Afghanistan: Where crypto has become a survival tool
Schooled by Breach is a weekly newsletter where Breach writer, Adetomiwa talks to people with experience about pressing crypto questions, learns a lesson and shares the findings with you. Crypto can be easy, so let’s figure it out together. Out every Friday!
This edition is the second of a five-part series on Schooled by Breach, where we will explore how people in various countries are using or have used crypto in their quest for civil liberation. This week’s episode covers how crypto is supporting Afghans during the Taliban’s coup. Read the previous issue here.
I was a child when I first heard about the Taliban’s reign in 2001 Afghanistan.
Don’t ask me how old I am, but I don’t remember the 2001 photographs or videos being as crisp as what I saw when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021.
There were photos of U.S. officials and the fleeing Afghanistan President. But there were also pictures of citizens holding on to the wings of airplanes and hiding in luggage compartments. The citizens were fearful of what would become of them in the Taliban’s Afghanistan because life as they had known it was over.
Since the coup, people in Afghanistan report that life is now completely restricted. A female medical student at a university in the country describes her life less than a year ago as “perfect”. “I was in love with studying with my friends and I really miss being a student,” she said.
She also echoed what others, especially women, in the country are now facing: the suppression of free movement. Now, Afghan women cannot be seen outside without a male family member as a chaperone. Pari, a 19-year-old Afghan woman, told The Cut that on Valentine’s day last year, she met her boyfriend at a decorated restaurant to celebrate the day. This year, Pari couldn’t leave her house. “It has been months that we haven’t met,” she said of seeing her boyfriend.
Taliban’s effect on jobs and money
Al Jazeera reports that since the Taliban returned to power, Afghanistan’s economy has virtually collapsed.
Ahmed, an Afghan citizen who was working as an office manager for two years before the Taliban’s coup, made enough money to support his sisters through university and support his entire family. But the Taliban has changed everything: “there is no job for people here and no way of income for families,” says Ahmed.
For Roya Mahboob’s employees, a decision made over a decade ago has offered some support.
Roya Mahboob is the owner of the non-profit Digital Citizen Fund. When she started training and hiring women over a decade ago, her employees didn’t have access to bank accounts because “they were not allowed to, or because they lacked the documentation for one”. So, Roya paid them in cash.
She soon realised this wasn’t always possible. “It wasn’t feasible — or safe — to send cash to everyone”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Then we heard about Bitcoin.” She recalls that Bitcoin made things easier at the time. “It was easy to use, cheaper, and more secure than other options. So we taught the girls how to use it and began to pay our staff and contributors with it”.
Roya’s staff and other Afghans found a solution in crypto once the Taliban’s reign hit.
When the Taliban struck, some of Roya’s workers (and other Afghans) who were able to leave the country found resettling easier because of the Bitcoin and Stablecoins they stowed in their crypto wallets.
Others who stayed back found global jobs — many exporting — where they get paid in crypto.
Case in point: Noor Ahmad Haidar, who started exporting Afghani saffron to the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada in early 2021 has 90 percent of his orders paid for in Bitcoins. He says this is to “avoid going through the chaotic process of bank transfers. He added that it has recently become the only option available for him.
Likewise, people who receive aid and donations from foreigners do so through digital currencies. Akrimi, a 19-year-old who has been receiving $200 from American NGO Code To Inspire since September 2021 tells Al Jazeera this money, sent in crypto, has been crucial in helping pay rent and feeding her family.
As banks are hard to use now — Afghanis are allowed only a limited amount of money a month, and queues are a pain — crypto holders like Noor and Akrimi use currency exchange services to convert their funds to the local currency.
Life in Afghanistan has changed significantly since August of 2021: women and men are now forced to dress in the way the Taliban considers appropriate, and many in the country report that a lot of the progress — for the rights of women, and general livelihood — have regressed. But with crypto, people who want to leave the country have found a direction to plan their migration. And some who don’t or can’t are developing ways to make life at home affordable.
If ever you or someone you know is wondering how to move your money when you migrate, remember how the people of Afghanistan are doing it — paid in crypto, withdrawn on the other side.
Next week, we will discuss how the people in Myanmar are using crypto to subtly rebel against the coup. See you then!