backbone of state policy, which provides an alternative vision and creates a draft of the future.

After the collapse of the USSR, newly independent states faced a number of problems in virtually all sectors of the economy and public life, which inevitably affected the state of analysis. Uzbekistan was no exception. The drop in the level of education and training, changes in social life, economic problems, and the related emigration of skilled personnel, on the one hand, and state construction aimed at linking national security to the security of the ruling elite led to a further drop in the level analytics in the country.

For a long time, analysts in Uzbekistan existed not to critically analyze events and foster development of new proposals but rather to confirm and consolidate the country’s already established political and economic course. To date, the reform of public service in Uzbekistan is impossible without the appropriate development of analysts.

Specific think tanks in Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, think tanks are mostly state-owned. Many of them were created by ministries and departments and remain accountable to them. There are about 12 think tanks in Uzbekistan. For comparison, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have about 28 and 27, respectively, and Tajikistan has 7. None of the Uzbek centers was included in the world index of the best think tanks, which is compiled by the University of Pennsylvania and evaluates by such criteria as influence on the adoption of political decisions, the authority and experience of employees, scientists and analysts, the quality and impact of publications, etc.[1]

Private think tanks are a big rarity for the analytical realities of Uzbekistan. Among them, the Center for Economic Development, created by the economist Julius Yusupov, and the Center for Political Initiatives “Māno”, recently founded by expert Bakhtiyor Ergashev, are the most relevant. It should be noted that experts have diametrically opposed views on a number of key issues of economic and political development, which can serve as a very positive factor for the development of the country’s analytical field. It is worth mentioning Farhad Talipov’s training center “Caravan of Knowledge”, which significantly intensified its activities during the current “thaw”.

It is also necessary to discuss the following analytical centers, which have the most influential staff and advantage in cooperation with foreign centers and foundations. The Institute of Strategic and Regional Studies Under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (ISRS) is one of the largest analytical centers in the country. It is engaged in issues of foreign & domestic policy, economic policy, and social development. Analytical documents are drafted mainly for the Security Council of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Then, with approval, they reach the top management table. Until 2017, the institute had more than 150 staff after it was reorganized and significantly reduced. ISRS was virtually always run by authoritative representatives of departmental structures and less often by academic circles. As of now, the institute’s director is former Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov.

Fundamental research and operational information & analysis reports are also developed by the staff of the Higher School of Strategic Analysis and Forecasting, which works under the supervision of the State Security Service (formerly the National Security Service). In fact, until 2017, this was the only research center where taboo topics were analyzed and openly discussed. Topics related to monetary policy, protest sentiments in the country, developing recommendations for more or less effective social protection for the public, as well as data on religious extremism and radicalism, dominated the think tank. Of course, all the analytical reports were at the behest of the top management table and were never published in the public domain.

The Center for Economic Research, which ranks 12th among the analytical centers of Central Asia and the Caucasus in the world index, remains the only think tank that has the form and content of a classical modern research center.[2] It was created under the Office of the President and was financed for a long time by the United Nations Development Program, which created favorable conditions for expanded studies involving representatives of state bodies, the private sector, other research structures, and NGOs. In the year, the center has issued more than 20 major analytical documents in various areas: macroeconomic research, issues of social policy, institutional development, and environmental impacts of development.[3] The results of some studies are published on the CER website, and they also publish the Economic Review journal.

In view of the undeveloped investment environment, the predominant customer for the research centers was mainly state structures. Given that the vast majority of centers were established under ministries and departments and funding was provided by large state-owned enterprises, their activities are closely monitored.

Analytical studies are not aimed at finding fundamentally new approaches and solutions. Conversely, the analysts had to buttress the existing policy and/or conduct research in a very narrow area that would not have a significant impact on policy in general.

Moreover, due to the limited sources of funding and strict accountability, these centers faced problems identical to those that existed in state structures: control over activities and employees, restrictions on publications, rigidity of the analysis methodologies, lack of qualified personnel, the existence of an invisible framework, “analytical censorship”, an unregulated work schedule, and many unpaid positions, as well as the lack of opportunities to engage in basic research. Among other things, think tanks faced objective problems such as low staff salaries, lack of reliable statistics on a number of key issues of state development, the complexity of conducting field research, and limited opportunities for cooperation with foreign research centers and institutions.

Analytical staffing shortages

The personnel shortage in Uzbekistan is felt in the analytical environment. One of the key problems remains insufficient material incentives. Average salaries in think tanks are about $ 200, often without a social package and a real career opportunity. Thus, this sphere cannot pretend to attract and retain highly qualified specialists who often choose the private sector or leave the country for work abroad. Moreover, the system of selection in many state analytical centers is similar to the one that is used for civil service, i.e. filling in special forms and passing “verification” through the relevant services. This creates additional barriers in the search for and selection of competent personnel. At the same time, it should be noted that qualified cadres in the field of political science and economic development with modern knowledge, who have a competent methodology for research, are lacking. There are many reasons for this, but the fundamental problem is the imperfection of the education system in these areas.

In 2015, the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education decided to ban the teaching of political science in universities, while the official closure of all faculties and departments specializing in political science, as well as councils for the protection of doctoral dissertations in political science, was announced in Uzbekistan in early 2013.[4] Such an attitude toward political science on the part of the government ensured the atrophy of critical analysis while the whole analysis of political life was reduced to unconditional maintenance of the existing political course.

According to a study by the think tank Caravan of Knowledge, in the field of political sciences from 1995 to 2012, 91 candidates wrote doctoral these predominantly concerning international relations and political culture.[5]

Diagram 1. Areas of research in Ph.D. thesis defended in Uzbekistan from 1995 to 2012.

Most of the work was written on the democratization of society while youth policy, education, international law, and political culture were the least researched areas. 30% of dissertations also show a securitization of political studies, together with various topics of safety.

Diagram 2. Ares of security studies in Uzbekistan from 1995 to 2012.

It is worth noting that the quality of the aforementioned works does not always correspond to the requirements of awarding a scientific degree. Most of the findings in the studies were reduced to ideological patterns, and the methodology was often completely absent. As for the analysis of economic problems, most of them have not been publicly discussed, and, accordingly, one cannot speak about their adequate analysis and the availability of any recommendations.

“Credibility” and “effectiveness” of analysts

Analytics in Uzbekistan, among other things, was characterized by scant publications and materials output. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, internal control over publications is extremely rigid. Each material, if not labeled “for official use”, must pass strict verification procedures before possible publication on external resources. Think tank employees were often restricted from accessing publications in foreign publications. If allowed, they underwent a certain “polishing” for local purposes. Independent cooperation with foreign partners was regulated and active contacts are regarded as undesirable. Self-censorship also made itself known, as some scientists tried not to advertise their scientific publications in foreign publications.

Secondly, the impossibility of publishing in respected foreign journals was also dictated by quite objective reasons: the majority of Uzbek scientists could not adjust to the modern academic and analytical industry. Insufficient knowledge of foreign languages, lack of skills for clear reasoning, and a failure to demonstrate proper methodology has limited access to the international academic environment for the overwhelming majority of analysts.

Despite the fact that some problems in the analytical environment have ceased to be relevant with the onset of the “thaw” (the ascension of Shavkat Mirziyoyev), it is unlikely to solve the problem of unreliable statistics in the near future. There are several sources that contain statistical data on a number of economic, political and social spheres of the state’s life: the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Institute for Forecasting and Macroeconomic Research under the Ministry of Economy, CER, and some figures on the development of civil society are provided by the Independent Institute for Monitoring Civil Society Formation.

However, given the lengthy oversight of such problems as the lack of conversion of foreign currency, imperfection of the tax code, high level of corruption, etc., the general macroeconomic indicators could not be considered reliable. Similarly, the situation with data on civil society development levels and general social issues is also absent. Work on foreign policy uses quantitative data from international organizations, which allows reliance on more or less trustworthy indicators. Centers wishing to conduct full-scale field research could not be carried out because of insufficient funding and existing tacit restrictions.

All these factors deprive the domestic think tanks of their main function – the development of quality recommendations for the government and participation in positive changes in the economic and social life of the state. Practically in all countries with progressive economies and developed civil societies, think tanks play an important role in shaping public views and influencing political decisions. This layer of authoritative scientists and public experts to whose opinion governments listen are extremely vital. Moreover, many countries have research centers in key areas of development: food security, ecology, education, health, water security, science & technology, and others. Twenty of the best think tanks are located mostly in the United States and Europe, as well as in Japan and the Republic of Korea. There, governments work closely with think tanks, seeing them as a reliable source of new solutions and practical recommendations.

Time for a change

During the past year, political and economic life in Uzbekistan has undergone significant changes. Almost all key spheres are in the process of reform: tax, customs, judicial, foreign policy, educational, public administration. Analytics is also undergoing significant changes, but the changes here are more likely to be invisible and latent than spasmodic. The state-sponsored non-governmental organizations of the Development Strategy Center, an analytical department created to cover all ongoing activities for the implementation of the Strategy of Action, publishes analytical materials linked directly to the strategy’s implementation.[6] The center is responsible for ensuring a broad discussion of ongoing reforms by creating a platform for the exchange of views and actively cooperating with foreign partners.

Research centers began to be created and/or developed by large universities for internal research. For example, at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, several research centers have been established for international politics, law, world economy, and environmental security. It is also necessary to highlight the activities of the private think-tank, Center for Economic Development. Participating in the development of the draft tax reform, the expert is the author of a number of journalistic articles on economic development, which marked the “thaw”. The center conducts various macro-and-microeconomic studies and are published on the organization’s website.

Large and small research centers came out of the shadows and established stable cooperation with foreign think tanks. They also sponsored roundtables and international conferences in order to exchange views, which are welcome.

Conclusions and recommendations

In drawing a conclusion, it should be noted that the development of analytics will become an indicator of the results of the forthcoming changes. The development of glasnost should occur in proportion to getting rid of the syndrome of “herd mentality”, when all the forces of state and non-state structures are aimed at maintaining the status quo under the guise of the public’s well-being and the correctness of the chosen state course. Critical thinking should develop at all levels of personnel training while modern methods of analysis are studied and mastered by scientists and analysts at the proper level.

Thus, for the adequate development of analysts in Uzbekistan, the following measures are necessary:

  • Creation of appropriate material incentive mechanisms for initiative and critical thinking;
  • Carry out research projects together with foreign partners;
  • Encourage individual employee initiatives to establish links with foreign funds and organizations, which will promote professional growth, as well as include additional financial incentives;
  • Initiation of interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial research;
  • Major international conferences and round tables (the International Conference on Security and Sustainable Development in the Central Asian Region and the Tashkent High-Level International Conference on Afghanistan) should have appropriate analytical support from local experts;
  • Departure from the old, Soviet methods of analysis. The international private sector has managed to introduce completely new methods of analysis and forecasting, which are widely used by the public sector in a number of countries. Alternative methods and analysis tools (programming) can help in developing recommendations for solving many social and economic problems;
  • With the development of market relations and the investment climate, the demand for consulting services will increase and the number of private think tanks will naturally increase in assessing political and financial risks.

References

[1] McGann, James G. 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. Report no. 13. International Studies, University of Pennsylvania. January 31, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2018. https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=think_tanks.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Personal Conversation with Staff of the CER.” Telephone interview by author. January 31, 2018.

[4] Galaev, Vladimir. “Uzbekistan Takes One More Step towards Babaization.” Gazeta.ru. September 2, 2015. Accessed May 28, 2018. https://www.gazeta.ru/science/2015/09/02_a_7733699.shtml.

[5] Political Science in Uzbekistan – 2.0. Report. January 16, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2018. http://uzbk.org/ru/Analitika/Politologiya-v-Uzbekistane-2.0.

[6] “Strategy of Actions on Five Priority Directions of Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021.” LexUZ. October 16, 2017. Accessed May 28, 2018. http://lex.uz/docs/3107042.

Author: Nazima Davletova, editor-in-chief of the online media project “Interview” by Gazeta.uz (Tashkent , Uzbekistan).

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of CABAR.asia.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.