Jul 13, 2020

JICA's Project Histories Series: First English-Language Title Focuses on Peacebuilding in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina

Katsutoshi Fushimi , Assistant Director, JICA Ogata Research Institute

In this guest post, Katsutoshi Fushimi, Assistant Director of the JICA Ogata Research Institute, discusses a new publication, the first English-language title in JICA's Project Histories Series. In the photo above, local residents gather with officials and the Japanese ambassador for the launch of JICA's assistance project in Srebrenica. Photo courtesy of JICA Ogata Research Institute.

Every development project has a story. And for many projects, this story can be almost as exciting as a novel, with protagonists who contend with obstacles and challenges that stand in the way of reaching their goals and achieving development impacts. 

The JICA Ogata Sadako Research Institute for Peace and Development (JICA Ogata Research Institute) publishes the "Project History Series.” So far, the institute has published 25 Japanese-language installments in this series. This initiative aims to review JICA's development cooperation projects to date, analyzing their trajectories and outcomes. Each installment is a full narrative, and until now, the targeted readers have been Japanese development practitioners and those interested in development cooperation. The authors are Japanese experts and JICA overseas office representatives engaged in projects. Unlike “official” reports or publications, the series depicts the “messy” reality of development projects and describes how experts have muddled through crises, conflicts, disagreements, and challenges during project implementation.

This year, hoping to reach a global audience, the JICA Ogata Research Institute published the first English-translated version of the series. The book title is "A Memoir of a Japanese Development Practitioner: In Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina." This publication describes a peace-building project, unprecedented in JICA’s history, which promoted ethnic reconciliation and post-conflict rehabilitation by offering agricultural assistance following the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

In 1995, towards the end of the Bosnian conflict, more than 8,000 Bosniak (Muslim) residents were massacred in Srebrenica. Many international development organizations provided support in the post-conflict period, and in 2005, JICA launched a project to promote ethnic reconciliation and post-conflict rehabilitation. One of the authors of the study, Oizumi Yasumasa, was dispatched to Srebrenica as a JICA expert and lived there for five-and-a-half years. Oizumi began to question the appropriateness of providing support within the prevailing understanding among the international community. Donor organizations regarded Bosnian Muslim residents as the victims of the armed conflict, and as such, focused their assistance on this population. Oizumi was keenly aware, however, that assistance to only the Bosniak residents would never lead to ethnic reconciliation and would only widen the gap between the ethnicities. He put down roots in the village of Skelani in Srebrenica and engaged in daily discussions with the residents. Oizumi started to look for new ways to achieve ethnic reconciliation with the members of NGOs established by local residents and the members of the municipal government.

Over the next eight years or so, through a wide range of activities such as planting plum seedlings, planting strawberries and greenhouse vegetables, growing and processing herbs, restoring pastures, beekeeping, and renovating water supply facilities, the incomes of both Bosniak and Serb residents increased, and interaction between the two ethnicities gradually developed. Then, Oizumi and the members of the NGOs and municipal government managed to open a kindergarten attended by children from both ethnicities. Throughout the project, the authors write, JICA acted as a catalyst, drawing the two ethnicities closer. Oizumi says providing opportunities for local people to think, take action and open up their own lives is what development cooperation is all about.

Based on the activities in Srebrenica, Oizumi and his co-authors have shared ten tips for carrying out ethnic reconciliation assistance. They are:

  1. Don’t be naïve; be professional
  2. Bring two sides together while softening potential frictions
  3. Don’t be too nervous about working on ethnic reconciliation
  4. Live in the field and make decisions based on your own judgment
  5. Be in the field: new discoveries are always out there
  6. Make the most of local skills
  7. Don’t erode self-reliance
  8. Get governmental organizations involved from the beginning
  9. Don’t try to evade a problem but deal with it sincerely
  10. Deliver hope and direction for living to the local people

You can download this publication in PDF format here.  The JICA Ogata Research Institute will continue to publish English-language texts in this series.

Photo: Local people in front of an office building in Srebrenica. Photo courtesy of JICA Ogata Research Institute.