Afghanistan's future may depend on how the country copes after the withdrawal of international troops. Some Afghans are arming themselves with German university degrees - with the goal of returning to rebuild their home.
"Erfurt certainly is not Berlin," Edris Arib, above left, laughs. The 27-year old Afghan is a student in the city of Erfurt, but his first stop in Germany was the capital. There, he spent half a year completing a language course and developed quite a liking for the capital. But his actual destination in Germany is Erfurt.
"Going from Kabul to Berlin was even more difficult," he said. For Edris Arib, Berlin's art and culture scene take a back seat to his studies, so living in quiet Erfurt isn't much of an issue. The young man has come to Germany to earn a university degree in political science. His ultimate goal? Return to his home country in two years' time to help rebuild Afghanistan.
In Kabul, Edris Arib worked as a judicial consultant to the European Union. He was able to take a break from his job but had to leave his family behind in order to come to Germany. He was accompanied by Abdul Wahab Sarwary, a 33-year old who already has a degree in economics from Kabul University.
Both Arib and Sarwary are completing a Masters in Public Policy and Good Governance at the Willy Brandt School in Erfurt. The program is a joint venture with the German Acadamic Exchange Program (DAAD).
"Good governance is still a big problem in Afghanistan," Sarwary said. There's a lot of corruption and poor security for people working for the government and the army, he adds. Soon, he's hoping to put his political theory skills to practice in his home country.
Training the future elite
Some 75 students from 40 countries have enrolled in the program for the winter term. They come from Western countries, as well as the developing world. All courses in the degree program are taught in English by people like Heike Grimm, a professor for public policy and founding member of the school. "Most people later want to work in public administration and want to prepare themselves for a leadership position," Grimm said.
Courses like Strategic Marketing or Financial Management are mandatory but there's also a focus on ethical questions - like how to tackle corruption. "This is not only about local corruption but also in reference to development aid," Grimm said. This was an issue they discussed with the students. She asked them to talk about their home countries so that she can get the perspective of those affected. "We develop a picture of what the situation in the country is like and then develop a political approach that would work there," she said.
Afghanistan, Liberia, Egypt, Syria and many other countries rocked by conflict are the focus for the Willy Brandt School. What measures can be taken in the home country? What are positive approaches in administration and politics that will reduce violence? What changes will eventually lead to more democracy? For Arib and Sarwary those are the questions that matter.
Both describe the situation in Afghanistan as extremely difficult. The year 2014 will be a crucial one, as international troops are set to withdraw and the country will have to stand on its own feet. Afghanistan has already mastered many challenges in its history, they say, but there's still a long road ahead.
"I am sure that Afghanistan can make it," Sarwary said. The biggest problem he sees at the moment are the upcoming presidential elections next year. "This will be crucial for the future and will have a direct impact on everything happening in Afghanistan."
Giving the people a voice
The cost for the Erfurt degree is 1,500 euros ($2,056) per semester, and most of the students are funded by a grant. Both Sarwary and Arib are sponsored by DAAD. As soon as Sarwary is finished with his degree, he wants to go back to Afghanistan and work for a development program. When he departed Afghanistan, it was still difficult to reach people and integrate them into the country's political process, to give them a voice.
"We have to mobilize them," Sarwary said. "We need more transparency and good governance."
Many projects didn't work in the past because they didn't take into account the real needs of the people, he explains. For him the key to Afghanistan's future is clear: democracy.