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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs