Today you find me in reflective mood, contemplating what the the future might hold for Central Asia and Krgyzystan in particular. So you'll find a want of tawdry tales of drunken debauchary, surreal occurences, comic goings on, off the cuff quips and self-deprecating comedy rambles in today's blog. Today shall be a serious taking of stock, a heartfelt analysis of what the future might hold for my sometime country of residence.
Good, so now that I've scared off the vast majority of my readership (if I'd thrown in a handful of facts and figures into the opening paragraph I might have got rid of you all) lets get contemplative.
For I confess that over my residency I have grown to care for this country and its peoples, with all its problems, idiosyncracies and occasionally just damned illogical opinions.
So, what does the future hold? Well, though I confess my opinions probably don't ammount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, here is my tenpenn'orth worth.
The main problem/danger/stumbling block to progress (call it what you will) that most people here can identify clearly enough, but everyone plays along with whilst at the same time bemoaning, is that of corruption. Bribery, cheating, backhanders, nepotism, a bit more cheating, cronyism and the whole unmarked brown envelopes stuffed with unmarked, non-sequential bills rot of it all is so endemic, so normalised, that it will take some serious political will (which is decidedly lacking) and a major seachange in attitudes to even begin to make a change. As a partially sighted person, noone in their right minds would allow me behind the wheel or a car, but I've been told in all seriousness that with a few crisp bills in the right pocket I could be driving the streets, fully licensed before the week is out. A good friend of mine recently took a series of finance exams and presented a thesis, but not as herself, in the role of a friend of hers who is away working in bloddy Moscow. My friend didn't even study finance herself, but this is all seen as normal. Lord knows, the ex-president was so corrupt he happily sold of chunks of his own country to neighbouring regimes in order to line his own pocket. Want a degree? Driving licence? To have a day out hunting endangered species with your pals? Handy Kyrgyz Passport? Murder someone and have it discreetly hushed up? All achievable to a man with the right contacts and deep enough pockets.
Another major problem for Kyrgyzstan is a paucity of natrual resources. Although there's a few companies rooting around in the mountains for minerals of one sort or another, it has nothing like the oil reserves that are currently making Kazakhstan one of the best loved, most befriended authoritarian regimes on earth.
And thirdly, and tellingly, ethnic tensions are still very much present, particularly in the south. The ethnic Russians are still leaving in large numbers (indeed, there is a general brain drain of the well educated out of Kyrgyzstan), and the bitterness between Kyrgyz and Uzbek in the aftermath of the riots in Osh last year is palpable (read my old colleague Max Bishkek's Guardian article about his interviews with victims of the violence to get an idea of the extent of the emnity).
So, the problems are clear...but where are the opportunities.
Well I can see two big opportunities. The first is in tourism, most specifically adventrue tourism. There's huge, still largely untapped, potential to develop skiing (both on piste and cross country), horse trekking, climbing and gorge scrambling, hill walking and mountaneering, rafting and kayaking and any number of other outdoor pursuits. The key to achieving this is simple, investment. And investment will come if political stability is maintained (there's a Catch 22 here pretty clear to see).
The second opportunity is water. Kyrgyzstan has a pretty abundant supply of water, meltwater from the mountains mostly, in a fairly arid region that is still trying to grow water intensive crops like cotton. This resource is likely to become increasingly impotant in the coming years (have a look at this for an informed point of view about why).
So there you go, my pontifications, for what they're worth.
King Charles is on his way back through this coming weekend and there are a number of leaving do's coming up, so no doubt it'll be back to tales of drunken debauchary soon enough.