Congratulations Tajikistan! After erecting the world’s tallest flagpole and sewing the longest flag, you have earned another number-one spot this year by becoming the most remittance-dependent economy in the world.
Last year, officially, $2.3 billion came pouring into the country from Tajik laborers abroad. That was 31 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP, the World Bank said on December 1. Approximately a million Tajiks work abroad. Most are young men working in Russia, often on dangerous construction sites. Looking at villages empty of able-bodied men, some believe the absentees comprise roughly half the country’s potential work force.
Lesotho, Samoa, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan (number five at 21 percent) followed Tajikistan as the countries most dependent on remittances as a share of GDP, according to the ranking. View all data here.
The study only measures “officially recorded remittance flows,” which include bank wires and transfers through agencies like Western Union and Unistream. Real numbers are likely higher as some migrants carry wads of cash and goods home with them.
The World Bank cautioned that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are especially vulnerable to shocks reverberating from Russia’s hydrocarbon mono-economy. Russia’s lack of alternative industry means a dip in the price of oil can deeply affect the whole region’s economy: “Outflows from Russia, mainly to Central Asian countries, have increased with the recovery of oil prices, but appear to have become more volatile in the post-crisis period.” When cash dries up, migrants are the first to be fired.
The news should be another sobering reminder to President Emomali Rakhmon of just how dependent his country is on Russia. The embarrassing recent airplane scandal, when Tajikistan jailed two ethnic Russian pilots on bizarre charges of smuggling spare parts, ended with a sudden about-face when Russia began rounding up Tajiks for deportation. When it comes time to try to milk the Russian military to keep its bases in Tajikistan, Rakhmon has few muscular arguments in his favor.
As one friend in Dushanbe often says, mocking the mythology his government uses to celebrate independence from Moscow in 1991, which ended direct subsidies, “We’re the most independent country in the world because nothing depends on us.”