Ecosystem Deep Dives #27: Uzbekistan - Total Reboot
A drastic change in governance has led to Uzbekistan reinventing itself and its national start-up ecosystem in the process.
Fall from grace
Uzbekistan was one of the ancient Silk Roads’ nerve centers, hosting some of the world’s most historically-filled cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara. While the Soviets technically created what we now know as Uzbekistan, the country’s national identity is bound together by its Islamic heritage as well as historical figures such Amir Timur, the founder of the Timurid Empire who placed his imperial capital in Samarkand.
Following its independence from the USSR in 1991, Uzbekistan was led by strongman Islam Karimov until his death in 2016. His reign was marked by a plethora of human rights abuses, exemplified by the strange forced labor Uzbeks had to endure during the annual cotton harvest (a practice which has since been abolished). He was followed by his former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has embarked on a series of civil and economic reforms significant enough to earn Uzbekistan the title of “2019 country of the year”, from British newspaper The Economist.
While the country is far from being “free” by any accounts, reforms undertaken by Mirizoyev have heralded a new era of economic openness that have started to liberate Uzbek entrepreneurial fervor, and has led to a heightened interest by foreign investors who see Uzbekistan as a land of opportunity where everything is yet to build.