Small Wars Journal

One Cell Phone at a Time: Countering Corruption in Afghanistan

Thu, 09/02/2010 - 8:17pm
One Cell Phone at a Time:

Countering Corruption in Afghanistan

by Dan Rice and Guy Filippelli

Download the full article: One Cell Phone at a Time

American commanders are preparing for a major offensive in Afghanistan to attack one of the most formidable enemies we face in country: corruption. Despite sincere efforts to promote governance and accountability initiatives, Afghanistan has slipped from 112th to158th place on Transparency International's global corruption index. One reason the international community has been unable to effectively tackle corruption in Afghanistan is that our own reconstruction efforts perpetuate the problem. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently acknowledged, "Corruption, frankly... is not all an Afghan problem." Money appropriated to secure and stabilize the country is too easily siphoned and redirected as it changes hands, inevitably making its way to local powerbrokers, insurgent networks, and offshore bank accounts, rather than the individuals who need it most. One solution to this problem lies in the palm of our hands: the mighty cell phone.

When Americans first entered Afghanistan in 2001 there was little infrastructure and no banking system in an entirely cash economy. Nine years later it is still a cash economy and 97% of the country remains "unbanked", but Afghanistan's thriving telecom industry offers a way to minimize graft. From a standing start, Afghanistan now boasts a cellular network of 12 million cell phones in country of 28 million. Mobile technology is the largest legal, taxpaying industry in Afghanistan and the single greatest economic success story in the country since the fall of the Taliban. The existing network also offers a proven way to help defeat corruption.

Download the full article: One Cell Phone at a Time

Dan Rice is the President of Sundial Capital Partners. Guy Filippelli is the CEO and President of Berico Technologies. Both are West Point graduates who have served as Army officers in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively.

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Dear Dan and Guy

Your article is spot on. I just sent a draft to the New York Times describing how it is corruption that will kill more Australian and US troops as much as the Taliban

Australia and the United States have much in common. Our nations have always stood shoulder to shoulder and soldier to soldier to defend our common values and freedoms. After working in Afghanistan alongside the men and women from the United States armed forces I would gladly place my life in their hands anytime.

Yet both our nations troops are being dealt a blow by the failure of President Karzai to stamp out corruption. The troubles at the Kabul Bank are the latest in a long list of deep problems.

At the same time the Taliban are out-governing the Karzai Government whose warlord and elite cronies continue to run their own corrupt fiefdoms in the Provinces.
United States and Australian troops are not only fighting the Taliban but also combating rampant corruption, thuggish Afghan National Police and a population who welcomes foreigners with open arms for as long as we were of value to them. Despite these challenges the one would expect that our new friend in Afghanistan, President Karzai, should be doing everything in his power to eliminate this day-light robbery. His contempt fulfilling his obligations to erect stable government will only play into the hands of the Taliban. This means the Taliban will continue to find willing participants to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Even if locals dont actively join the fight they may simply remain passive supporters of the Taliban by allowing them to fire rockets from their village or provide a safe haven at night.

You are also right to make the inference that the international community has not helped. I remain skeptical as to the veracity of M&E placed on implementing partners. I personally know if at least one organisation whoses field officers almost never left the FOB to check that money was being spent properly or that projects were actually being done. And this is a major organisation.

No wonder the Afghans have become masters and devising all manner of ways to siphon of money from us.