Could Kyrgyzstan’s Microfinance Bubble Burst?

Late last month, the Kyrgyzstan’s National Bank abruptly shuttered 94 microfinance lenders, allegedly for charging well above the industry-average interest rate of 38 percent. But observers fear the move will do little to cool what appears to be an overheating microfinance market.

Kyrgyzstan’s poor, unbanked and largely rural population, along with its lax regulatory environment, has triggered a microfinance boom in recent years. A microfinance institution (MFI) can be founded with only 100,000 Kyrgyz soms ($2,175); staff need no expertise in microfinance, let alone banking. With so little data and transparency, a crisis analogous to the US subprime mortgage meltdown of 2008, where the riskiest loans at the fringes of the market ended up sinking the entire economy, is not difficult to picture.

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Zhanaozen Trials Set to Leave Many Unanswered Questions

The ongoing trials of those indicted for crimes related to labor strikes in the western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen appear unlikely to answer questions about the country’s domestic security policy, or prevent repeat incidents. While President Nazarbayev has declared that the striking workers were acting within their rights, and his ambassador to the U.S. insists that the trials will vindicate Kazakhstan’s progress towards the rule of law, the proceedings appear to demonstrate otherwise. Prosecutors have cast a wide net that entangles striking workers, local activists, opposition politicians, and vague foreign instigators in the plot to destabilize social order in the country.

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Interview on Central Asia’s Fast Food Industry

Below is an interview for EurasiaNet’s Yigal Schleifer’s food and food industry blog, Kebabistan:

For those of you who missed it, Central Asia-based Eurasianet contributor Myles Smith had a great story out of Bishkek about Begemot (“hippopotamus”), a local fast food chain that’s revolutionizing the Kyrgyz food scene by selling western-style burgers. Curious to learn more about the story, I sent Smith — a freelance analyst who has lived in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan for the last five years — a few questions to find out how this Central Asian McDonald’s was working its way into the hearts and stomaches of Kyrgyz eaters and — most importantly — just how does the “hippo” burger stack up against a Big Mac and its other “western” competitors:

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Bishkek Burger Barons Channel Ray Croc’s Spirit

This is a tale of a hippo emulating a behemoth. The outcome is a Central Asian version of a Happy Meal.

For a region that has long associated the term “gamburger” with Turkish-style mutton sliced from a spit, the meals served up at Begemot are a bit unfamiliar—beef patties on a fresh white bun, layered with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise. Even stranger, the food is served up in less than five minutes, even at peak hours, and made to order by an assembly line of young men and women dressed in clean red and white uniforms. Continue reading Bishkek Burger Barons Channel Ray Croc’s Spirit