The problem with the World Bank’s 20th anniversary in Kyrgyzstan last November was that everybody else’s party had happened already.
There has been a blur of speeches, gala concerts, jazz bands, canapés, toasts and traditional performances as one embassy after another feted twenty years of partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic. The same guests, speeches, and – truth be told - probably the same canapés.
We had to do something different. So, as we celebrated the last 20 years of our work in Kyrgyzstan (which have been quite good), we toasted the next 20 years as well.
I began by telling our guests that in 2032, Kyrgyzstan would be celebrating its new Upper Middle Income Status. Twenty years of 6.5% growth in output per head will do the trick: Kyrgyzstan will celebrate the $4000 per person per year mark and a quadrupling of its GDP per person just as the World Bank celebrates its 40th anniversary there.
There were already some very skeptical faces and some heads shaking.
At that point, I broke off from my prepared speech and asked them: why should Kyrgyzstan not be so successful? Why not expect success and plan for it?
I explained that in 2032, Kyrgyzstan would be a major exporter of gourmet foodstuff, high-end clothes and shoes. Fashionable women in Paris would want to go shopping in Bishkek. Tourists from all over the world would visit Kyrgyzstan for its well-developed eco-tourism in summer and skiing in winter.
Life expectancy will continue to rise. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are now the main killers in Kyrgyzstan, but by 2032 the country will have a great preventative medicine system (and less vodka and cigarettes).
(Read the World Bank's latest Europe and Central Asia health report here.)
At this point the audience began to feel it.
The speech ended up being completely different from what I had intended. What was supposed to be a rather mundane economic forecast ended up being a heartfelt and optimistic talk.
It comes down to this - I admire the people of this country: at how they rebuilt the economy from scratch after the fall of the Soviet Union, how they boldly reformed in the 1990s, how quickly they learnt to become entrepreneurs, how they created a parliamentary democracy in the summer of 2010, how they speak to one another with candor and welcome new ideas with open minds.
Sure, the country has problems. But nobody should be cynical about Kyrgyzstan’s next 20 years.