Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Bosnia - safe and ready for investments

BEFORE the genocide of the early '90s, most Malaysians hardly knew the existence of a state in the Yugoslav federation called Bosnia. After the mass killings which lasted several years that shook the world, a new independent nation emerged to stake its rightful claim in the world community of nations - Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Two weeks ago, two Malaysian delegations were in Sarajevo, the bustling capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina. One was led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the other by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Such was Malaysia's affinity with the Bosnians that the old and the new were in the capital at the same time.

Both were there to help promote business in the war-ravaged country. Both leaders had separate programmes and did not meet, contrary to what some political observers may think. The Prime Minister stayed one night in the city and officiated a bilateral business seminar. He left for Italy after that.

Sarajevo appears right for some real business. Being summer, the days were long and one can cover a lot of grounds if one is doing some serious search for potential businesses. It was this search for business collaboration that the proponents for the Global Alliance for Partnership in International Development (GAPID) sat huddled in one of the quieter villas on the outskirt of Sarajevo last week.

Foreign friends of Bosnia had gathered to work out a plan of action which they hoped could help chart the country's destiny. There are altogether some 5 million Bosnians in the world, with about 3.5 million residing in the country. The others had fled for their lives between 1992 and 1995 and are now making a living in their adopted home. Many have promised to return, and this has given the Bosnian government confidence and hope.

Bosnia Herzegovina had a fiery and painful birth, witnessed by a world who played deaf and mute while mass killings - ethnic cleansing as described by some people - went on for several years with minimum intervention by the UN and other world powers. Today, that nation is hungry for jobs, development and wants to share its domestic wealth with the rest of the world.

Sarajevo, which suffered heavy bombardment from the Serbian armed forces in the four year period in the '90s, is gradually rebuilding itself. Showrooms of luxury cars and new buildings and apartments stand side by side with old buildings pockmarked by scars made by mortar bombs and bullets.

Dr Mahathir sat with friends of Bosnia for three days (June 23 to 25) to help work out new initiatives to facilitate further the reconstruction of the country. The president of the Islamic Development Bank joined CEOs, businessmen, think tank members and other parties as they brainstormed possible ideas.

In fact, Bosnian Prime Minister Nedzad Brankovic joined the group on Monday morning, lending the discussion strong support and official endorsement. Gapid is an initiative by Dr Mahathir to get the private sector of Islamic countries to work together and strengthen their national economy and improve on their international networking.

It's early days yet, and Gapid has to work extremely hard to make its plan achieve the desired effect. Bosnia is a country that is aggressively pursuing a free-enterprise economy after years of conflict and even longer years under a centrally-planned economic system. Let's wish Bosnia well. And if you have the money, make a short trip there to do your own assessment.

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