This USAID “gap analysis” for Bosnia and
Herzegovina dropped into my inbox last week. I encourage those
interested in the prospects for political and economic reform there
to have a flip through the powerpoint slides. Bottom line: whatever
the international community and the Bosnians have been doing about
reform since 2006, it isn’t working.
There are likely several reasons for this. The
ethnonationalist polarization of Bosnian politics intensified
rapidly in 2006 after the rejection of the “April package” of
constitutional amendments. Bosniak candidate for the presidency
Haris Silajdzic amped up his rhetoric against Republika Srpska
leader Milorad Dodik, who replied in kind. Both enjoyed political
success as a result, though Dodik has last much longer and gotten
At about the same time, the European Union chose
Christian Schwarz-Schilling as the international community’s High
Representative responsible for ensuring implementation of the Dayton
accords. Schwarz-Schilling was committed to lightening the touch of
the Hirep and vowed not to use the dictatorial “Bonn powers” that
had been bestowed on that office in 1997. This relieved a great deal
of the pressure for reform and freed the country’s politicians to
pursue their private interests at the expense of the state, as they
would no longer find themselves summarily sacked for doing so.
The financial crisis of 2007/8 then took the wind
out of the Bosnian economy’s sails. With growth slackening, the
politicians found less cream to skim and naturally slowed the pace
of reform even further, hoping to husband some state resources for
their own benefit and to protect themselves from the electorate’s
wrath at the reduced patronage benefits available. The corrupt and
costly consequences of their behavior are well-documented.
Corruption in Bosnia is not an aberration. It is the system, as
Valery Perry has recently shown.
The question is: what should a foreign assistance
organization like USAID do with its money in a situation like this?
Obviously not what it was doing before, which was
grants to lots of widely scattered even if worthy projects. Nor, in
my view, should it try to push reform by financing it. The money AID
is likely to have in the future for Bosnia is nowhere near enough to
convince a rational actor to undertake the kinds of reforms that are
needed. Only the EU and the international financial institutions
have that kind of money these days.
But conditionality and external pressure is not
enough. The current Bosnian leaders won’t reform unless they feel
some pressure not only from the international community but also
from their own constituencies. One of the few reforms Bosnia has
gotten right in recent years is its electoral system, which runs
reasonably well. The problem has been that voters keep electing the
same ethnonationalists who promise to protect them from other
ethnonationalists. This mutual security dilemma keeps all three
varieties in power, each for fear of the others.
Were I in charge, I would take all of the AID
money and put it on a single objective: mounting a serious,
sustained campaign across ethnic lines to unseat corrupt politicians
and replace them with people committed to transparent and
accountable governance, again across ethnic lines. The money might
go to independent investigatory media, auditing bodies, judicial
training, civil society organizations and thinktanks to support the
kind of analysis and social mobilization required to unveil corrupt
practices and hold perpetrators accountable.
The 2009 AID Anticorruption Assessment Handbook
recommends pretty much that kind of program. In a country where
“high-level fugures collude to weaken political/economic
competitors,” it suggests:
seek gradual pluralization of political
system with new competing groups emerging based on open, vigorous
and broad-based economy
build independence and professionalism in
the bureaucracy, courts and legislative institutions.
There is a serious question whether an effort of
this sort can be run out of an American embassy. Valery Perry thinks
yes. I doubt it. American embassies have too many other urgent
priorities to worry about the merely important. The latest is
countering recruitment of foreign fighters, which has pretty much
taken precedence in all countries with significant Muslim
populations for the past year or two. Bosnia has contributed a more
than proportionate number of fighters, so that priority is likely to
crowd out most everything else.
Of course any ambassador worth her salt would want
to know if the US government is funding a program of the sort I
suggest and exercise oversight. But wisdom might dictate that it be
conducted, transparently and accountably, through non-governmental
channels. There are lots of American and non-American civil society
organizations capable of such work. I hope they get the resources
needed to make a real go of it.