The business of war: How people find opportunity in conflict
War creates heroes and villains out of common men. It’s one of those moments where people come together to make it or break it. In these harrowing times, there are always stories of great import where the individual triumphs for the better or for worse of the nation. In a restrictive and hostile environment, great minds — good and bad — work in overdrive to make the best of their situation.
Conflict has always presented opportunities to the best and worst amongst us to establish businesses, initiatives, or create economic trends that become a source of glimmering hope, or a test of worse times to come.
Here’s a compilation of how, over the last few years, people have challenged an increasingly conflict-ridden world head-on with ambitious initiatives, the drive to simply survive, or opt to exploit misery.
Your War, Our Tourism
The charm in travelling rests in experiencing the organised chaos of coruscant cities, the hustle of rustic markets, the might of an intimidating Mother Nature, or the idyllic serenity of the country.
But, there’s another kind of travel that hopes to show people a country at its worst – a culture struggling to push against the ravages of death, destruction and mayhem: War Tourism. In some capacity or another, war tourism has been a fixture of society ever since modern warfare changed the landscape of war from battlefields to cities. Untamed Borders, War Zone Tours and Wild Frontiers are only some of the few war tourism travel agencies that take clients to some of the most precarious regions on Earth.
A sore spot for those who go through the hardships of war, the tourism industry is for those who wish to experience extreme forms of travel.
Kuffiyeh Goes High-Tech
Palestinian territories have been on shaky grounds for half a century. The political snake-and-ladder between insurgents, governments and activists has left the region largely in shambles. Between bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, it’s not the friendliest environment for businesses. Yet, earlier this year, Arabreneur, a platform for young entrepreneurs in the Middle East, invested over $400,000 in Palestinian start-ups like Fariqak (online football fantasy game) and Karaz (platform for newly-wedded couples to get advice).
With a large number of youths looking towards the Internet as a legitimate avenue against turbulent ground realities, Palestinian start ups are fast gaining ground with festivals like the Startup Weekend at Ramallah held late last year that provide entrepreneurs with a great platform.
The Death Trade in Palestine
Gaza has been witnessing its flower farms wilt under increasing restrictions and dwindling resources. With a declining farm industry, the economic landscape is constantly changing in these regions to desperately adapt.
Earlier this year, the Egyptian authorities destroyed hundreds of underground tunnels connecting Egypt and Palestinian territories. The move has literally left tens of Palestinians unemployed with the local market hugely dependent on illegal underground tunnel trading to battle blockades and bans. The trade is dangerous with its own list of casualties.
The trade has created a whole class of merchants, whose business depends on these hand-dug tunnels, providing people with essentials like cooking gas and petrol, and the odd television set creating millions of dollars in tax revenue.
The Bees Come to Afghanistan
There is a very possible extinction of bees within the next few decades. In 2013, the US alone witnessed a 23% decline in bee population, with other countries reporting similar trends. According to The National Audit Office (UK), the retail value of products pollinated by bees touches nearly £1 billion in the United Kingdom alone.
In light of these apocalyptic trends, it’s heartening that bee-keeping has been flourishing in Afghanistan. The vital importance of bees keeping as a consistent and healthy source of living has Afghanis buzzing towards this business. The trend, besides producing the golden liquid we’ve all grown up love, has had a substantial effect on the Afghan agricultural economy. The move has helped the beginning of a rejuvenation process for the Afghan agricultural economy, besides the huge potential for further diversification.
Kidnappings in Mexico
Conflict creates criminals as much as it creates heroic survivors. In the past few years, kidnappings have filled criminal coffers virtually turning it into a fledgling business.
Mexico has been ravaged by the brutal effect of the War on Drugs, besides the insurmountable corruption within the system. Coupled with rampant poverty (nearly 50% by government standards), crime has become a real, innovative and driving factor in the Mexican economy.
In 2010, the global kidnapping ‘industry’ earned nearly $1.5 billion in ransoms, with Mexican earnings topping $50 million/year. We’re normally taught to assume victims of kidnappings are affluent members of the society or politically significant individuals. But, Mexico has adopted a more efficient and lucrative strategy: targeting the middle-class. With the mix of a large target group and low ransom demands, criminals ensure a steady flow of income, and avoid the hassles of kidnapping the rich or influential.
The city is Hewlêr, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the fall of the Ba’ath Party in 2003, the northern region of Iraq, historically inhabited by the Kurds, proclaimed its autonomy from the rest of Iraq. The relatively peaceful region of Iraq has been growing, ever since the war. Right now, Hewlêr is a bustling city with growing opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. It’s the most developed part of Iraq, with a far more successful economy, too.
The region is growing to become an investment haven and home of growing number of wealthy Kurds, at the edge of a country in dangerous turmoil. With the Kurds hoping to turn their cities into global economic landmarks, they have big challenges set against them, terrorism and corruption being only a few.
These are little stories that emerge from great conflicts, and a testament to the human nature: to persevere in times of distress to create something that is either long-lasting or impacting. Some of them are known and some more are stories yet to explode to their fullest potential. In the end, there is a simple lesson here, and that’s obstacles are just routes to a different path.