A Tale of Two Countries: Indonesia and Kazakhstan; So Different, But So the Same

Dennis de Tray


This paper sheds light on two development success stories that because autocratic leaders orchestrated them seldom get the attention they deserve. Indonesia and Kazakhstan on the surface could not be more different, yet as an international development person who has worked extensively in both countries, they bear similarities that carry important lessons for the international development community and other developing countries. The starting point is the observation that both countries represent development successes absolutely and relative to their natural comparators. Among the key messages from these experiences is that there may be times in a countries development when a strong, benevolent autocratic ruler is a better governance model than democracy, contrary to the messages and beliefs of many western countries, most especially the United States.  Both Suharto in Indonesia and Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan were not afraid to surround themselves with and listen to world-class technocrats who for the most part supported highly conventional (Washington-consensus) development policies. The weakness in this development model is the end game. Strong autocrats who have created a country find it difficult to manage the “end game,” that is to orchestrate smooth transitions from their regime to what follows. When one adds to this that they also often keep institutions weak to avoid challenges to their power, the result is an often difficult and costly leadership transition. Moreover, the international community has not been helpful in providing advice on how to manage this transition.

Keywords: Autocratic, development policy, Indonesia, Kazakhstan

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ISSN (Paper)2224-607X ISSN (Online)2225-0565

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