New to Ulaanbaatar December 2018

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping a list of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: August 2018October 2017June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | May 2014 | October 2013 | October 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

I’ve copied the 2014-18 lists here and am adding to it. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

What has arrived?

  • sadly: Louis Vuitton, KFC, Burberry Kids, Ugg and a Porsche dealership
  • Mini, Bentley
  • child seats
  • sidewalks
  • parks
  • farmers’ markets
  • yoga
  • dogs on leashes
  • Sunday morning joggers and bikers
  • burgeoning coffee culture
  • river walkway along the Dund River (under construction in May 2015 but looking very promising)
  • city park along the Tuul
  • sports cars
  • organic shopping
  • gated communities (virtually all the new developments towards and in Zaisan)
  • wheelchair accessibility (moved from “What Will Appear” category as ministries are now (meant to be) wheelchair-accessible)
  • the “#замчөлөөл” hastag, a city campaign to shame property owners about their infringement of public space. Seems – quietly – very successful when you look at many photos posted.
  • large-scale BBQ extravaganza on the banks of the Tuul river, particularly near the ASEM Road. On summer weekends, so many cars parked right on the riverside, BBQs planted right next to them, families camping out, some literally
  • Harley-Davidson (now seemingly endorsed by new PM U Khurelsukh)
  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • bike lanes and bike parking, being shooed off bike lanes by riders (though not in December!)
  • street names and signs in the city
  • fat tire bikes
  • home air filtration systems that everyone is talking about
  • Hummer stretch limousine
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass under construction just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • Canadian cold weather brands, Canada Goose and Arc’teryx are everywhere, fake or not.
  • fully electric cars (though I don’t know where they charge)
  • electronic payment systems. There are a number of apps issued by Mongolian banks. There are some QR-code based payment systems. Often credit card payment is approved via a fingerprint reader.
  • Christmas Store, apparently

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • stationary 80s-office-phone-looking old-granny cell phone booth
  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • free WiFi on Sukhbaatar, er Chinggis Khaan, er, Sukhbaatar Square, er, Chinggis Khaan Square
  • open gullys/missing manholes
  • street kids (they seem to come and go. In summer 2017 there were very few of them again.)
  • packs of dogs
  • smoking
  • the sixth-floor souvenir shop at the State Department Store (though perhaps seasonal)
    oversized sunglasses for women that were so popular across Asia (?) some years ago
  • Nescafé (see above on coffee culture)
  • surprise at seeing bicycles
  • hillside Chinggis visible from the city centre as more tall buildings are constructed

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • new airport, apparently opening in 2019. I drove by there in summer 2017. Oh my, it is far from the city!
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside (and not just the very random, very occasional ones that can be found now)
  • network of cross-country riding (bike and horse) trails (though not in central Ulaanbaatar)
  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep)
  • Canada Goose, Arc’teryx
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • tap payment system, perhaps using the transit card
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stray dogs
  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean around 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452) but see above
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn.
Posted in Change, Curios, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Political Bowl of Цуйван

By Julian Dierkes

Clearly, the second half of November into December 2018 has been an exciting time for observers of Mongolian politics. When the SME Fund scandal started gathering protest online, I was about to by an airplane ticket to join the revolution. Instead, I waited two weeks and arrived just after the Khurelsukh government had survived a vote of no-confidence.

But, I arrived seeking answers to what recent events might mean for bigger political trends, and for my expectation that we’ll see some kind of revolution in Mongolian politics in the next, oh, ten years, either in spurts, or all at once. But instead of answers, everyone presents me with pictures of political alliances, conspiracies, and party politics that looks like a bowl of tsuivan, i.e. fried noodles, it is so confusing.


It is important to note that the current power struggles among Mongolian politicians and the possible reconfiguration of the party landscape is not about ideology or policy differences. That is too bad, as it would signal genuine debate that Mongolian voters might be interested in.

Instead, the account of the current turmoil that everyone has been giving me is about a struggle for power, and even more sadly, a piece of the business/corruption pie.

Why is it worth repeating these accounts of political alliances as they are based on conjecture? Because there are implications for the overall party landscape with possible splits of the two large parties, DP and MPP, and the arrival/rise of other political movements. But I would acknowledge that I am repeating common speculation, not analysis or fact below.

Parties: The Big Picture

Of course, the DP has been rife with factional fights in the past, nothing new there. The MPP has been able to maintain some more party discipline in the past, but has now broken into full-on internecine struggles. With all their faults (growth of corruption, lack of implementation of politics, no renewal of leadership), DP & MPP have collectively provided some institutional stability in Mongolian politics. Yes, governments change regularly, but more often than not, there is little change in policy that goes along with that change (other than personnel turnover which often leads to newly re-invented old policies).

The assumption for the moment will be that both parties somehow overcome the challenges to their unity (that they have largely created themselves).

However, there is some chance at splits in either of the big parties and below is what seems to be roughly the configuration that splits might take.


The fact that a party who has a supermajority and 1 1/2 years left to govern with that majority, now engages in seemingly suicidal internal struggles says a lot about Mongolian politics.

The fight pits former party leader and presidential candidate M Enkhbold and his “city” faction against the “countryside” faction of current PM U Khurelsukh who has come out of the MPP’s youth organization.

These two sides are so badly divided that the city faction forced a no confidence vote against the PM which they lost. In this fight, all kinds of rhetoric, but also more aggressive ploys involving various security agencies have been deployed. There is no ideological divide between these two factions. The Khurelsukh faction can vaguely claim a mantle of party reform, but really only quite vaguely.

Following the failed no-confidence vote, the Khurelsukh faction will likely continue to oust M Enkhbold from his position as speaker of parliament. Either side could announce a split from the party, though in the event of such a split, they would certainly fight over the significant party infrastructure that exists and that also became a subject of law suits and fighting when former president Enkhbayar split the MPRP off from the MPP in 2010.

There are some powerful party figures who seem to have remained in the background of the current fight, most notably perhaps former PM Su Batbold who has played a kingmaker-role in past cabinet reshuffles.


Note that there is a widespread assumption that the DP will win the parliamentary election in 2020 simply because Mongolian voters have swung back-and-forth between the two big parties over past elections, and despite the fact that the DP has not made any attempts to renew itself following its disastrous showing in the 2016 election.

The parliamentary caucus of the DP no longer is a caucus because MPs Bold, Murat, and Batzandan have been expelled.

That development along with other (factional) splits in the party suggests that a formal split may also be coming.

In such a split, MP Lu Bold seems like to seek to form a party of some kind. He has previously run in Khaan-Uul together with Ts Oyungerel who has been on a long campaign for sanitation in Mongolia that may also double as the beginning of a political campaign. Her brother Ts Bat may also be ready to make the jump into politics at that point.

The party establishment around S Erdene would likely continue on its not-so-merry path.

Formally, Pres Battulga is no longer a party member, of course, but in any realignment, the suggestion is that he would line up with former PM Altankhuyag.

The (very) dark horse in all of this DP speculation then is former Pres Elbegdorj. Would he ally with elements of a split MPP? M Enkhbold’s faction would seem the most likely in that case.


As I’ve noted, Enkhbayar and Ganbaatar have been somewhat quiet since the #Ждү scandal broke.


XUN is clearly getting some attention in the wake of recent scandals, but it’s unclear whether they can build on that attention and how any splits in MAHAH might benefit the formation of a new party.

Posted in Democratic Party, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cabinet Reshuffle: Dambadorj for Foreign Education Minister

By Julian Dierkes

With all the scandals surrounding corruption in the past month and the no-confidence vote against PM Khurelsukh failing, it’s time for a re-imagining of a previous post. I’m expanding my campaign from trying to become the foreign minister to trying to become the foreign education minister.

Warning: attempts at (nerdy Mongolian politics) humour below. Note that this is based on a Twitter thread I posted on Nov 30.


Ts Tsogzolmaa voted for the motion of no-confidence against PM Khurelsukh in parliament on Nov 30. What makes that surprising is that Tsogzolmaa is a member of PM Khurelsukh’s cabinet where she serves as Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports. Khurelsukh appointed her to cabinet, but she now voted against him in the no-confidence vote. Would you agree that it is unlikely that she will remain in cabinet? In addition, a number of cabinet members are tainted by the SME Fund scandal, so perhaps we are due for a cabinet shuffle or Khurelsukh II?

And if a cabinet reshuffle, why not try something new, namely me as Foreign Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports?

My Qualifications to become Foreign Minister of Education

Biography/My Story

I grew up in Berlin, far Northwestern Mongolia, and thus practically Khovd with its strong tradition of powerful political leaders.

I am definitely not from one of the “30 families”, so move over, Nomtoibayar.

I enjoy lactase persistence.

I don’t wear a double deel (давхар дээл), but I do like to wear my themo-deel when it’s cold.

It has always struck me as odd how important candidates’ educational biographies seem to be in political campaigns, so here are the universities that I have attended or taught at:

  • Univ of California at Berkeley (BA)
  • International Christian University
  • Sophia University
  • Free University of Berlin
  • Princeton University (MA and PhD)
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of British Columbia (Assistant, then Associate Professor).

I speak some languages fluently (German, English, Japanese) and some if need be (French). I understand a surprising amount of Mongolian, but am shy about speaking it. Becoming Foreign Education Minister would be a great opportunity to improve my Mongolian!

I do try to have a sense of humour on occasion (like here), though most of my jokes flop in English for linguistic reasons or as too nerdy.

I have dedicated myself to supporting Mongolian graduate students.


Subject Knowledge Education:
Past research on history textbooks (Japan and the Germanies), legal education (Japan), and supplementary education (Japan), democratization (Mongolia).

Administrative Experience Education:
Currently Associate Dean at a top-40 global university (UBC).

I would be willing change my adopted name from Dumbledorj to Dambadorj (дамбадорж) to demonstrate my willingness to defend Mongolian culture against the onslaught of Western pop culture.

I am resistant to bribery and corruption because I’m hoping to be so good in this life that I’ll be reborn as a Mongolian throat singer in my next life.

I am definitely a social scientist and will pursue evidence-informed policy!

I have supported the Mongolian Olympic Team as a volunteer in Vancouver and London and hope to do so again at Tokyo 2020.

I have played field hockey for over four decades, this season I even scored a goal!


  • expand and institutionalize academic freedom
  • review tuition for state universities and budgets based on tuition only
  • no political appointments to education positions
  • create Mongolian-Canadian Friendship School
  • promote field hockey as an Olympic sport
  • build up applied research capacity, focused particularly on solar power and how cold can aid carbon sequestration
  • public funding for Mongolian ethno-pop (Javkhlan will support my nomination!) and ethno-rap
  • reusable cups at all Ministry-events to reduce the number of plastic water bottles
  • commitment to bike commuting (instead of chauffeured car) for summer months

Support my Campaign

Use #ДамбадоржболовсролСайд


Posted in Curios | Tagged | Leave a comment

Camping Nomads

By Julian Dierkes

Historically, Mongolians are a nation of “campers”. While perhaps less than a third of them still are mobile pastoralists, and even they are less mobile than they once were, nomadism and the movable home still play large in the Mongolian imaginary. Even in political discourse the symbolism of the free nomad comes up often.

In recent years, on short countryside trips within a day’s drive from Ulaanbaatar, I’ve noticed that camping has become a part of domestic tourism. No, not visiting relatives and staying in their spare ger. But actual camping, like we would do in Canada, i.e. with a tent, ideally with another family, a camp fire to sit around, etc.

The Mongolian countryside is set up well for camping. Except for the climate, of course, which restricts comfortable camping to the summer months. But otherwise, nature is very accessible, with relatively few unsurmountable obstacles like rivers and mountain ranges. There’s grass everywhere, though it is rarely a soft carpet of a lawn, more interspersed individual plants with rocks peaking through. Surface water can be hard to find, but Mongolians are more accustomed to life without ready access to unlimited amounts of tap water, so this seems like less of an obstacle.

Catering to Campers

And so it seems that businesses are catering to Mongolian campers.

Ger camps are the main infrastructure catering to foreign travellers in the countryside as they offer the experience of sleeping in a ger and they are set up only for the summer, as custom is very unlikely in other months in any case. Even in early June it can be hard to find an open ger camp as their business is so seasonal and also dependent on students on summer holiday for help.

But ger camps increasingly seem to be targeting Mongolian travellers in addition to foreign visitors. Often they have added small a-frame houses or cabins. Since they typically offer food to their patrons, they can easily extend restaurant services to nearby campers. More and more, they are offering electricity and running water, making them attractive for visits by campers as well.

They tend to be located near tourist spots that are as attractive to Mongolians to visit as they are to foreign tourists.

Tourism Business

Eco-tourism is often touted as a possibility for economic diversification. Unspoiled landscapes (if it wasn’t for the trash floating around in so many places), the eternal blue sky, life among animals, great accessible hiking… these are all features that are touted for these businesses. But, tourism remains underdeveloped as most travellers who will have some frustrating experience during their travels will know, and that is part of a critical mass challenge. You need some critical mass, but it should’d be so big that the “eco” aspects recedes.

Perhaps domestic tourism will give the business a boost? As incomes are on a longterm upward trajectory, more leisure activities are likely and foreign travel remains cumbersome other than to the large cities of Northeast Asia. Visits to Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo are exciting, but they are generally not relaxing.

Domestic tourism certainly seems to be growing in Mongolia. Here’s an example of one of our favourite Mongolia analysts modelling the 2017 domestic Mongolian tourism look.

Хархорины орк

A post shared by Mogi Munkhdul Badral Bontoi (@mbbontoi) on

A Changing Relationship of Mongolians with the Land

Even Ulaanbaatar residents often talk about summers spent with relatives, learning to ride horses, helping with animals, etc. Their relationship with the land is built around these experiences, I think.

But the growth of domestic tourism may be changing that. Some Mongolians at least are travelling across the country like Canadians travelling to national and provincial parks, i.e. in appreciation of the amazing resources and opportunities for recreation that the country offers. The same attitude can be observed on the banks of the Tuul River in the summer with hundreds of cars parked right on the river with BBQs and kids splashing in the river.

Along with this appreciation for recreation comes a different view of the land as a resource, one that is focused on the pristine beauty of the countryside. Well, not so pristine as many Mongolians have been noting in tweets from their summer travels this year.


Dissertation, Please!

Isn’t there some grad student out there who would want to look at the meaning of camping to Mongolians and perhaps the business of tourism?

Posted in Countryside, Curios, Social Change, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Party Implications of SME Fund Scandal

By Julian Dierkes

Since late summer, I have been speculating about different scenarios to bring about a change in political culture and in the party landscape. These speculations focused on trigger evens that might lead to protests which would lead to change.

In a sense, we have had the first of that kind of triggering event and it has hinted at some possible changes in the party landscape already, since the SME Fund scandal has left the MPP and DP somewhat speechless given the involvement of so many of its leading politicians in this scandal or hints at other state funds. And, in the process, the XUH party has enjoyed a bit of attention that has hinted at the possibility of electoral challenges to the MPP and DP.

Given past inability within the MPP and DP to reform themselves, especially under their current leadership, new parties or the revival of previously relevant parties does seem like one viable route to a change in political culture.

Note that I see two changes as needed urgently:

  1. comprehensive anti-corruption, pro-professional bureaucracy policies
  2. renewed political, ideological and policy contestation to offer Mongolian voters a say not just in whom they election, but also what kind of policies those elected will pursue.

Risks in Creating an Anti-Corruption Party

While a party organized around anti-corruption policies may be the most effective way to address systemic corruption and could also attract a fair bit of support in the electorate, I see such a party as a risk to the second element needed to get Mongolia out of the rut of cycles of new, but unenforced legislation and regulation coupled with populism that feeds on a lack of substantive debates.

Let’s say an anti-corruption party would win some non-negligible number of seats in the UIX in the 2020 election. That would give it a platform to hold government to account and to systematically examine policies for their corruption implications. That would be terrific.

But what position would this party take on raising teachers’ or doctors’ salaries, for example? Yes, there is an anti-corruption angle to teachers’ salaries, of course, but the real concern at the moment is grand, political corruption, not the day-to-day level of corruption that may also be plaguing Mongolian society. Sure, that “regular” corruption is also important to attack, but what I mean to say is that I would hope to see more political forces in parliament that offer a substantive position on the whole range of important choices Mongolia and Mongolians are facing. And, political culture would very much benefit from vaguely consistent positions on a range of issues by political actors, say broadly liberal vs broadly social-democratic policies. These ideological mantels are sometimes claimed by the MPP and DP, but so far, those claims have been largely meaningless in policy terms, I think.

Or, take another issue that has more grand corruption implications, perhaps, a sovereign wealth fund. Several such funds have been implemented in the past, and current political leaders have advocated for these again. Well, drawing on the lessons of the SME Fund, governance structures around such a fund should be constructed very carefully and that is an area where an anti-corruption party may be instrumental. But beyond the safeguarding against corruption and conflict of interest, what about the orientation of such a SWF? Would an anti-corruption party choose to emphasize the investment for future profit approach to an SWF (a liberal position that would emphasize taking funds out of Mongolia, basing decisions entirely on profitability criteria), or would it see opportunities for investment in the education of Mongolians or in diversification and employment opportunities within Mongolia (a roughly more social democratic position)?

When you line up MPP policies and compare them to DP policies, there is no ideological pattern to be found in either and voters would be unable to guess what position these parties would take on particular initiatives or challenges in the future.

So, an anti-corruption party would run the risk of being so focused on anti-corruption measures that it would neglect political discourse about other pressing issues.

Opportunities in an Anti-Corruption Coalition

To really give Mongolian democracy a boost, a coalition of two or more new/revived parties that are dedicated to anti-corruption and agree on the measures by which to achieve that goal, but differ in consistent ways on other political issues would offer more promise.

There are several different ways in which such a coalition could work, I think. Here are two:

  1. Planned obsolescence
  2. Elements of a shared platform

Ad 1. A single, true anti-corruption party might pursue an anti-corruption agenda only. It would dedicate any negotiating power it would derive from an electoral result to pushing through an anti-corruption agenda that would be specified in a specific and concrete election platform. If this agenda was passed, MPs could resign their seats, or if this “success” came within a certain short period before the next election, they might serve out their term, but the party would then dissolve for the subsequent election.

Ad 2. What if a coalition of parties agreed to a common anti-corruption platform, but competed over other issues? The practicalities would depend somewhat on the nature of the electoral system adopted, for example in first-past-the-post ridings, members of the coalition would probably want to agree not to compete, while proportional representation would be quite open to competition.

This coalition would agree on very specific platform items aimed at the shared anti-corruption goals, but would then leave it up to coalition members to specify other areas of policy. You might thus have two parties agreeing on public service reforms that would bolster the service’s independent, but at the same time competing with different visions for how to promote rural employment.

In the formation of a government, coalition members would be bound to their original agreement independent of whether they joined in a coalition together, individually or sat in opposition.

For a subsequent election, coalition members could review the anti-corruption achievements and decide whether they would renew the arrangement for another election or not.

[Addition Nov 21:] Parallels to DP Origins

When I was speaking about this more with Mendee, he reminded me that some of what I’ve written about here is instructive to think about in terms of the origins of the DP and thus the current party duopoly.

The foundation of the DP and its original components was focused on opposing the MPRP and bringing about democracy. It was an anti-party just as some parties might emerge now that could be anti-corruption. But that has also been the DP’s achilles heel and, ultimately, one of the weaknesses of the Mongolian political system. Namely, the DP never developed any kind of coherent ideological or policy platform. Yes, there were attempts by some to push the DP in the direction of (economic) liberalism, but these attempts never took root.

For different reasons, the MPRP also abolished its ideological and policy core, so that Mongolia has ended up with two dominant party that stand for nothing in particular in terms of a vision for Mongolia’s development.

Yet, the DP’s obsolescence was not planned for. And, the party’s inability to reinvent itself with a policy orientation has come to haunt Mongolian politics via patronage politics and corruption, as has the MPP’s.

That is precisely the risk that an anti-corruption movement focused on establishing a new political party faces.


I hope that any activists hatching plans for new parties or the revitalization of existing parties consider not only their anti-corruption motivations, but think beyond these to a renewed ideological competition that would offer voters an opportunity to voice their views on particular visions of Mongolia’s development.

Posted in Civil Will Green Party, Constitution, Corruption, Democracy, Governance, Ikh Khural 2020, Law, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Policy, Politics, Populism, Protest, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Politicians in the Wake of the Ждү Scandal

By Julian Dierkes

Over the past several months, Mendee and I have written several articles describing the mounting political frustration in Mongolia and the likelihood of a series of upheavals brining about political change in the coming 5-10 years.

Well, such a triggering event has happened with the SME Fund scandal breaking out in early November. Now what?

We have not seen mass demonstrations two weeks into the scandal. Mobilization has primarily been limited to Twitter where #Ждү has been one of the most active and unifying hashtags we have seen emerge on Mongolian social media.

But, political stirrings have surely resulted and are continuing to play themselves out.


Mongolian politics has long been in the fog of the MPP (MAH in Cyrillic) and DP (AH) domination.

Yet, since the dismissal of B Batzorig as minister, neither party has really shown a strong reaction to the scandal, perhaps in part because there are so many allegations against both parties’ MPs in the context of various state funds.

PM Khurelsukh has remained somewhat clear of these allegations and has thus put on some (relatively mild) pressure for investigations into the state funds.

In part in a defensive reaction to such investigations, the City faction in the MPP has raised its voice again and is threatening to unseat Khurelsukh after merely a year in office. This threat is not based on any failings on Khurelsukh’s part, at least not obviously, or connections to the SME Fund, but seems to be pure power games in the usual cycle of the factions in both parties attacking each other.

Some individual politicians have attempted to defend their actions, to apologize and/or to repay loans, but such attempts at damage control have generally been met with derision. Interestingly, these attempts have meant that some Twitter accounts have come to life which had been subject to the general blandness of professional political tweeting that reached Mongolia some years ago, treating Twitter not as a forum for interaction with constituents or political rivals, but as a broadcast medium for bland political messages.


Curiously, the MPRP has been relatively quiet, even though its leadership, especially former Pres. Enkhbayar would otherwise rarely miss a chance to score a populist, anti-establishment point. Ganbaatar, his understudy, has also been fairly quiet.

Returning Political Actors

Perhaps these reactions (or lack thereof) simply confirm that the current configuration of political parties has found no answer to combatting corruption in its own ranks.

As the protest against SME Fund corruption has largely unfolded on social media, especially on Twitter, any analysis is subject to the biases of my particular bubble of people I follow. But within that bubble there appear to be some notable trends.

There are some actors I had been vaguely aware of, but that have really jumped into the limelight of protest against the SME Fund corruption. One example I had mentioned before is NUM Prof. Otgontugs.

She has also been involved in the movement to boycott the businesses involved in the SME Fund scandal, a somewhat novel tactic for political mobilization in Mongolia.

There are some politicians that had withdrawn a fair bit from political visibility who have become more active again now in discussions surrounding the SME Fund scandal. Not much had been heard from former Pres. Elbegdorj in the past year, but he has given some speeches recently, in part to defend expenses in connection with the ASEM summit, which have been linked to the SME Fund scandal as another example of the self-service attitude that some politicians have toward state fund.

Former Minister of Justice, Temuujin has also revived his Twitter account somewhat.

But most notable to me, has been the re-emergence of the XUH Party. It had initially formed ahead of the 2016 parliamentary election to serve as an alternative to the MPP-DP duopoly, but had unfortunately gambled on Ganbaatar as its face which had back-fired as it had cost the party a lot of credibility as a new force. Subsequently, Ganbaatar has been brought into the MPRP, of course.

At the time, I was also not impressed by some interactions with XUH Party representatives who were unwilling to say much about the party’s financing which doomed the party as an anti-corruption force in my eyes.

So, their Twitter account had laid more or less dormant in my timeline until the events of the past several weeks. Now, they are tweeting again, being re-tweeted, and several individuals have inserted themselves into public discussions. Naidalaa wrote a much-noted explainer of the system of corruption that came to light in the SME Fund scandal (which he translated into English for us). Munkhdul “Mogi” B announced that he would take on the leadership of the XUH youth organization.  This move in particular makes me personally very happy as I had been hoping that Mogi would get directly involved in politics for some time.

Obviously, it is entirely unclear what might come of the XUH initiative and I continue to speculate what constellation of different actors might bring about the most constructive political change (anti-corruption, but with more of a political/ideological/policy profile to spur political debate), but I am encouraged to see some mobilization occurring in the wake of the current scandal even though mass protests have not happened (yet).

Many readers will have a different sense of the voices that are prominent in the aftermath of the SME Fund scandal. Please share in the comments!

Posted in Corruption, Democracy, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics, Protest, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Podcasting Mongolia

By Tsenguun T & Aldarsaikhan T

The Mongolian podcasting scene is growing rapidly since the production of the first Mongolian podcast Үлдэх Үг in mid-2016. There are close to 20 Mongolian podcasts covering various topics today, and this number is growing. With more content providers, Mongolian podcast listeners are increasing and the popular podcasts such as Unlock and Cool Mongol get over 20,000 per episode.

So why are Mongolians listening and creating podcasts? And who are they?

  • Podcasts are convenient and easy to listen to if you have a smartphone. On-demand technology allows for the users to listen to podcasts while they are commuting, exercising, cooking, cleaning or doing other menial tasks.
  • The number of traditional media organizations is declining with the surge of online media. Podcasting is becoming popular globally with the rise of mobile technology and internet accessibility. There are 550,000 podcasts as of June 2018 worldwide, which is an increase of 150,000 in less than two years. According to a 2017 study done by MMCG company, approximately 99% of the Mongolians aged 15-60 use cell phones, and 79% own smartphones. With growing access to technology and internet, more Mongolians are consuming mobile app-based goods and services.
  • Although there is no statistical information on podcast audience in Mongolia, some trends are easy to spot. A small survey conducted this year among the subscribers of one Mongolian podcast showed that most of podcast listeners are highly educated youth who also subscribe to English-language podcasts such as Hidden Brain, Stuff You Should Know, TED Radio Hour and Freakonomics.
  • According to the Mongolian Press Institute’s annual monitoring data, there are 434 media organizations operating in Mongolia in 2017. But 78% of these organizations are owned by private individuals. Average Mongolians tend to be wary of traditional media and the strings attached to its funders. However, podcasts eliminate this barrier and bring grassroots media to the people. It is evidenced by some of the Mongolian podcasts, which are produced by non-profit organizations.
  • Compared to traditional media, podcasts are relatively affordable to make and distribute. Thanks to low production and distribution costs, more and more individuals are developing contents on their own and spreading it for free.
  • Many of the Mongolian podcasters are young professionals who want to distribute their expertise, knowledge and commentary through curated content to the general public. It’s mainly because traditional media doesn’t have capacity and interest to consistently deliver in-depth topical information.

It is fair to say that the Mongolian podcast scene will continue to grow. Mongolians are increasingly sharing and promoting their favourite podcast shows and episodes on social media. But, many still feel that Mongolian podcasts don’t offer the variety and quality that English-language podcasts have. Mongolian podcasts are in the nascent stage of development, mainly being produced by people who invest their time and resources voluntarily. Little to no sponsorship opportunities exist for Mongolian podcasters, and this could discourage production continuity and quality improvements. However, with an increasing number of podcast listeners every day, sponsorship or other monetizing opportunities could emerge, which, in return, could allow better quality and competition among podcasters. With 2/3rd of its population under 35 years of age and large percentage of smartphone ownership, Mongolia could become a breeding ground for podcasts.

Below are the samples of Mongolian podcasts with varying format and content:


Available @iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean

CoolMongol is one of the earliest independent Mongolian podcasts that has a faithful and steadily increasing listenership since its release in October 2016. Host Saintulga engages in easy-going, free-format, engaging dialogue with Mongolians who proved their expertise and talent in various sectors: finance, education, IT, architecture or street art. The latest episode was released in April 2018, featuring Amarbayar, a Mongolian IT expert working at Amazon. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean

Unlock is currently the most-listened Mongolian podcast. It is the only Mongolian podcast that specializes in breaking down and summarizing best-selling nonfiction books. Hosts are Tegshbayar, Delgertsetseg and Batnairamdal, who are young professionals who has experience working abroad. Releasing a new episode roughly every two week since June 2017, Unlock has so far introduced its listeners to 43 nonfiction titles, including among others those authored by Yuval Noah Harari, the late Hans Rosling, Hillary Clinton, and Malcolm Gladwell.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

As a listener put it neatly, Felt City is a podcast that Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, rightfully deserves. It was started in June 2018 by urban planning aficionados, Aldarsaikhan and Enkhjin. Hosts tackle numerous urbanization issues that Ulaanbaatar is facing one at a time, offering expert analysis and up-to-date information in easy-to-follow narrative. The podcast is not only targeting urban enthusiasts, but everyone who lives in urban setting. Professionally edited by a local artist Dulguun, the podcast’s music arrangement is a sure delight for the listener’s ears.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Podbean, RadioPublic

Hosted by Enkhzul and Tsenguun, environmentalists by training and vocation, Sustainable Mongol is a blog turned podcast that focuses on sustainability issues. Releasing new episodes on a monthly basis since September 2017, hosts interview people from all walks of life who have contributed to a sustainable future of Mongolia. Once in a while, hosts conduct a light literature/news summary of a chosen sustainability topic, for example, climate change impacts on coffee industry.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

While Unlock podcast attracts nonfiction fans,Үлдэх Үг is a gem for fiction readers of Mongolia. Bayasgalan, Tegshzaya, Byambanyam, who run a highly respected independent literary publishing company called Tagtaa Publishing, have been hosting the podcast since 2016. Authors, translators and bibliophiles are invited to discuss works of both Mongolian and world literature. Another active literary podcast is Санаагийн Подкаст, which is also available on the same platforms.


Available @iTunes, Spreaker, Castbox, Podbean

When it comes to health, reliable information is critical. Dedicated to health professionals as well as anyone who is interested, medical scientist and PhD Amarjargal has been providing scientific medical information about all kinds of health issues through her podcast since November 2017. In episodes lasting no longer than 15 minutes, Dr. Amarjargal walks her listeners through up-to-date medical research findings published on international peer-reviewed scientific journals. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox

Evoking BBC’s one-minute broadcast, Heregtei is all about brevity and efficiency. Episodes are scripted and last under 3 minutes, neatly packing various advice and tips on self-development, health and more. Since its inception in September 2017, the podcast delivered over 50 episodes on useful lifestyle information. The podcast has accompanying blog, which has extensive information.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud

Jargal Dambadarjaa is a well-known Mongolian political and economic observer, columnist, and the host of DeFacto Debate, DeFacto Review and DeFacto Interview, which is broadcast on national television channels. Audio versions of his works are made available daily with this podcast. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Started in February 2014, Business Radio 98.9 is Mongolia’s first private radio channel specializing in business and economic news. Listeners can choose daily broadcasts from over 20 programs. 


Available @Soundcloud, Castbox

Started in 2017, “Break the Chain” is a biweekly podcast on gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence and its various facets. Produced by Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence NGO, the podcast features local and international experts in human rights, social welfare, development and media and more.


Available @ iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox

Mongolian Queer podcast has been recently released by the LGBT Center of Mongolia, a human rights organization that works for the rights of LGBTI people. Every Friday, new topics are covered, featuring guests from LGBTI community and supporters. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Hosted by Tsogtbilguundari and Taivan, Seheeten is one of the most-listened Mongolian lifestyle & self-development podcast targeting youth. Since December 2017, the podcast has released 52 episodes, featuring 36 guests and 16 books. Similar podcasts include Positive Mongolians, Dreamongolia and Uhaarliin 7 honog, all of which are also available on the same platforms.  


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Started in January 2018, Mongol Student Podcast is a popular education podcast. Hosts are Davaajargal and Galbayar, Mongolian students studying in Japan and U.S.A respectively. They interview fellow Mongolians studying abroad, discussing about their student life and practical tips/information for those interested in pursuing education opportunities abroad.

Some fun articles to read if you want to learn more about podcasters’ mindset:

James Altucher- Why You Absolute Must Do a Podcast

Ryan Holiday- Please, for the love of god, do not start a podcast

About Tsenguun

Tsenguun Tumurkhuyag is a sustainability enthusiast who believes in creative, grassroots solutions to environmental challenges. Through awareness-raising, community engagement and cross-sector collaborative efforts, she hopes to contribute to a greener future. Graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A in Environmental Studies, Tsenguun has worked for environmental organizations in U.S. and Mongolia. In her free time, Tsenguun produces Sustainable Mongol, a bi-weekly Mongolian-language podcast on sustainability issues.

About Aldaraa

Aldarsaikhan Tuvshinbat is a Mongolian national with a background in real estate development, urban planning, and architecture. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from MIT and a Master’s in Urban Planning from Harvard University. Before moving back to Mongolia in 2017, she worked at the New York City Economic Development Corporation overseeing some of the city’s major real estate developments. Aldaraa creates Felt City podcast with a fellow urban planner.

Posted in Aldarsaikhan Tuvshinbat, Business, City Planning, Environment, Gender, Higher Education, LGBTI, Media and Press, Politics, Social Change, Social Media, Society and Culture, Tsenguun Tumurkhuyag, Ulaanbaatar | Leave a comment

Guest Post: An “Alternate Economy” Run by Chieftains

By B Naidalaa

This article was originally published on on Nov 7 2018 as “Монгол дахь УЛСТӨРИЙН корпорацийн АЖИЛЧДАД ХЭЛЭХ ҮГ

The term “informal economy” or “shadow economy” applies to a segment of the economy  that is not registered, regulated, monitored, nor taxed, and yet manufactures, offers trade and services, and earns and spends income. It may also refer to the underground economy of robbery, corruption, illegal trades, and organized crime.

Alternatively, in Mongolia, a different type of economy led by parasite chieftains has formed, suppressing economic growth and social development. An “economy” so self-sustainable and circular, to the point that it extracts finances from the state budget and in turn has the political rights to spend the state budget. They approve laws and develop programs with the best possible humanitarian names, such as developing SMEs, supporting agriculture, innovation, for herders, locals, protecting animal husbandry, and promoting disabled people, which sound as if they’ll indisputably serve the citizens. Billions are allocated for these laws and programs in the state budget. Not only state funds, but tenders, concessional loans, bond loans, and whatever other ways to extract money from the state budget is an option for financing. This is not an underground economy; these processes are being registered, and their loans, budgets, taxes, and reports all seem like they’re running smoothly, legally, all according to the policy and regulations. Unfortunately, those funds will be distributed as loans, tenders, and grants in all stages only benefitting a few number of chieftains, ministers and political groups, without a penny going to the real owners or citizens. The allocation is done by chieftains of political groups unofficially. While the Mongolian economy belongs to 3.2 million people, this economy revolves around 10,000 (?) people, eliminating any opportunities for others to run their own business and innovate, devouring the majority of the country’s net profit and revenue.

These parasite members of the economy gain advantages by borrowing billions in interest free loans through backdoor deals, and then build their “SMEs” easily, or even just put it in their bank savings account, establish a non-banking financial institution and launder money with high interest rates, and/or earn unrealistically high profit within a short amount. Meanwhile, real business owners will borrow those high interest loans for their business to barely survive.

As for the “tax” and dividends, the “business owner” has no choice but to compensate these to the group which enabled the owner to get the multi-billion interest free loan. This is the real reason behind the instant expansion of some businesses, sudden construction of extravagant buildings, money laundering through real estate rents, immediate gain of wealth, and the reason land prices goes through the roof. The profit is then used to finance politics, donate to their own political party, buy off media and followers, and create an army of commenters brainwashing for their side. Whoever has the most followers, collects the most bag-holders (workers), pays them, and feeds them, are political businessmen, corporate owners, and has the most power. Gradually, one fraction of the political party or the whole party will be privatized and a private party will be formed. This is the reason why whoever can carelessly spend money in elections, why people own private television channels, and put a stop to media using a non-disclosure agreement. This is also the reason why the “political party”, despite its name, has turned into a political corporation.

Certain units such as party branch committee who work with low salaries to do the dirty work exist to fraud voters, press on their soft spot and oppress them, and distribute cash. During the election, part-time job seekers of the “we can do it” club, who allegedly distribute money and influence certain voting within certain groups, also surround the candidates. This is how political part-time jobs make up quite a bit of the labor market and income share within the Mongolian economy, and how political businessmen and corporation owners have become bosses and benefactors.

These workers do not in their conscious minds realize that they’re supporting this political network, distributing money, brainwashing the public, oppressing them, and going so low as to back-scratch these politicians, at the expense of their children’s future and their chance for a better life, all just for a small amount of money. Even ordinary citizens in both the city and rural areas have polarized political views, dividing and arguing with their brothers and friends on behalf of the parasite chieftains that they’ve declared superior. They do so in hopes that after the election, they’ll get their fair share, a crumb of the giant cake, that is the money to be extracted from the state budget. Many young people, in the name of doing politics, are “hired” in this political corporation. They show their loyalty to their master, become a cell, a tissue in the well-being of this parasite economy while unaware that they’re destroying their own future. Political corporation owners’ income and playing ground expands as individuals and businesses become poorer, their lives and businesses more challenging and burdensome. Hence, it’s in the chieftains’ best interest to evoke political instability, counteract new force and healthy thoughts, instigating the public against foreign and domestic investment, local, fair businessmen and wealth creators, and creating confusion and disorientation. Foreign interests interfere as well.

Thus, a country has formed inside a country, an alternative parasite economy within an economy. This economy benefits no ordinary citizen or business, rather revolves around the “chieftains”, their followers, and the election team which will distribute money for them. In other words, an economy for chieftains. Because this economy sucks the most from newly created wealth and state budget, no money is then available to increase teachers’ and doctors’ salaries, to build kindergartens and elementary schools, or to lend the real business owners. This is the reason jobs are not available, loan interests do not decrease, currency is unstable, businesses grow only too little no matter how hard one tries, and life does not improve.

Mongolia, and every Mongolian is being robbed of their opportunity to build, make, work, and create their future because they are seized by this parasite system and unknowingly serve it. Real change will happen not only by dethroning a few ministers and parliament members, but by eradicating this political financing structure which feeds on the state budget and ridding the state of relevant politicians. This will only be easily achievable when Mongolian people stop opposing each other politically and rather, oppose these insatiable chieftains.

About Naidalaa

Naidalaa was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (1975). He holds a BA in Business Economics from the University of Finance and Economics of Mongolia and a MSc in Economics from the University of Kobe, Japan. Naidalaa mainly worked in banking and business industries, and lead the non-governmental institutions: Mongolian Bankers Association (MBA) and Mongolia Economic Forum (MEF). In his early career, he also lectured economics at the University of Finance and Economics (UFE) of Mongolia. Areas of his interests include national development strategy, nation building, economics, sustainable development, green finance and investment.

He is also a party leader and one of founding members of the National Labor Party of Mongolia.

Posted in Badrakh Naidalaa, Business, Corruption, Diversification, Policy, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a comment

What are SMEs and the SME Fund?

By Marissa J. Smith

Asking questions about the international politics of the Mongolian economy

After reading the South China Morning Post article on the SME scandal, I decided to look more closely at the company profiled, Mongolian Charcoal. I soon located Mongolian language coverage of the scandal profiling the company, and also one called ИНАХУС. The directors of both companies participated in a press conference written up by state press agency Montsame. A video by the news agency  and featured on the website of the “Wealth-Builders’ Support Organization” (Баялаг бүтээгчдийг дэмжих холбоо ТББ) also includes some of the conference.

Mongolian Charcoal produces a consumer product for use in BBQ grills (shorlog). ИНАХУС recycles tires into rubber tiles used under childrens’ play equipment. In the Montsame write up of the company directors’ statements at the press conference, Mongolian Charcoal states that the company sought loans to increase their production and increase sales on the world market through Alibaba.

The Structure of the Mongolian SME Sector

In a very recent article, Narantuya Chuluunbat and Rebecca Empson combined a survey conducted in 2015-16 of over 1500 SMEs with ethnographic interviews and site visits. They characterize the Mongolian SME sector in opposition to East Asian ones, showing how the Mongolian SME sector bears much more resemblance to and relation to contexts across the former Soviet space. Mongolian SME actors buy and sell to one another and finance one anothers’ businesses in a much more hierarchically flat or shifting set of relations (though large companies like Erdenet certainly supply and are supplied by a constellation of smaller and medium companies), and just over five percent of the companies in Narantuya’s survey exported their products.

As noted by Julian and Mendee in their post about the SME scandal, the SME fund was set up by “donors” before being turned over to the Mongolian government. The scandal, and the disjuncture between the character of the companies highlighted and the sector more broadly, raise questions about how international organizations’ programs to support SMEs as part of economic development not just in Mongolia but around the world are developed and applied.

International Aspirations

For instance, securing a position in international supply chains has been a characteristic of the development of “Asian Tiger” economies, including more recently, Vietnam. Emulating this has been an aspiration of Mongolians (see also a troubled attempt to process and export sausage casings in ethnographic film The Wild East), and in line with the economic theories of international development agencies. However, Mongolia’s integration with the Soviet sphere has made this difficult – as noted by Giovanni Arigghi in his contribution to the Cambridge History of the Cold War, these supply chains are constructed not just through the domestic vertical integration described by the research that Chuluunbat and Empson cite, but through international relationships within East Asia:

As the number and variety of vertically integrated, multinational corporations increased worldwide, their mutual competition intensified, inducing them to subcontract to small businesses activities previously carried out within their own organizations. (…) Starting in the early 1970s, the scale and scope of this multilayered subcontracting system increased rapidly through a spillover into a growing number and variety of East Asian states. Although Japanese business was its leading agency, the spillover relied heavily on the business networks of the overseas Chinese diaspora, which were from the start the main intermediaries between Japanese and local businesses in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and most Southeast Asian countries. The region-wide expansion of the Japanese multilayered subcontracting system was thus supported not only by US political patronage “from above,” but also by Chinese commercial and financial patronage “from below.” (43)

Mongolian SMEs are for the most part restricted to the Mongolian market of contracts and consumers. To what extent have SME programs, designed by international development economists (including Mongolians trained abroad and working in concert with development organizations) actually taken this into account?

International Abstractions

Chuluunbat and Empson also note that the SME loan program requires “movable and intangible property as collateral.” While they find that the collateral requirements pose major obstacles for SMEs, the notion that “dead capital” held by individuals and households must be “activated” is a major tenet of development economics, emphasized by major actors such as Hernando de Soto, well regarded in Mongolian “procapitalist” circles. To what degree have these tenets guided the drafting and application of the SME program in Mongolia (and elsewhere), and defined (perhaps differently for different Mongolian as well as international actors) who has received the loans and what they have done with them?

Posted in Business, Corruption, Development, International Cooperation Fund, Mongolia and ..., Public Policy, Research on Mongolia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Not a Political SMEar Campaign

By Mendee J and Julian Dierkes

A massive corruption scandal is brewing in Mongolia. Alhtough the scandal was skillfully picked up by President Battulga and Democratic Party MPs for partisan politicking, now it literally opened a pandora’s box of corruption.

Authorities have been scrambling since the factual evidence of abusing their authorities and misusing the state fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) is hard one to hide. The public would probably give a few months to see how those, who won offices on the anti-corruption tickets, would cope with this. However, any attempts to fool the public or to suppress would eventually lead to massive civil disobedience – maybe at the level of 1990 as implied in this tweet by former PM M Enkhsaikhan.

This could be the last test for current political leaders, law-enforcement agencies (esp., IAAC and police), and judiciary (eps., Chief Prosecutor) to demonstrate some real actions by penalizing corruption ones and deepening investigations of many other unresolved corruption allegations. The SME Fund is just one of 29 state funds.

The current agitation seems to be shifting debates around corruption from insinuation and allegations to investigative fact-finding and pointing to $0.5b lost to grubby political hands. The president even wants to go on hunger strike over the issue!

The SME Fund

In the early 1990s, the SME fund was created to support small and medium-sized enterprises as a key element in economic development through cheap access to loans. It was initially funded by donors in 1990s – and from the state budget since 2000. The fund office has transferred between ministries following any major governmental reshuffling and now it operates at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry. The fund has a fancy website, and is known as Жижиг, Дунд Үйлдвэрийг Хөгжүүлэх Сан, abbreviated as Ждүхс, or just ЖДҮ. The SME Fund provides loans up to 2 billion tugrug for 5 years at a 3 percent interest rate. From 2011, substantial amounts from the bonds were used to finance the loans.

Since 2009, the fund dispersed over 680 billion tugrug, an amount of over US$400m.

2009 – 30 billion tugrug (US$21m)
2010 – 30.4 billion tugrug (US$22)
2011 – 290 billion tugrug (US$235m)
2013 – 48.9 billion tugrug (US34m)
2014 – 99.9 billion tugrug (US$55m)
2016-56.7 billion tugrug (US$28m)
2017 – 50.6 billion tugrug (US$21m)
2018 – 65 billion tugrug (US$28m)
[Conversion to US$ at rate on June 1 of given year and rounded]

Even though the Fund is subject to Mongolian transparency legislation so that its dispersals have been available for investigations, the fund’s operations have been secretive. Up till now, the authorities have been reluctant to report or to discuss the auditing reports on the funds.

Loans Coming to Light

The fund list was disclosed by investigative journalists, namely IKON News and the video news site, The list was followed up by other news media, for example, Udriin Sonin, De Facto, and investigative journalists, but many, for example, MNB have remained neutral or silent. However, the leak led many journalists to corner politicians to comment on these allegations and to dig the income reports of these politicians to reveal the connections with those SMEs received funds. At the same time, the leak instigated more critical and heated discourses on social media and obviously in streets. It provided opportunities for third parties, but only two of them, namely, HUN (National Labour Party) and Republican Party, which was one of the personalized party of B Jargalsaikhan, actively engaged. Interestingly, the MPRP (N Enkhbayar) and Civil Will and Green Party have been silent.

Implicated Politicians

In 2016, 1,034 business entities applied for SME funds and 134 entities received loans. However, 122 of 134 entities had clear connections (mostly familial) to parliament members, cabinet members, and senior officials in all branches of the government.

Initially, the media disclosed loans related to four MPs (MPP): B Batzorig, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry, allocated 1.4 billion tugrug for his spouse’s company; newly appointed Minister for Road and Transportation, Ya Sodbaatar, received 1.2 billion tugrug; MP Kh Bolorchuluun for his flour company 950 million tugrug; and MP G Soltan 950 million tugrug. Then, names of other MPs have been released: N Tserenbat , Minister for Environment and Tourism – with 1 billion tugrug; N Uchral, A Sukhbat, J Enkhbayar, D Sarangerel, L Oyun Erdene, and N Oyundari – 950 million tugrug (each), and B Undarmaa – 700 million tugrug.

The list continues with more names – B Khurts, former Chief of the GIA and Deputy Director of the IAAC, D Khurelbaatar, General Auditor, D Amarbayasgalan, General Secretary of the MPP, former Prime Minister Ch Saikhanbileg, and the brother of the President. Even though MPs from the DP began vociferous criticisms and boycotting the parliament sessions, facts about un-tendered loans of MP Erdenebat, when he was serving as Minister of Industry, and names of DP politicians – who were responsible for unaccounted and misused funds for the ASEM according to the state auditing reports.

This is the third fund (after MIAT’s War Risk Insurance Fund and Clean Air Fund), which was disclosed and requires criminal investigation. But, according to economists, this fund would explain the sudden rise of the funds of Non-Banking Financial Institutions, which provides quick, high-interest loans, and hidden economy – which feeds the politicians, affiliated businesses, and political parties.

Speculation, Assessment

The SME Fund scandal creates a complicated scenario for the coming months. It forces politicians, law enforcement officials (esp., the IAAC), and those in the judiciary (esp., Prosecutors’ Offices) to take a side on this scandal. As public frustrations grow and pressures from those benefitted increases, it becomes harder for these people to remain neutral since it would effect their political careers (as the election nears) and professional merits (esp., those at the IAAC and Prosecutors’ Offices).

As noted, a few members of parliament and a few outside the parliament have begun to stand on the side of anti-corruption discourses. This number will increase incoming days.

For the Prime Minister, as many remember his speech on fighting against corruption putting his life at risk, he needs to make a decision EITHER supporting his Finance Minister and firing cabinet members, who benefitted from the funds OR avoiding to get into conflicts with those benefitted from these funds. By now, the Prime Minister directed more auditing and investigations on other funds and demanded alleged MPs to return the loans.

For the President, as many voted for him in the hope of getting some solutions on their loans, the situation creates quite a complicated situation, but he needs to make a choice of doing nothing OR doing something. But, doing something (EITHER trying to use this scandal to upset his own party opponents and MPP leaders OR attempting to close the pandora’s box of corruption) is more challenging for him. He should let investigators look into some cases – he/his collaborators might have been involved.

For the Speaker, he simply has one choice – not losing his current post and seeking ways to maintain his influence within the party and parliament. This could lead to a major blow for M Enkhbold’s “city” faction.

This seems the right moment for third parties, especially HUN (National Labour Party), MPRP, and Civil Will, as well as some DP members – who have been critical about the party’s current leadership. For DP members, it even might serve a momentum to weaken current party leaders – especially, the Falcon and Mongolian Democratic Union factions or building up a faction of their own.

If the government, especially PM Khurelsukh, who is in charge of cabinet and party, as well as the IAAC and Chief Prosecutor’s Office can not capitalize on this momentum, this will eventually build up massive civil disobedience in coming months. The public, especially those in the public services, have been frustrated with low pay and high-interests loans, would suffer more if the petroleum price rises. The increase of the petroleum along with price hike (esp., holiday months – New Year and Lunar Celebration) would add more anger and frustration. So, if these officials and organizations neglect the deep-seated public frustration over corruption, we might expect massive protests for calling changes.

These all correspond to scenarios that we have outlined in recent weeks (Triggers of Upheaval | Yes, Triggers, But It Depends | Protests… and then?).

Posted in Business, Corruption, Diversification, Media and Press, Mongolian People's Party, Policy, Politics, Protest, Social Media, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tourism Clusters, Domestic Tourism, and RVs

By Julian Dierkes

When I actually visit Mongolia (not often enough, but 1-4 times/year over past dozen years or so), I have many conversations where I learn more and more about Mongolia, but that also raise other questions. If I lived here, I might have to turn the blog into a daily thing!

In August, I had such a conversation with Marc Tassé, longtime resident director for the American Center for Mongolian Studies and now, country director for Czech People in Need. This conversation was followed by a meeting with a long-time Twitter connection, Jochen_mn, who works in the Mongolian tourism industry.


Mongolia is part of a “generation” of emerging resource economies that are acutely aware of the risks of growth built on natural resources. Diversification of the economy has thus been a topic of conversations for some years.

There are many different proposals, some focused on manufacturing with or without links to natural resources, some on transport and infrastructure, or alternative energies, but among the possible avenues of diversification that seem to come to everyone’s mind are cashmere and tourism.

Tourism is seen as a potential area for comparative advantage for Mongolia. Beautiful nature, including fresh air (well, outside of cities and towns in the winter), close proximity to huge Asian markets, reachability for European markets, unique nomadic history, strong brand suggesting pristine nature but also “exoticness”… that sounds like a winning formula.


But there are some clear challenges to the development of the tourist industry: short tourist seasons and – linked to that – lack of infrastructure.

With May bringing unsteady weather, June often bringing rain, it is primarily July-August that tourism is most attractive in Mongolia. That is, of course, also the time that Mongolians travel themselves. Even counting shoulder seasons, the summer tourist season is thus no longer than three months.

While some winter tourism is imaginable (there are already winter horseback treks on offer, one could imagine cross-country treks for snowy areas…), ultimately, -30º puts a real damper on travel plans.

Given the lack of accessible “destinations” (so often, the journey is the destination in travelling in Mongolia), mass tourism is hard to imagine, even if some would find it desirable for economic reason.

If it is niche, luxury travel where the opportunities lie, this may generate some revenue, but it will not really generate many steady, high-paying, professional jobs for which there are many young educated Mongolian candidates.

Growth of Domestic Tourism

When I was travelling in Arkhangai in June 2017 I noticed for the first time that domestic tourism was picking up significantly. I had begun hearing about countryside travel not for visiting relatives from Mongolians over the past several years, but in Arkhangai last year, it was noticeable that some infrastructure was beginning to spring up specifically targeting domestic tourists. Prices at ger camps have long differentiated between foreign and Mongolian visitors, but that distinction is now reinforcing the sense that the number of domestic visitors may be increasing. While international visitors are increasingly being served some variant of “international” food (it seems like it is hard to find ger camps now that will serve mutton noodle soup, though many visitors will not mourn that fact), camps are clearly catering more to domestic visitors by allowing options for “self-catered” visits.

One factor in the expansion of domestic tourism obviously is the expanding network of paved roads. A tourist destination like Khuvsgul Lake (Khuvsgul is one of four aimags that I have not visited) can actually be reached in a day’s drive now, meaning that domestic tourists can consider a four-day trip to Khuvsgul, for example. By all reports, visits to Khuvsgul and construction of touristic infrastructure there are booming.

Another, more nebulous factor in the growth of domestic tourism may be Mongolians’ changing relationship with nature. For Ulaanbaatarites/Red Heroes their appreciation for the countryside as a leisure destination rather than an economic basis may thus be growing, fuelling some domestic travel habits.

Opportunity: Tourism clusters

One way to enable growth of tourist infrastructure would be to focus on regional concentrations, or tourist clusters. In many ways, such clusters are already emerging around the most well-known destinations in the Gobi like the “flaming cliffs”, etc.

But other clusters are imaginable. For example, when the new Ulaanbaatar airport begins operation in 2019 (presumably, and I rue the day), the 400km drive from there to Kharkhorin and the Orkhon Valley, will avoid Ulaanbaatar and its traffic. The relative lushness and beauty of summertime Arkhangai will be under 500km away on paved roads, again avoiding Ulaanbaatar, so a Kharkhorin-Orkhon-Tsetserleg cluster might become that much more viable.

Mendee and I have begun talking and writing about a Nalaikh Interactive Mining Museum. That could be at the centre of a tourism cluster formed with the Chinggis statue and Terelj. Nalaikh would also benefit from the new airport which would be an hour’s drive, again avoiding Ulaanbaatar by coming via Zuunmod.

Opportunity: RVs

Another opportunity that would be interesting to consider would be RVs. This idea is inspired by my regular drives through BC, the Yukon and Alaska. In the Canadian North, the tourism industry includes RV rentals as a very strong element, seemingly attracting tourists from Europe in particular. Many campgrounds in the Yukon, for example, routinely fly the German and Swiss flags next to the Canadian flag, pointing to the origins of many of their visitors. RV travellers are somewhat more self-sufficient than other visitors, of course, thus requiring significantly less infrastructure. Gas stations are common across the Mongolian countryside, so RVs would only require additional infrastructure in the form of electricity and septic hook-ups in some reasonable intervals, and perhaps larger supermarkets with a greater variety of goods than is on offer in most soums to allow RV travellers to supply themselves with foodstuffs.

However, RVs do not really extend the season for tourism to Mongolia much, so they would be subject to a similar restriction in terms of the timing of visits. That suggests that the significant investment into RVs to rent would have to be recouped in a short season.

The alternative would be mimicking a North American pattern where RVs that are rented in Alaska, for example, during a season that is no longer than Mongolia’s, are moved to California for the Fall, Winter, and Spring months to maximize their utilization.

Are there regions of Southern China where RV-use could grow? Are they touristically attractive enough for 8 months of the year or so?


While tourism to Mongolia likely will grow, this growth does seem quite limited, so I do not really think of the tourism industry as a sector that will massively contribute to a diversification away from the mining industry.

Nevertheless, tourism should certainly be part of the mix in considering Mongolia’s abundant resources (for example, fresh air, sunshine, cold, open landscape) strategically.

Posted in Business, Countryside, Development, Diversification, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Protests… and then?

By Julian Dierkes

I have recently written about widespread political frustration in 2018 and speculated on the kind of events/issues that might trigger mass protests.

Now, let me consider what would happen in the event of such protests. I am only considering mass protests, most likely centred on Ulaanbaatar but possibly spreading to other cities and towns as well. By “mass” I mean demonstrations/protests of 30,000 or more. Given Mongolia’s population of just over 3m people, that would be a significant mobilization of protest.

No Violence

I believe that the risk for violence or anything resembling civil war is low. My main reason for believing this is that following the July 1 2008 riots, the police has been preparing for how to handle such protests, including strategies for de-escalation and crowd control. Obviously, such training and planning is no guarantee that violence does not break out, but even if it did, I believe that it would be sporadic and would not escalate further.

The second, long-standing reason that any kind of sustained violence is very unlikely is the total neutrality of the military since 1990. While various other parts of the security apparatus may be under more direct political control and thus could become elements in some kind of internal struggle, that is not the case for the military.

For a more pointed discussion of the likelihood of violence or riots, see Mendee’s post on that topic.

Will Protests Beget More Protests?

The biggest questions regarding the impact protests might have would be, how big – in terms of participation – they become, how long they last, and whether they start making any concrete political demands.

As soon as any sizeable protests begin, there will certainly be politicians who might try to hi-jack them. There will also be a lot of speculation about various politicians being involved in conspiracies to foster unrest of some kind or another. And, there is no way to exclude the possibility that some political actors might try to organize and hi-jack protests. This is one of the reasons that I believe a series of protest events is more likely than one cataclysmic event.


The demographic composition of protesters is very difficult to predict and will very much depend on the issue and triggering event that will produce protests. Broadly speaking, protests focused on livelihood and daily necessities will find brought support in poorer segments of the population. This would be largely residents of the khashaa districts and outlying areas of Ulaanbaatar, although the city seems to be increasingly blending in terms of the distribution of poverty and wealth. Mobilization of poorer Red Heroes is probably most worrisome to current political leaders in that it would be hard to predict what topics would animate demonstrations and where such demonstrations might lead.

For other issues, say gender-based violence or corruption, perhaps, the more educated and generally more affluent residents of the city centre might be more likely protesters.

Demographic developments might also play a role in coming protests in that the age cohort from 15-24 is shrinking relative to other age groups. Adults from 25-49 years-old who might be more likely to engage in protest, but resist more extreme forms of confrontation are growing in their share of the population.

For demonstrations to really gain traction, of course, a broad coalition of protesters would be needed.

Protest Leaders

As protests form, there will be some kind of leadership that will emerge and that will be credible in its leadership to participants of the protests. The most likely candidates for protest leadership roles apart from current politicians would be urban repats, that is educated, professional Mongolians with experience abroad who perhaps feel the current political frustration most acutely, having witnessed the workings of democratic governments elsewhere and the relatively high likelihood of success of further democratization in Mongolia.

Yet, there are some questions about whether these urban professionals would be able to capture the imagination of the poorer population on the fringes of the capital or in the countryside. Politics is already so Ulaanbaatar-centric, it would seem that if protests were essentially limited to issues of concern to the urban centre of Ulaanbaatar, broad-based support may be unlikely.

Let’s consider some scenarios of how protests might play out in the short term.

State of Emergency

If there is any hint of rioting or violence, security forces will be mobilized and a a state of emergency will be called very quickly, I suspect. A state of emergency can be declared by any member of the National Security Council, i.e. president, prime minister or chair of parliament, but it needs to be declared by the president and approved by parliament. Such a state of emergency might involve curfews (as it did in 2008), a visible security presence, and temporary suspension of rights to assemble and protest, for example.

Press coverage by foreign media would most likely be intense, in part because some political actors would be likely to try to exploit momentary turmoil to present themselves as possible reformers or guarantors of peace.

Strong Man?

In the event of large-scale protests and especially if violence happens or is threatened, a number of politicians will certainly present themselves as saviours of security.

Until the 2021 presidential election, Pres. Battulga would almost certainly present himself in such a way. I would not expect that he would stage any kind of coup, but he would certainly try to stretch the institutional limits of democratic governance to offer himself as a “strong man”. This might be a soft version of how Pres Erdogan responded to the “coup” against him in Turkey in 2016.

Yet, I do not think that Battulga’s offer would have much credibility. His first year in office has shown him to be opportunistic in jumping on specific issues, but he has not demonstrated that he has any kind of political agenda himself, nor that he has much to offer in terms of cleaning up corruption or affecting positive outcomes or implementation of laws. While his brand of martial-arts-thuggish leadership may appeal to some protestors, I do not think that this would be very credible.

On the other hand, Pres. Battulga seems unlikely to consider any foreign reactions to any attempts to grab more power for the presidency. He would be or at least present himself to be impervious to foreign demands for a reinforcement of democracy, for example.


It seems like a significant number of current politicians would try to seize the moment of protests and present themselves as reformers, particularly if protests focus on issues that seem to demand reform.

Some possibilities that present themselves in Fall 2018:

  1. Former president N Enkhbayar has certainly been coming back onto the political stage with vigour. He appears or presents himself as independent of the MAHAH fog, even though he is an old political fox himself, of course. But the only way to some kind of immediate power for him would be a mass-defection of MPs, especially from the MPP. That seems fairly unlikely, so, the protest moment itself seems like an unlikely time for Enkhbayar to make a comeback. S Ganbaatar has presented himself as somewhat of an understudy to Enkhbayar since his presidential candidacy in 2017. He could also claim the mantle of a protest movement. B Javkhlan remains an enigmatic figure in parliament, but that enigma might also make him available as a figure to rally around if he joins in protests or demonstrations.
  2. There are a number of individuals in both parties who have presented themselves as outsiders or reformers in the past and who might make such a pitch. In the DP, R Amarjargal comes to mind, recalling his failed (for lack of funding, apparently) nomination bid to become the DP’s candidate in the 2017 presidential election. Former Ulaanbaatar mayor E Bat-Uul has also inserted himself somewhat quietly into a number of debates over the past several years. His indirect entanglements in alleged offshore holdings might hold him back on corruption issues, however.
  3. In the MPP, U Khurelsukh initially presented himself as a reformer when he became prime minister in 2017, but his performance since then has not really reinforced that. Perhaps L Oyunerdene could be such a person as he has been positioning himself by putting pressure on M Enkhbold to respond to ₮60b allegations. There would be other possibilities in both parties as well.

But, if protests focused on political parties, it would seem that party-internal claims to reformer status would also lack credibility with protesters. That is, protesters might agree to such claims initially and thus give someone momentum for party reforms, but many Mongolians would be quite skeptical on the implementation of such reforms and watch rather closely and carefully.

This is one of the scenarios that makes me think that coming years might bring a series of protest and reform events and moments, rather than a single, punctuated moment.

Parliamentary Reaction

In the current parliament, it seems highly unlikely that protests and demonstrations could actually bring about change. While I could imagine a number of MPs reacting to protests, it is hard to imagine a number large enough that this would actually force a change of government. The MPP majority at 65 of 76 seats is so massive that it is difficult to imagine a scenario where enough of them would join a new political grouping to bring about a change of government. Even if that were to happen, they would be subject to the same low expectations by protesters that would hold for individual reforms as I mentioned above.

What if a significant number of MPs resigned their seats? Dissolution to force new elections requires a two-thirds majority, i.e. 51 members, although I am uncertain whether that would change if seats are unfilled or if that is 2/3 of members present or of 76. An unlikely alternative in the scenarios under consideration here is a resignation by the president. A third alternative is dissolution by the president which could be part of a strategy for a president to offer himself as “strong man”, but the circumstances of such dissolution are unclear. A mass resignation of MPs, say 20 of the 76, might make such a scenario more likely, however.

Sudden elections, however, would seem to offer little opportunity to bring about real change in terms of the main frustrations of voters, as they would be dominated by existing parties, i.e. the MPP and DP. In the case of sudden elections, if would seem likely that government would change, but not that political culture would be reformed. And any change that is not real change bears the potential of deepening a (sense of) crisis quickly.

In a subsequent post, I will consider the medium-term consequences of protest events.

Posted in Civil Society, Corruption, Democracy, Human Rights, Inequality, Judiciary, Nationalism, Policy, Politics, Protest, Public Opinion, Security Apparatus, Social Movements, Ulaanbaatar, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Technology Assessment Needed: Solar Power

By Julian Dierkes

To: PM Khurelsukh
CC: Minister of Energy Davaasuren; Min of Science Tsogzolmaa; Min of Environment Tserenbat, Officer of Intl Cooperation, Min of Environment, G Tsogtbaatar; Min of Light Industry Batzorig; Dir, External Affairs, Green Climate Fund Oyun

Climate Change – Threat but also Opportunity for Mongolia

On October 10 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C“. It spells out – once again and clearly, even for the most willfully ignorant policy maker – the dire consequences on continued emissions.

Clearly, Mongolia is a small, but growing, player in terms of its direct emissions. And, concerns around climate change implications for Mongolia focus around desertification, extreme weather, droughts, floods, and other climate events and their impact on flora and fauna.

Yet, global attention to climate change may well also present opportunities for Mongolia not only to make a significant contribution to emissions reduction domestically, but to embrace alternative energies as a path to sustainable human development. What am I talking about? Mongolia is rich in two things among other resources, that could become increasingly valuable (in financial as well as global climate terms): sunshine and cold. I have urged a focus on applied research linked to this wealth as early as 2013.

If demands by island nations, young people, realistic governments, nay, actually humans, for reductions in emissions keep growing, it is currently hard to imagine scenarios that do not involve a massive investment into alternative energy sources. Massive deployment of solar power is one of the more obvious possibilities in this regard, and Mongolia is clearly well-positioned. The greatest obstacle to such deployment remains in the creaky Mongolian energy grid as well as in transmission technology that (still) makes it difficult to export energy over longer distances.

Deployment may be far off, but…

At the moment, it seems like the stuff of dreams to think of massive solar arrays distributed across the Gobi to produce alternative energy not only for Mongolia, but also for export. Yet, with the current climate change trajectory, urgency will rise with the sea levels and massive investments will be more and more likely. So, let’s imagine that technology advances to the extent that transmission over long distances will be possible (eg, Asia Super Grid) and solutions for energy storage can be found to allow for a deeper integration of solar power into the energy supply for Mongolia and Northeast Asia.

One of the attractions of some kind of massive deployment would be that it would not only be an export opportunity, but it might prompt the investments needed in Mongolia’s electricity grid that could power a decarbonization effort. Currently, Mongolia has three unconnected grids (Eastern, Central, Western) and smaller grids around unconnected soums often running off diesel generators. With the possibility for alternative energy abundant in Mongolia, an update to the grid prompted by export-oriented deployment of massive solar generation capacity would allow for a switch-over to electric heating in Ulaanbaatar and towns, but might also enable electric transportation or the construction of dedicated infrastructure benefitting from a clean energy supply like hydrogen.

Given Mongolia’s heavy reliance on coal for energy production at the moment, decarbonization powered by alternative energies would be a win-win-win for climate change, air pollution, and economic development.

What would a Mongolia full of solar arrays look like?

Calling for a Technology Assessment Exercise

Even though deployment may be a decade or more off, now would be a good time to start thinking about what it would mean for Mongolia to be the site for a massive rollout for solar panels. Regulatory frameworks could be developed with more foresight and proactively rather than in reaction to sudden (investment) proposals or other developments. Choices in education and training could look ahead to future needs, as could current construction of infrastructure.

At the level of the informed newspaper reader, I am not aware of any projects that look at the social, economic and environmental impacts of a large-scale deployment. There are numerous technical assessments of performance of solar panels, etc., but I do not see pointers to big efforts to assess impact.

Mongolia has already seen one big impact of solar technology, of course, in that the solitary solar panel connected to a car battery, powering a TV, is the most recent addition to ger-living that has become nearly ubiquitous over the past decade.

If the Mongolian government were to convene a conference or a series of meetings to look at the potential impact of solar arrays, I could imagine that funding might be forthcoming from development funds, climate change funds, but also from interested corporate sponsors. If I am right that few such large-scale assessments are under way, this would be a area that Mongolia could be a leader in the international community to examine one aspect of our likely, climate-changed future.

Aspects of TA for Solar Deployment

Note that I am neither a technology assessment specialist, nor do I know all that much about photovoltaics. But, I am happy and proud to disclose that I am the son of a technology assessment pioneer, Meinolf Dierkes, who served on a German parliamentary commission focused on technology assessment in the 1980s (Enquete Kommission “Einschätzung und Bewertung von Technikfolgen”).

The intention behind technology assessment is to consider the myriad consequences, including unintended consequences, that the deployment of specific technology might have, particularly also the social and economic consequences. That broad intention is what I have in mind in the broad sketch below of an initial list of potential consequences that might be assessed. Obviously, such assessment would depend on more detailed models and scenarios of the roll-out of massive solar arrays.

Infrastructure: Solar Arrays

Clearly, in their current incarnation, solar arrays need a lot of space.

In principle, Mongolia has a lot of space, given its sparse population. That is especially true of the Gobi desert which is geographically closest to China, the most obvious potential export destination for solar energy.

Yet, as we know from some of the conflicts around mining projects, just because a space may look empty of humans to the casual observer does not mean that there are no regular uses of that space, never mind the animal and plant life that may exist there. Barring some technological innovation that would make solar arrays look very different, any massive deployment on a scale to actually make a dent in Mongolia’s energy supply, but also global emissions would cover a vast area of space with solar panels.

Some important questions follow:

  • what impact would very large solar arrays have on animals, wild and herding animals?
  • how would herders be compensated for lost pastureland or even for losses in their ability to cross spaces?
  • what happens to the soil when much of the ground is permanently shaded?
  • run-off from rare but powerful rains would have to be considered and what would the implications for ground water be?
  • presumably, most vegetation right beneath solar panels would disappear. That in term has obvious significance for herding

Infrastructure: Transmission

But spaces occupied by solar panels would not be the only infrastructure. Clearly, whatever transmission technology was developed would need corridors for transmission lines. These may be narrow, much like today’s cross-country electricity lines or they may be more like pipelines, requiring the equivalent of pumping stations and a wider diameter closer to the ground. These shapes would determine the nature and number of transmission lines. These in turn would become obstacles for herding and other activities. Depending on transmission technology, these lines might also require more regular maintenance and servicing than current technologies, creating employment and supply opportunities but also potentially demanding infrastructure along with those opportunities.

How would decisions be made on routing transmission lines, especially if multiple corridors were necessary? That is a challenging question in many jurisdictions, so beginning to think about that now would certainly be a benefit in planning for ultimate installations.


If a large number of panels would be deployed in Mongolia, obviously it would be advantageous for Mongolia to also develop its productive capacity in this sector.

Such a desire might be challenged by Chinese producers/supplies, especially since China is the likely customer for energy exports, but even licensed production or Chinese-owned production would be of benefit to Mongolian employees.

Obviously, however, domestic production, complete with R&D capacity would be preferable. Could Mongolia’s proximity to a likely-to-boom Chinese market in this regard be an attraction to European or North American investors? Solar panel production has already gone through an interesting international trade history so this question deserves some attention for Mongolia.

Minerals play a role in the production of current solar panels. Copper is an important ingredient as is a by-product of copper refining, selenide. Gallium is not mined in Mongolia, but its co-occurrence with coal deposits in Inner Mongolia tickles the imagination in terms of any Mongolian deposits.


With increasing deployment of photovoltaics, especially in Europe, there have been demands for a “closed-cycle” economy for solar panels that incorporates recycling into production processes. By the time massive solar deployment might come to Mongolia, these concepts will have advanced even further, so it is to be expected that end-of-life recycling will become a central part of a deployment.

What to Do?

It seems to me that considerable interest in solar power may develop in Mongolia over the next 10-20 years. Presented with this opportunity to develop a new resource as a source for development, this would be an area that would be worth investing into, I posit. Perhaps a conference bringing together technical and social science expertise together in Mongolia as a start? Some seed funding from the Mongolian government to attract more funding from industry?


Thanks to Sandeep, co-author of Total Transition – The Human Side of the Renewable Energy Revolution, and UBC PhD student, for joining in an enthusiastic discussion of Mongolia’s potential in solar energy generation.

Posted in China, Climate Change, Countryside, Development, Diversification, Environmental Movements, Geography, Gobi, Infrastructure, Renewables, Russia, Sovereign Wealth Fund | Tagged | Leave a comment

Imagining Nalaikh Mining Museum and Education Centre

By Hongorzul Bayarnyam & Mendee Jargalsaikhan

All Starts with the Kindergarten Teacher

It was touching to see the paintings of kids at the 123-rd kindergarten of Nalaikh District.  In their imagined world, all coal miners had safety helmets with flashlights, just like in the drawings of Yesugen and Munkh-Zorig.  With the kindergarten’s limited resources, Director Dolgorsuren Unurbayar developed a little classroom for her kindergarteners to learn about the mining.  In fact, this little mining world inspired many young artists to share their reflections and imaginations.

Photo by Hongorzul, October, 2018

By Yesugen, 2016

By Munkh-Zorig, 2016

If There Were a Museum,

Ms. Dolgorsuren would bring her kindergarteners to the museum; as a result, many of 386 kindergarteners would beg their parents to get an annual pass to have fun with their friends and play with those yellow toys, donated by, for example, Wagner Asia or Komatsu.

All classes of kindergartens and schools of Nalaikh District would bother the museum to de-conflict their field trip schedules.  Many schools in UB would plan to visit the museum to learn more about mining, but also escape from the polluted air and congested traffic.

Nalaikhers would often head to the museum to learn about their community, to stroll through the memorial garden, and to check some rotating exhibits or cultural events – since the museum is safer than the aging cultural centre of the district.

People, who had past connections (parents worked and lived in Nalaikh), would love to stop by the museum once in a while to recall their memories looking at photos, equipments, and old train station.  Some would bring their children, grandchildren, or friends to share the memories of the good old days.

Curious undergrads or graduate students pack their lunches to spend several hours learning about the history of industrial mining, railroad, and labs – many of which donated by big mining corporations. Students of the German Mongolian Institute for Resources and Technology (GMIT), which is located in Nalaikh, would be the first ones to run these labs.

A tour guide, who accompanying their tourists to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Chinggis Khaan Monument, Tonyukuk Monuments, and/or businessmen, who driving to south through Nalaikh, would suggest to stop for a coffee, a photo (old station, train, miners), wi-fi and even a quick tour at the museum. All remember there two miners’ photo station near the gate – for snapchats, Instagram, wechat, Facebook – always gets lots of likes.

The most challenging people would be veterans, who worked in Nalaikh. They would suggest different settings, events, and improvements to pass along success stories of Nalaikh. They would be proud of Nalaikheers – who saved the mine from the saddest place.

If There Would be a Museum,

The surrounding area for salvaged administration building, mining shaft, railroad station, and road (with 5 meters sideways) would be enough for the development of the Museum, which would serve as educational, historical, and cultural purposes.

The three-story administration building would house the main exhibits while shafts could become the primary viewing area for tour-guides and visitors.

Potential Site for Museum, Photo, by Mendee, December 2017

The ideal museum and educational centre could consist of the following sections.

  • Industrial Mining History Section – tells the history of the industrial mining development through different stages of Nalaikh coal mine from 1905 to 1990.  Here people could easily visualize how the coal mining industry evolved in Mongolia and how the mine helped building a glass factory in Nalaikh and many other light factories in Ulaanbaatar.
  • Nalaikh History Section – presents facts about Nalaikh, tells story of the emergence of new labor force, and provides insights on multiethnic culture, especially, since Nalaikh was the first experiment of providing settlements for Kazakh nationals.
  • Mining Rescue & Artisanal Mining Section – speaks about how mining rescue unit was established and artisanal mining evolved along with stories of evacuation efforts.
  • Railroad History Section – using the only surviving railroad station (with a locomotive and restaurant train), narrates the railroad history of Mongolia since all starts from Nalaikh to carry the coal to the first power plant.
  • Educational and Cultural Section – could eventually accommodate public lectures, rotating exhibits (even paintings of kindergarteners or photos of skilled photographers), laboratories (e.g., earth science, mining engineering, environmental awareness), and even 3D theatres.
  • Outside Section – the renovated railroad station, photo stands, memorial garden, underground shafts (one for artisanal mining, the other for industrial mining), and walkways to the shafts and viewing areas). The funniest part for all would be walking on the railroad rails – since there is no train is coming; taking photos at the train station;  and the funniest (weirdest) sign of Nalaikh Museum for a photo at the gate.

Once the museum is developed and items (for exhibits) are collected, more specialized sections could be established.

Potential Site for Railroad Museum and Displays, Photo by Mendee, December 2017

Costly, Complicated, Scary?

The development, operation, and maintenance of the museum and educational centre is expensive, especially, keeping the facility warm through frigid months of Nalaikh is costly.

  • The cost must be shared and the development project must be carefully planned.

The project could be easily hijacked by profit-seekers as well as fame-seekers; therefore, it’s complicated.

  • The project must be insulated from political and economic interests.

Over 800~1200 artisanal miners work around the abandoned mine; this makes scary place to visit.

  • Most of these miners don’t want to see Nalaikh mine disappear and many would join efforts of saving the mine’s history.

A Cradle of Nalaikh Should Be Protected and Remembered

The establishment of Nalaikh Museum and Educational Centre is not for making money, but it is for embracing the cradle of Nalaikheers – who contributed to the development of the industrial mining and the establishment of the multi-ethnic community.

It would show kindergarteners and students that you (Nalaikheers) can correct your past mistakes and preserve the history and culture of your community.

It would show that Mongolians could reclaim the abandoned mines make a place to strengthen your community and share your history (successes & failures) with your guests.

It would show how different stakeholders (mining companies, local authorities, concerned citizens, public officials, and private businesses) work together for the public good.

Of course, the easiest solution is to keep the status quo, which leaves us to show the ‘Losers’ Story’ for kindergarteners – who would only remember their close ones or community members working without any safety equipments in the worst labour condition.

About Hongorzul

Hongorzul Bayarnyam, social and cultural anthropologist, who was born and raised in Nalaikh.  Lots of credit should go to Hongorzul, who has been a continuously advocating to preserve the cultural heritage of Nalaikh.  Currently, she is working as an external relations and monitoring specialist at the Governor’s Office of Nalaikh District.

Posted in Education, Hongorzul Bayarnyam, Kazakhs, Mining, Museums, Nalaikh, Primary and Secondary Education | Tagged | Leave a comment

Locating Mongolian Towns

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been touring through the Mongolian countryside periodically for over ten years now, having recently visited my 17th aimag, just four more to go.

On these visits, I’ve always been puzzled by the location of towns. My musings below will surely betray my ignorance of Mongolian history, military and environmental, but sometimes blogging is about thinking out loud, so here it goes…

Where I’m Coming From

… literally. That is, I grew up in Germany where the location of old (medieval and older) towns always seems quite clear. Either they are located on an important trade route or bottleneck (all the -furts that offer easy crossings of large, navigable rivers, all the ocean harbours), or there is an obvious military use (typically a castle overseeing a cross-roads of some kind).

Clearly, that logic does not apply to all towns and cities. The older the city (i.e. Roman origins) the clearer the origins seem, the further Southwest in Germany (i.e. Roman influence, but also proximity to Central European historical “action”), the more this logic holds, at least at a very general level.

What I See in Mongolia

Most settlements that I see do not seem to be located in the very spot they are for reasons that are obvious to me. Again, this is likely due to my ignorance, so if you can educate me, please do comment below.

Of course, historical nomadism means that settlements are not as prominent a feature of (political) history of Mongolia as they are in Europe, for example.

I see soum and aimag centres that are often situated in the middle or toward the middle of large plains or valleys with no distinguishing features to that specific location. Yes, there are some rivers (Khovd and Choibalsan come to my mind from recent travels, Ulaanbaatar as well, obviously), but these are not navigable, nor are they that difficult to cross (typically, at least today, not being very deep).

For other aimag centres, they seem to be located in the middle of a large plain with no obvious factor that is visible to my ignorant eye to recommend this location over others. That holds for centres like Chinggis (Khentii) or Arvaikher (Uvurkhangai) or Dalanzadgad (Umnugovi).

The Mongolian countryside is full of vistas that lift the soul by the breath-taking depth of the steppe, these vistas are certainly meaningful to me. But, most cities are not located at such viewpoints.


The most common explanation offered for the location of settlements is that they are where there are/were monasteries. That logic is sometimes difficult to recognize since most monasteries were destroyed in the 1930s, so without local historical knowledge, it is often hard to see the co-location of a monastery with towns.

Some of the prominent exceptions to this general pattern are Ulaanbaatar and Tsetserleg, both settlements where monasteries are a visible part of the cityscape today.

For many aimag and soum centres that were founded in the socialist period, their location was pre-dated by monasteries, or so I am told.

That gets me into the even-more-difficult topic of why monasteries are located where they are. It seems to me that there are two obvious ways to look at that question: dogmatic and pragmatic.

If there are shamanistic or geomancy reasons for the location of monasteries, those are clearly not accessible to me. That origin of location is also not common in Europe as many old towns predated the institutional history of the Church so that clerical centres were located in towns, not the other way around.

If the location of monasteries was driven by factors that are inaccessible to me, it is no wonder that I continue to be puzzled by the location of towns.

But if there are pragmatic elements to a religious logic, I would guess that monasteries’ locations do serve the nearby population in some way. In that case, pointing to the monastery-origins of settlements simple bumps the question up one notch in some historical sequence.

Military History

There are no defensive castles or even fortifications in Mongolia as far as I can tell. Even though some dynamic in Mongolian history is clearly driven by military history, the fact that settlement locations did not come out of locations of fortifications must be driven by a very different military doctrine.

Mendee has been kind enough to help me understand this a bit more, as he has in general for this post.

Mongolian historical military strategy is not built on mass, but on speed. Anyone who is familiar with Chinggis Khaan’s conquests will be aware of that. What that means for the location of settlements is that the logic of the fortified castle on a hill that oversees most routes of approach as it holds in Europe, is not relevant in Mongolia.

Instead, any location that is to be defended will likely be defended by deploying observation posts to a number of surrounding hills to report back to a main force if some kind of threat emerges. Such a deployment assumes some logic that a location is to be defended, but once that decision is made, military strategy does NOT dictate the construction of fortifications the way that European or Chinese military strategy does.

Settlements of any kind thus do not lead to a castletown. I am not sure why archers, an important element to Mongolian military strategy, would not be advantaged by a defensible, elevated location, but it appears that archery was deployed only in conjunction with or as a cavalry, so perhaps the question of a defensible perch simply does not arise.

Environmental Conditions

A contender in determining the location of settlements might be environmental specificities. For example, Khovd is not nearly as cold as some of the neighbouring regions like Zavkhan, Uvs, or Bayan-Ulgii. Perhaps this was a significant factor in making Khovd a centre for Western Mongolia from the Qing dynasty until today.

Given Mongolia’s very harsh climate, it is entirely plausible that variations in climatic conditions or micro-climates are an important factor in making some locations safer than others. Prevailing winds, availability of water, temperatures, accessibility in winter, etc. these might all be reasons for locating settlements in specific places, even independent of a livelihood logic that may also be closely linked to location decisions.

Livelihood History

Obviously, livelihood considerations loom large in a pastoral society coping with very specific challenges of a continental climate and specific ecology. These considerations are directly linked to environmental conditions.

Any settlement, whether it is a monastery, military or trading outpost, would involve some residents who would not be active in agriculture, so that the surrounding area and population would have to be productive enough to support such a population. The quasi-feudal operations of monasteries under Chinese colonial rule may have been a good example of this requirement, where the extraction of significant amounts of agricultural products were required to support a population of “non-productive” monks that may have reached a third of the population at some times in some places.

While Mongolia may generally seem fairly barren (outside of areas that are rich in water and less extreme climates such as northern parts of today’s Khentii, Selenge, or Bulgan aimags) there are significant local variations in the availability of water, the quality of pasture, and the variety of pasture.

On a recent visit to Khvod, it was striking – especially in a summer that saw significant precipitation and even flooding – how much water there is when approaching the town from the North. It is this amount of water that makes Khovd famous for watermelons today, as their production can be sustained with significant sources of water.


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Velvety riverside grass, high ger density for summer in Khovd. #Mongolia

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As a region, Khovd City, may have been more able to support a military garrison with foods than other locations in the West, determining its location as a Chinese trading post, but also as a military base. That may also have been a factor in the location of monasteries and, later, towns.

Some Exceptions

Obviously, there are some exceptions to my puzzled look at the location of settlements. Erdenet is Mongolia’s second-largest city, but its location was determined by the nearby copper mine.

Tsetserleg is the capital of Arkhangai and its location seems much more obvious to the visiting European eye. It is perhaps the most attractive location for an aimag centre that I’ve visited. Nestled up against mountains, it enjoys a view over a long valley and a generally scenic location. It also is close to a mountain pass that is a route to the West, giving it the sense of a gateway of sorts.

I already mentioned Khovd for its agricultural potential above. But it is also surrounded by breathtaking high mountains that left me less puzzled by its location than other aimag centres.

Addendum: There is a Scholarly Literature!

As it turns out, there is some scholarship on the origins of settlements in Mongolia and Mendee pointed this out to me:

Alicia Campi. 2006. “The Rise of Cities in Nomadic Mongolia” in O Bruun and L Narangoa, eds. Mongols from Country to City. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 21-55.

Campi classified cities for their origins as trade and agriculture (eg, Kharkhorin, Khovd), monastic (Ulaanbaatar), military (Uliastai), political (Mandalgov), and industrial (Erdenet). Pretty close to my categories, though I left out the political and industrial as recent reasons for the establishment of cities.

But these origins classify the cities and making a case for their original establishment. This classification has relatively little to say why these cities were established in the exact location where they were established! The exception are recently established military cities like the aimag centres of the Govi aimags. The Mongolian government created the

southern provinces along China’s border in a basically north-south pattern with aimagcapitals situated in the north of the aimag s for protection against Chinese invasion and for proximity to the national capital and the central Mongolian heartland steppes.” 44-45

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