“I am a patriot” says Akmal Rustamovich, a 25 year old international relations student, whose organisation GIV-Accent joined the PWYP-Tajikistan coalition in 2013. Proud of his country where 60% of the population is aged under 30, Akmal is part of a small team that runs GIV-Accent. Based in Khujand city, in the Northern part of the country, this NGO was founded in 2002 to familiarise young people with democratic values and political practices through debate clubs, educational workshops or by training groups of young people to act as observers during general elections, such as those coming up to elect a new Parliament in February 2015.
Raising awareness among the youth about their right to vote and their duties as citizens has been Akmal’s passion since he started studying and became acquainted with critical thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, to whom he delightfully referred to explain the rationale behind his organisation’s work: “What does democracy mean? It means that citizens are free to develop their independent mind.” Unfortunately, in Central Asia this does not come naturally, Akmal believes, and this is why his organisation’s work is crucial in educating capable and informed citizens. This is also the reason why GIV-Accent decided to affiliate with the PWYP coalition established in Tajikistan in 2011. “We are a very rich country. We have gold, silver, uranium… a lot of water. Tajikistan has a lot of potential” claims Akmal who wants to “open young people’s eyes about our natural resources.”
Indeed, information is key to a healthy relationship between a government and its people because without information, citizens are not able to hold their decision-makers to account and ensure that the latter enact policies that are in the country’s best interest. In a resource rich country like Tajikistan, this particularly applies to the extractive sector. Yet, secrecy has so far prevailed. “Truth must be the priority of a democracy” argues Akmal who supports PWYP’s ambitious Vision 20/20 and initiatives like the EITI, which will allow the Tajik population to know exactly how much natural resource extraction contributes to the state budget. In particular, Akmal welcomes Tajikistan’s decision to take part in the beneficial ownership disclosure pilot, whereby the real owners of extractive companies operating in Tajikistan will be made public: “It’s very strategic, it will allow young people to do their own analysis, to unveil for instance any politically exposed person who owns extractive licenses in Tajikistan. Politicians will become fearful of those who speak the truth.” Living in an age of information, Akmal believes that freedom comes from widening one’s knowledge through access to information: “Smart men run for the truth, not for money.”