Until the mid-2000s, one rarely associated the word “high-tech” with the country of Kazakhstan. Internet penetration hovered at 3 per cent in 2005, and Kazakh authorities generally neglected the internet and social media.
Liberalization of the media market in the early 2000s changed that. Usage of new media increased the number of Internet providers and stimulated e-commerce. When the government under President Nursutan Nazarbayev, in charge since the end of the Soviet Union, began to see the internet as a new highway for economic development, its belief in digital technologies grew.
By 2013, the percentage of internet users had skyrocketed to 54 per cent. The evolution of the Kazakh government’s relationship with the internet over that same period is an illustrative tale of how national-level digitization can both bring government closer to its people and threaten undemocratic regimes.