Tajikistan faces a range of complex development challenges, in particular around migration, employment, gender and education; issues that have only deepened in recent years due to the global economic downturn.
International Alert began working in Tajikistan in 2010 to help address the need for creative, responsive policy approaches to tackle some of these challenges. Two of the main objectives of this have been to build the analytical capacity of local independent researchers and facilitate effective cooperation between independent researchers and government departments.
This kind of cooperation is important in Tajikistan, as there is a lot of mutual distrust between the government and civil society, and spaces for cooperation are becoming increasingly squeezed.
For the past two years, we have been implementing the European Union-funded ‘Building bridges’ project, which has just come to a close. A major outcome of the project has been the establishment of the Civil Society Contact Group (CSCG), which is made up of independent experts, journalists and activists from both non-governmental organisations and government departments.
The group participated in a tailored training programme to strengthen their analytical and research skills, including a practical research project on topics that are potentially conflict generating. Among these were: returning labour migrants and their reintegration into Tajik society; access to higher education; media coverage of economic and gender issues; attitudes to civil society; environmental problems; and the use of forest resources.
The findings of this research were then presented at a series of roundtable discussions with government representatives, journalists and civil society experts in the capital Dushanbe as well as in the regional centres of Khorog (Gorno-Badakhshan), Khujand (Sughd) and Kurgan-teppa (Khatlon).
Results so far
The mix of government and non-governmental members of the group has helped to build relationships and break down the mutual distrust between the two sectors. Working with individual representatives of government departments proved a particularly successful strategy, as they recognise the need for independent research and policy proposals, and the work they were involved in as part of the project was highly relevant to their day-to-day jobs.
For example, one of the CSCG members works at the Research Institute on Labour, Migration, and Employment, under the Ministry of Labour, and his research for the project looked at employment problems of returning labour migrants in the Gorno-Badakhshan region. The ministry not only allowed him the time to conduct the research, but also to engage other colleagues in the process and discussion of the findings.
“The space for debate and dialogue on migration has now opened up,” says Alert’s Projects Manager in Tajikistan Shahribonu Shonasimova. The various roundtables and other events held by the project led to CSCG members becoming more confident in the possibility for dialogue with the government, and for the relevant government structures to be more accepting of the value of the consultation with civil society.”
The research enabled the ministry to get a more accurate picture of the estimated number of returnees and their employment prospects, and therefore start to formulate mitigation strategies. According to the research, there was a 27% drop in the number of labour migrants from Gorno-Badakhshan working abroad in 2014 compared to the previous year. And of those who have returned, only around one-third are in employment and the prospects for the other two-thirds are limited – even taking into consideration potential job-creation initiatives that the regional government can mobilise at relatively short notice. This signalled that a range of mitigation strategies are going to be needed.
No independent ‘think tank’ models currently exist in the public policy sphere in Tajikistan, which are restricted to government research institutions, and previous research and training projects have targeted professional analysts and academics. Alert’s project therefore sought to empower civil society actors to be able to enter into policy dialogues with the government, based on high-quality data, analysis and meaningful recommendations. In doing so, we also sought to spur a demand for independent think tank level research among government agencies and to position independent researchers as valuable sources of expertise.
The CSCG provides a useful model for an independent think tank in Tajikistan. We are therefore planning to expand the programme by opening the group to new members and providing more advanced trainings, mentoring and supervised internships. We also want to strengthen the advocacy component, involving journalists in an investigative and public policy reporting project and through active engagement in policy processes. In addition, we will widen the scope of topics to examine conflict-generating issues from a regional perspective, bringing in analysts from other Central Asian countries.
As we progress with this work, we will publish updates at www.international-alert.org/tajikistan. You can read our policy recommendations based on the migration findings, Changing patterns of labour migration in Tajikistan, in English and Russian.
Photo: Three members of the Civil Society Contact Group take part in a training on methodologies for conducting analytical research. © International Alert