This study started as an enquiry into the employment opportunities rural migrants have found on the informal margins of Kandahar’s urban economy. It broadened into a more general investigation into the rise and fall of the city’s economy since 2001, including interviews with businessmen and others familiar with the reconstruction boom the city experienced. The study focuses on three sub-sectors of the street vendor economy: the selling of tarpaulins, clothes and mobile phones. Many of the vendors are migrants from Kandahar’s rural districts, often landless, driven out by insecurity and a lack of employment owing to drought. In the boom years, being a street vendor provided a significantly better living than people had had before. But now times are harder, insecurity is greater and there has been a general economic downturn. In addition, people face major risks as the police see vendors as a potential security threat and the municipality treats them as illegal. This paper examines the drivers behind the vendors’ move into the urban economy, the barriers to being able to prosper, and the troubled relationship with the city authorities.