Sabri Ben-Achour (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Sabri Ben-Achour (Forum of Srebrenica NGOs, Bosnia): Sabri was born in France to parents from Tunisia and New Zealand. He has lived in Tunisia, grew up in the United States, and holds British citizenship. In 2002, Sabri graduated with distinction from the University of Virginia. He lived in France and Jordan, studying French and Arabic. Sabri has also worked as a political intern with the Human Rights Campaign, the Arab American Institute, and the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom. At the time of his fellowship, Sabri was pursuing his Master's student at Georgetown University where he was studying foreign policy and international development.

NGOs and Government in Bosnia

27 Jun

My past two weekks in Bosnia have been consumed by two things: everyone frantically trying to complete Drina’s compilation of project proposals to the dutch organization Cordaid which will cover Drinas budget for the next two years, and the very lengthy process of sorting out the missing and the dead from the 1995 massacre whose commemoration will be coming up on the 11th of July.

Drina depends on funding from two sources. The primary source is Cordaid. The Dutch have been particularly active and supportive in Bosnia in terms of funding, this may be because of long-standing accusations that Dutch peacekeepers permitted the atrocities to happen and did not fulfill their duty to protect the disarmed inhabitants of Srebrenica from Serb attacks. In any case, the Dutch organization Cordaid is Drinas primary donor. Recently, CARE international has also begun funding smaller scale projects.

According to research done on the NGO sector in the past few years, this is a critical weakness of Bosnian NGOs: narrowness of funding sources, and implicitly a lack of funding from the community. This lack of funding is due in part to poverty. Srebrenica hasnt been able to cover more than half of its own budget in ten years (the remainder is handed down from the federal government). In addition, local governments are reticient in paying NGOs to perform services for them. This is tied to another weakness in the NGO sector, which Ill address further below, its reluctance to work closely with government to accomplish goals. I have brought this up on several occasions and to several people inside my organization and outside, and the response I receive is uniform: the government is either too corrupt or too ineffectual to be relied upon or to spend valuable energy meddling with.

Back to the specific projects for which Drina is applying to Cordaid for funding, the main projects included in the final proposal covered mine risk education (over 4% of Bosnias surface area is still mined), capacity building for NGOs in Srebrenica, youth services like computer lessons or drug prevention campaigns, and economic development campaigns that include entrepreneurial training, trade linkage promotion, and publishing of business guides that list all the businesses and project proposals (to serve as examples) in a municipality.

So we spent many hours putting these proposals together.

The second task, assigned specifically to me, was to compare two published lists of dead or missing persons from the general area of Srebrenica. One list contained 12,000 first names, last names, fathers names, dates of birth, ID numbers, and places of death and was published by an official government commission. The other list contained 8,000 names and similar information and was compiled by independent investigators. My task was to find which names on the list of 8,000 were not on the list of 12,000. Thus I had to meticulously go through over 20,000 names in total. I found about 900 names that were on the shorter list but not on the longer one. I also kept track of names that were repeated, and noted the most certain repeats in a separate list (about 130 names). This took several days.

This week we are all working together to put an economic guide together for the Municipality of Bratunac. This will include a list of all the businesses, governmental offices, and methods for writing project proposals to international donors and the municipality. This is a service that one would think the municipality should perform itself if not contribute funding to. But the problem of poverty quickly brings into focus the implausibility of that option, for now.

As I mentioned earlier, the government of Bosnia has a number of problems. One, which I will save for a later blog, is the nationalist character of the parties that came to power in the last election. There are two more fundamental problems however. Corruption and a painfully inefficient structure.

The police departments have been singled out as especially corrupt, and I have heard complaints of corruption in the university admissions system from virtually every single student (or hopeful student) I have spoken with, and I have spoken to many. “You need to know someone, or you need to have money to pay someone” explained my coworker Dina. This has been echoed countless times in other conversations with other students. It seemed to be born out as well when a family from Srebrenica arrived at the office of our director to beseach him to try to do whatever he could to help their daughter get into a university in Tuzla. Another friend of mine, Jasmin, put a specific number on the bribes one must pay to get certain high paying jobs: anywhere from 500 to 2000KM (350 to 1300$) a phenomenal sum where the median salary (for those in the formal sector, as opposed to the informal sector which employs up to 40% of young people according to USAID) is around 400$ a month.

A friend of mine who works as a European Union political monitor in this region, and who travels every day to various municipalities to find information on political developments, believes that corruption at the municipal level is vast and tightly aligned with corruption of police departments. Mayors and municipal officials depend on local police to support them and comprise a patronage web from which they benefit. This has led to a very slow process of anti-corruption reform.

Closely tied to the issue of police reform is the second major problem in Bosnian politics, the political structure itself. After the Dayton Accords put an end to the war, they left in place a compromise structure that was designed only to end the violence, and not to underpin the entire functioning of a government. As a result, there are two virtually autonomous regions in Bosnia, Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Each has different parliaments, different police forces, and until recently its own de facto army (even now some recruits refuse to pledge their allegiance to Bosnia as a whole and instead pledge allegiance only to Republika Srpska). the RS doesnt want to give up this autonomy and is blocking standardization of the police forces. As a result, the region is likely to face sanctions by the EU who has put as conditions for entry a standardized national (and less corrupt) police force.

At the national level, there are three different presidents who rotate every eight months, as well as a host of conflicting layers of bureaucracy and legislative bodies. It is a miracle that anything is acccomplished at all.

These issues go some way in explaining the difficulty the NGO sector in Bosnia has had in working with government.

Posted By Sabri Ben-Achour (Bosnia & Herzegovina)

Posted Jun 27th, 2005

1 Comment

  • Michael

    October 11, 2007


    Can u tell me how to contact any police agency via email which governs the city Gradiska in Bosnia (euro)?

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