Coca-Cola’s representative office in Tajikistan has, as a marketing gimmick, begun to sell soda bottles printed with recognizably local names on the side.
To advertise the drive, the company has erected billboards around the city showing typical examples of what the Coca-Cola bottles will look like. In a remarkable coincidence, many of the names chosen to grace the hoardings happen to be same as those of President Emomali Rahmon’s numerous offspring.
There is a Rustam, for the the mayor of Dushanbe, Rustam Emomali. And then an Ozoda, for Ozoda Rahmon, chief of staff in the presidential administration. And also Zarina, Parvina and Tahmina.
For safe measure, there were other names in the mix, like Alisher and Hurshed, but many Tajiks have already made up their mind that Coca-Cola is playing politics and seeking to curry the favor of the elite.
The president has another three daughters — Rukhshona, Farzona, Firuza — and a son, Somon, but EurasiaNet.org could not immediately confirm if they got the Coca-Cola treatment too. In any event, Rustam Emomali and Ozoda Rahmon are by far the most important pair to please.
Coca-Cola and affiliated products — like Fanta and Sprite, Piko fruit juice, Bonaqua mineral water, Burn energy drink and Fuse Tea — are bottled and distributed in Tajikistan by Turkish-owned CCI Tajikistan, a company established in 2015.
It is understandable that CCI Tajikistan is eager not to run into any problems, seeing as it has sunk $70 million into its Tajikistan operations, which include a plant in Dushanbe.
And experience shows it is best to stay on the right side of Tajik authorities. When Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani fell foul of the government back in his home country, Tajikistan swiftly moved to claim all his assets as its own.
The worst hit in Tajikistan have been the major mobile phone companies — Beeline, Tcell and Megafon Tajikistan — which got slapped with multimillion dollar fines amid spurious tax evasion claims.
Asia-Plus earlier this year cited the European Union’s man in Tajikistan, Hidajet Biščević, as saying that 35 European companies had addressed him with complaints about Tajikistan’s tax authorities harassing them.
“Some foreign companies are even planning to leave the Tajik market,” he said.
France’s ambassador to Tajikistan, Yasmine Gouédard, has also complained about investment conditions in the country, noting that corruption and taxes are creating barriers. By way of an example, she pointed to the examples of energy company Total and the retailer Auchan, which have both experienced trouble in Tajikistan.
“During my meeting with the minister of economy and development, I dwelled on the topics of corruption and taxes and said that as long as there are problems, I will warn French entrepreneurs about it. Let’s not hide the fact that when an investor comes to another country, it is expensive. We have many companies that have enormous experience in sectors that are of value to Tajikistan. But if they come to this country, it is not just so they can lose money,” she said earlier this year.
Accordingly, there are some basic rules for foreign investors to follow. Any time they open any newly created facility — no matter how trivial — it should be President Rahmon that is cutting the ribbon. Depending on how strict the anticorruption rules are in their own country, it never does companies any harm to somehow compensate high-ranking officials that provide any assistance in smoothing the path to success.
But an evergreen option is, of course, old-fashioned flattery.