Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

NGOs Take Kosovo Flak

Freed from Belgrade's control, Kosovo Albanians have found a new regime to complain about - the international community
By Kate Tedesco

"Look at this mess," complains the young director of a local non-governmental organization, NGO, in Pristina. "More than 400 agencies here and they can't even figure out how to keep the streets clean.


"Every day it becomes more and more clear that the international community in Kosovo has been a complete failure."


His words, while harsh, echo the sentiments of many disappointed Kosovars. Last June United Nations agencies and around 600 foreign NGOs descended on the province after the departure of Yugoslav forces.


Local people thought the internationals would bring with them more than enough money, personnel and know-how to establish reasonable social order and security - quickly.


But Kosovars soon came to the conclusion foreign agencies were more concerned about fighting turf wars, competing over areas of responsibility and shares in the $2.2 billion of aid promised to the province. By the time things had settled down and projects could actually start, winter had already set in.


Common complaints from local residents, aside from litter on the streets, concern poor levels of security, failure to repair public buildings, lack of equipment and delays in replacing identity papers and travel documents.


The international community has been criticised for directionless and inadequate training of local police recruits, and for its lack of progress in reintegrating former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas into society.


Some foreign aid workers share the sense of disillusionment. "It's like all these groups arrived en masse, but instead of taking the time to look around and decide what kind of projects were really needed here, they just defined project areas based on what they thought they could get financing for," said one aid worker from the United States. "Now they have all this money and they haven't a clue what to do with it."


Kosovars point to the salaries, the cars and the benefits dished out to foreign employees. Educated locals earn much less, they complain.


"Kosovo is sexy and everyone wants to say they've been here," said one Kosovar official. "Most are here for the money and to build their CV, so I wish they would just do their work and move on instead of acting like hypocrites."


A jaded UN employee admits he's counting the days to his next assignment, " It's the system. For most, Kosovo is a stop-over on the way to building a career and snagging a post in Geneva or New York."


But some international officials have been angered by Albanian criticism and stereotyping.


"I understand that a decade of oppression and over a year of war takes its toll...but it's like Kosovars had become accustomed to blaming everything on the Serbs, " said one foreign aid worker. " Now the Serbs are gone, they can't function without an enemy, so the internationals are the new bad guys."


"We saved their asses," storms a frustrated American relief official after overhearing a local complaining loudly about the international community in a Pristina café. "And now they can't stand us! What do they expect? We can't rebuild Kosovo overnight."


True, but anyone who's spent time on the ground over the past year will notice that some have made great progress in rebuilding Kosovo - and they're predominantly locals.


While the internationals were busy setting up offices and playing the funding game, local entrepreneurs were already hard at work building businesses, many of which are thriving.


It's hard not to observe that perhaps in Kosovo internationals would have been better off simply letting the locals get on with the job of rebuilding the province.


Kate Tedesco is a writer and development consultant based in New York.