News / Asia

Afghanistan Is Fertile Ground for Investment

With security improving after decades of armed conflict, opportunities abound in one of world's fastest-growing economies

Raymond Thibodeaux

The war in Afghanistan has not kept a growing number of multinational firms from investing there.  Of the 800 foreign companies licensed to do business in Afghanistan, only about 10 percent are from the United States, leading some Afghans say there are a lot of American boots on the ground there but not enough American wing-tips, a common style of shoe worn by businesspeople.

In this street market, many shops sell hand-woven carpets, lapis and sky-blue burqas - the billowy head-to-toe covering worn by many Afghan women.  From the time before Alexander the Great conquered this region, Herat has been a hub of commerce, linking the Middle East, Central and South Asia.

But three decades of armed conflict have resulted in many local businesses shutting down and investors being scared off. That is according to Shafiq Ahmadi, a director for the Afghan Investment Support Agency - the country's business-licensing body.

He says the main security problem was the kidnapping of investors and rich people in Afghanistan, specifically in Herat.

Ahmadi says the Taliban and criminal gangs flourished in the foothills and farms around the city - that is until U.S.-led coalition troops started making inroads here more than a year ago.


View Larger Map He says that, with security getting better, we can see some of the effects.  He says the industrial parks, where 50 percent of the companies closed, are now starting to reopen.

That is a start, but Ahmadi says many of Herat's wealthiest entrepreneurs have not come back from cities as far flung as Dubai, London and San Francisco, where they fled the fighting.

That has created opportunities for people like Andre Mann, who operates The Great Game trekking company, one of only two in the country. He says it is rare to meet other expats with business start-ups, especially Americans.

"You run across these people once in a while, but there [are] not many Americans doing that," Mann said. Do you think many Americans want to come and do business in a war-torn country?"

An avid hiker and mountain climber, Mann says the country's natural beauty compelled him to move here and start his trekking company. But he says there are hazards to doing business in a conflict-prone country.

"Afghanistan is frankly a tough place to do business.  And, there are other places that are a lot easier to invest in, where you don't have war risk, for one, and you don't have the corruption issue like you do here," Mann said.

Corruption was one of the big issues President Obama addressed during his recent visit to Afghanistan.  But many here say corruption is entrenched in Afghanistan's economy, which, at about 15 percent a year, is one of the world's fastest-growing, according to World Bank estimates.

A growth rate like that is bound to attract entrepreneurs.  In Herat, small-scale businesses are starting to crop up:  a Belgian café on the city's main street; a couple of Indian restaurants; a German machine repair shop. And there are many shops selling burgers, pizzas and fried chicken - often owned by Afghans returning from abroad, known here as Half-Ghans.

On a larger scale, a US-based company launched a cellular phone service here.  Coca-Cola opened a $25 million bottling plant near Kabul. Nearby, a Chinese firm plunked down $3 billion for a copper mine, one of the world's largest.  German traders are sending about $200 million in goods to Afghanistan, up from about $21 million in 2000.

Brad Hansan, the U.S. senior civilian representative in Western Afghanistan, says the security improved in this western province and that the United States is helping revive the business community.

"There are efforts under way to try to have foreign businesspeople come to Herat and see for themselves the opportunities here and the openness of many Afghan entrepreneurs for partnerships with foreign businesspeople to help expand their businesses," Hansan said.

He says many businesses - especially in the farming sector - are hampered by the country's lack of infrastructure.

"It has a fairly well-educated, literate population. It has a long history of trade and entrepreneurship going back centuries. And, it has water and electricity most of the time," Hansan said.

On those terms, he says Herat is better prepared for business than other parts of the country.

Rahim Walizada - a carpet and handicrafts dealer in Kabul - exports many of his products to U.S. retailers such as ABC Carpet & Home. Still, he says he rarely sees American buyers in Kabul.

"I see many Europeans and a lot of Indians, but not many American companies here.  We are surprised they are not coming here."

He says many Afghan entrepreneurs bristle when foreign retailers buy Afghan-made products from neighboring Pakistan, seen as a safer place for markets. He wants foreign retailers, especially American ones, to buy directly from Afghan suppliers.

"They should come. Kabul is a beautiful city, I would say. Afghans have great hospitality. And they [American businesspeople] should come, we're ready to do business with them," Walizada said.

Afghan officials say they need to raise at least $15 billion in the next decade to rebuild the country.  Hansan says the benefits of investing in Afghanistan are not only profits, but providing jobs and, with them, a chance at stability and peace for the country.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More