IEE Newsletter No. 23

Cooperation with Afghanistan: Field Research Journey from Bochum to Kabul

Aimal Jan Naimi, a student from Afghanistan participating in the current MSc Programme in Management and Economics at the Ruhr-University Bochum, which is coordinated by the IEE, shares his impressions of doing field research for his thesis in Afghanistan.

One of the lessons of a field research that I learned in Afghanistan is that you need adapt your expectations to reality. For my Master's thesis I selected the topic of Challenges of consumer and business financing in Afghanistan since I had work experience in the finance and banking sector. When choosing the topic in Bochum, I assumed I would have enough time in Afghanistan to do my fieldwork without problems and interference, as my group of interviewees - bank representatives and bank clients - as well as the locations of the interviews were very clear. However, my expectations turned out to be wrong. Security issues, electricity problems, bureaucracy, poor internet connection, and traffic were among the challenges I faced during my research period.

Arriving in Afghanistan

Being absent more than a year from my home country, I was excited to reunite with my family and friends. Even though I was really looking forward to seeing them, the loss of my younger brother a few months before my arrival made this meeting very sad.
Unfortunately, many things changed since my departure. For example, the security situation was worse compared to the time I left. The unemployment rate had risen and in conversations with many educated young people, the willingness to emigrate was remarkable. Many businesses had failed due to bureaucracy, security issues, and other reasons. On the one hand, all these changes were disappointing; but on the other, many people were still hopeful for a bright future.
While visiting my family, I also revised my questionnaire after a discussion of a draft version with my supervisor. After that, I was ready to start interviewing.

Interview with bankers

The questionnaire for bankers focused on collateral issues, such as the different types of collaterals, as well as alternatives for collaterals in the banks' policies. Are collaterals a guarantee for receiving a loan? How do banks verify their clients' credit histories and what precautions do banks take to reduce the loan risk?
Afghanistan Bakhter Bank Credit Manager
Interview with Bank Manager (photo: private).

Contrary to my expectations, it was not easy to get interview appointments. My first interview request with a commercial bank was rejected. As it turned out, without government permission, the bank was not allowed to give me any information due to confidentiality. Thanks to a friend, I got in contact with an employee who was willing to help get the approval of the bank's CEO. While waiting for the CEO's permission, I tried to confirm other interview appointments. Luckily, one of my former university friends works at another bank and he referred me to his colleague. With his help, I was able to start interviewing. Thanks to a good network of friends, I was even able to interview several bankers from different banks. In the meantime, the CEO of the first bank had also approved my request for an interview. Without the right connections, my research would probably not have been possible.

Interview with bank clients

The other focus group was bank clients, such as small, medium, and large businesses - the current and potential recipients of loans. I was interested in the problems they face when applying for loans. Therefore, I was keen to find out whether the loan disbursement procedure is complicated and time consuming.
Afghanistan Interview bank client from south regionTo interview them, I traveled to different cities. One good opportunity in this regard was an agriculture fair and industries exhibition, which allowed me to collect necessary information from different sectors and province businesses. Talking with some of interviewees was easy, but as some were not educated, I had a tough time explaining the basic idea of my research and the necessity of collecting data in a way they would understand and relate to.

Pictures on the left above and the right below show interview situations with bank clients in different regions of Afghanistan (photos: private).

Afghanistan Interview bank client from West regionMy interviews showed that most of the interviewed farmers do not have the necessary collaterals to get a proper loan. Some were lucky and got small loans, although these were not sufficient to finance their overall activities. Another big issue is that even businesses with collaterals do not receive loans due to the lack of trustworthy financial data.
Each of my experiences was interesting. Sadly, I came to learn that the banks were not interested in my research topic at all. They were more concerned about their business. When they figured out that I was just an ordinary student and not a donor or member of an NGO, they were immediately unwilling to cooperate with me. This was disappointing for me, especially when considering and comparing the situation to the time I used to work in banking projects in Afghanistan. During that time I did not have any problems receiving necessary data and information.
All in all, I succeeded in collecting the necessary information, even though I had to face many obstacles especially due to the lack of reliable cooperation. Despite the challenges, it was a great experience and I really want to thank my friends, Mohin Mirzada, Malyar Sahak, Saleem Rahimi, and others who helped me with their efforts and time during my field work.

by Aimal Jan Naimi

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