Development Theories: where does Uzbekistan stand?

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the former Soviet states declared their independence. Uzbekistan officially became a democratic constitutional republic. The former Communist Party in Uzbekistan was re-named the Liberal Democratic Party. Warning: don’t have your hopes too high for a smooth transition to democracy!

Modernization theory unfortunately cannot be applied to the case of Uzbekistan although one would hope that with its economic development and modernization efforts, the country would become a “political democracy.” Applying Przeworski and Lemongi’s theoretical description of a democratic regime (it has very specific four rules), we can see the Uzbekistan’s regime is not a democracy. It is an authoritarian state, referred to by academics as “pseudodemocracy” or a “hybrid regime” (Rustemova, 2011), just to name a few.

Cotton field

Uzbekistan can be used as a good example for the dependency theory. It was situated on a periphery of the Soviet Union (was called “Russian backyard”) and it primarily focused on producing cotton for the benefit of the central government in Moscow and depended on deliveries of goods and oil from other states.


Doing more research, I stumbled upon a phrase “Uzbek Model of Development” praised on the official website of Permanent Mission of Uzbekistan to the UN, and noted by IMF as “the Uzbek growth puzzle” and “Uzbek heterodox development” (McKinley, 2010). It refers to the Karimov’s plan of choosing a gradual transformation to a market based economy and “extended period of import substitution.” (McKinley, 2008).

Muruntau gold mine
Muruntau Gold Mine

After being dependent on petroleum during the Soviet times, Uzbekistan became self-sufficient in oil production, it diversified its exports of other commodities besides cotton (gold, silver, copper), and was able to produce 90% of grain for domestic use by converting land from cotton growing to the grain fields.


uzbekneftegaz logo2014
Uzbekneftegas company logo
grain production
Grain field

According to the McKinley’s report, the country’s GDP grew steadily, from 4% in early 2000 to 12.8% in 2008. He also notes that “Uzbekistan’s heterodox policies have served it fairly well” and warns of the commodities “resource curse” in the long run. He suggests to further diversify non-traditional exports, “to channel its domestic savings into productive private investments,” and the need of the reforms of the current financial system.

International_Monetary_Fund_logo.svgIMF’s official press release of May 13, 2015 reports the further growth of the national GDP in 2015 (by 8.1% in 2014) and suggests a development of private sector, improving business environment, governance and transparency.


According to the Economic Freedom Ranking, Uzbekistan placed #166 out 178 in the world, and #39 out 42 in Asia Pacific region.

Uzbekistan Econ World Ranking

Read more about Uzbekistan Economy.
See more from the 2016 Index.

In conclusion, Karimov was able to successfully adopt “an Uzbek model” of gradual transition to a market-based economy solely governed by the state, with a promise to its citizens of “economic security in exchange for political support,” therefore creating a negative image of democracy with its “brutal” free market and “its inability to cope with inequality”   (Rustemova, 2011).



“Uzbek Model” of Development a Model for Other Countries, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United Nations Office and other International Organisations in Geneva. Retrieved from

Terry McKinley, Uzbekistan: From Import Subsitution to Export Boom (2008) The Resource Curse Development Digest No. 1 December 2008. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Terry McKinley, The Puzzling Success of Uzbekistan’s Heterodox Development (2010), Development Viewpoint, Number 44, January 2010. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Assel Rustemova, Political Economy of Central Asia: Initial Reflections on the Need for a New Approach (March 2010), Journal of Eurasian Studies 2 (2011), 30-39. doi: 10.1016/j.euras.2010.10.002 Retrieved from

Press Release No. 15/216 of May 13, 2015 “IMF Staff Completes 2015 Article IV Mission to the Republic of Uzbekistan.” Retrieved from

2016 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation in Partnership with Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from


7 thoughts on “Development Theories: where does Uzbekistan stand?

  1. Great post and interesting background on Uzbekistan a country I am not familiar with. They are doing very well with there natural resources and abilities to increase their GDP wealth. It is questionable if they will ever get to a true democracy given the stability and growth of the current market. I’m not quite sure I understand their statement “economic security in exchange for political support”, how do you separate the two, your governmental infrastructure has a lot of influence on economic security….Thanks again Allan


    1. Thank you, Allan. Karimov only lets certain policies to be put in place in exchange for people to elect the him over and over again, giving him full authoritarian control of everything. The state regulates everything, economy, politics, people, social support, education, you name it. I was actually surprised to see that the country did well according to McKinley’s articles but if you check any indexes (corruption, economic, freedom, human rights) it does not look good on a grander scale.


  2. Hi Guljan, I found your post so informative! I really look forward to learning more about Uzbekistan throughout the semester. Just to add, I recalled that I recently read an article (albeit an extremely small one) in the New York Times (online) regarding the Uzbeck cotton industry and prevalent forced labor. After doing some searching, I was able to locate it: As per the article, the US recently raised Uzbekistan’s ranking in the US State Department’s 2015 Trafficking Persons Report (Reuters 2016). The article implied that this move may have been more for diplomatic reasons rather than real progress in the government addressing forced cotton labor (Reuters 2016). Local activists are concerned with the response from the Uzbekistan government (Reuters 2016).

    Reuters, “Uzbek Rights Group Says U.S. Move Endangers Labor Activists”, New York Times, February 2016,


    1. Thank you for the comment and the link, Lauren! I am not surprised at the US “diplomatic” actions due to Uzbekistan’s strategic geopolitical location. Uzbek leader is really known for his ability to being able to pull strings his way.

      As for forced cotton labor, it was mandatory for students (starting in middle school) during cotton picking season to “help the motherland to achieve yet another cotton picking goal or record.” We were taken by buses together with our teachers to the cotton producing regions and we stayed in the army style barracks with row of bunk beds surrounded by the cotton fields for miles. We had outhouse toilets with no running water, just a hole in the wooden floor. Once a week we were taken to a nearby bathhouse to be able to wash ourselves and do some simple laundry by hand. Each morning we were taken to a field, given a sack (to be tied around the neck and back to collect the cotton fibers), and we had a quota of a several kilos to be picked daily per person. Mind you, cotton is SO light, it was really difficult even to get one kilogram (think of cotton balls bags sold in pharmacy – even if there is 10 or 20 bags filled with cotton balls, it would still be very light in weight). My back would hurt after being in a bending position and my hands would be scratched and sometimes bleed because the shape of the dry open pods containing cotton fibers had elongated sharp ends. Open cotton pod looks pretty and its shape often used in the national pottery (you can see it on one of the pictures in the Introduction page under Food, it’s a plate with a dark blue and white pattern). During my college years, we repeated the trip every fall for several weeks, and there was no way out of it (unless one had really strong connections with the right people to be excused or a poor health that needed to be confirmed by an appointed physician). Punishment for failure to go to the cotton picking could result in a student’s expulsion from the university and on the personal record. So everyone had to comply with this practice, including students, teachers/professors and people in charge of the colleges. Between ourselves we called this free labor “mandatory-voluntary.” Even after I started working, my colleagues and I were still sent to help with cotton picking but at least, we were able to collect our salaries while “away.”


      1. Wow, what a compelling personal experience Guljan. Thank you so much for sharing. I have so many more questions now about the extent to which these practices still occur, the progress of civil society (local activism) and their efforts, etc. However, I will eagerly await your next post!


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