As I wrote in an earlier blog piece, after a summer in Sierra Leone and Nigeria I have been offered a consulting assignment in Afghanistan. Now here I am.
After almost a decade of work in West Africa I am now plying my trade here in Kabul just as the international ISAF force drawdown is starting to occur. Last night the Taliban tried to blow up a facility that houses development workers like me. Earlier in the week someone tried to blow up a prominent female Parliamentarian. Each day on my way to work I pass dozens of men with guns and have to pass through many gates, barriers and sentries standing guard in order to access the Ministry where I work.
Welcome to the wild world of development consulting in a war zone.
To be fair in my description, I am living in a very secure house with all the blast wall, sniper netting and iron gates you could ask for. There is also a fully equipped gym right down the hall and I am just steps away from the so-called ‘safe room’ where we are to go if there is an emergency. Outside there are lots of guys with guns which we assume to be friendlies but all in all I know I am not in Cambridge anymore.
Did I mention the food? It’s all free served communally to about a dozen of us. Mostly Brits but some Canadians and South Africans thrown into the mix. It’s a much older crowd than you would find in African development circles. This is not a fun place for young people. It’s a great place if you want to perfect your weight-lifting, do Buddhist meditation, or work. Outside of that there is a television with mostly Bollywood fare and of course the internet! The wonderful internet…lifeline to the outside world.
Thankfully the network is robust enough that I can teach my two on-line courses with no problem. I am 9.5 hours away from Boston but since I have a student in Dubai, and another in Nairobi and yet another in Lagos time seems to be immaterial.
On the best of days it’s like being at the boarding school I never went to.
However, last year two of the consultants in the firm I am working with were shot dead while eating in a Lebanese restaurant. As a result of that almost the whole city is off-limits for us to travel to, not to mention the impossibility of traveling outside the city. This is very frustrating for someone like myself who views the profession as an opportunity to really experience meeting new people and tasting other cultures.
That won’t be possible in Afghanistan for a while. The new President is trying hard to right the ship but there are strong forces working against him and his coalition government. Foreign consultants like me are a small part of the picture but I feel like I am helping in some measure to continue the somewhat beleaguered notion of nation-building that began when the U.S. invaded after 9/11.
There doesn’t seem to be a military solution for Afghanistan as there wasn’t in Iraq. There might be a chance for a political solution to prevent the country from fracturing but based on this week’s bomb attacks it seems the insurgents will not let the new government get settled.
Few commentators believe Afghanistan will go the way of Syria, Iraq and ISIS but you can count the number of commentators who have been right about Afghanistan on less than one hand. One of the jokers in the deck here is China which shares a slight 80 km border with Afghanistan and views it with big eyes with respect to natural resources and security issues.
Having signed up to spend half of 2015 here it is obviously in my and my fellow consultants’ interest to do everything we can to make the new government of Afghanistan work in such a way that it is inclusive, transparent in its dealings with the people, honest and creative.
Stay tuned and I will let you know how it all turns out. If you have any interest in what’s happening in Afghanistan write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
CPDD senior fellow Michael Keating is an expert in the political economy of West Africa. During the course of his development consulting experience he has worked on projects funded by donors such as USAID, SIDA, DFID, the World Bank and a number of private foundations. His sector interests include agriculture, rural development, natural resource management, community engagement as well as media and communications.