Tajikistan’s Strongman Appoints Son to Lead Corruption Fight
Tajikistan’s president often enthuses about leaving behind a country better than the one he took over 23 years ago. But the impoverished Central Asian nation fares poorly in many studies – from transparency and doing business to health and education – often because of the corruption that plagues the country’s weak institutions.
A new appointment promises to change all that.
On March 16, President Emomali Rahmon appointed his 27-year-old son, Rustam Emomali, to head the national anti-corruption agency – the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption – according to a decree posted on the president’s website. Emomali will report to his father and leave his post at the Customs Agency, which he has led for almost a year and a half.
The president is entrusting his son with one of the most delicate tasks in the country. In the past, the anti-corruption agency has been accused of helping some of Tajikistan’s murky criminal-political factions gain ascendency over others, of being a political tool to snuff out rivals. At the least, it has been faulted for not fulfilling its mandate. Tajikistan, after all, ranks 152 out of 175 in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.
Emomali has enjoyed an impressive career, especially for a young man from a country where unemployment is so rampant that roughly one-half of working-age males seek jobs abroad. When he was in his early 20s, he held a seat on the city council of the capital, Dushanbe. At 23, Emomali took on smuggling at the Customs Service, and came to control the whole agency within a year. He also heads Tajikistan’s Football Federation and owns one of its leading clubs.
Never mind that Emomali is not known as a particularly clever manager, or that rumors floating out of the offices where he has worked suggest his colleagues and subordinates are reduced to terrified yes-men in his presence.
Many believe the president is grooming him for the top spot. In a regime that no longer tolerates an opposition, Emomali’s lineage is his CV.
Indeed, Rahmon’s children and extended-family members are generally a successful bunch, the kind that would make any patriarch proud.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.