No.4 Colonel Toru Namatame : 20th Anniversary

Relay Messages from Japanese Peacekeepers

Relay Messages from Japanese Peacekeepers_No.4  Colonel Toru Namatame(img)

<Photo> At the office of the Coordination Office


Colonel Toru Namatame(img)

Toru Namatame

Head of the Coordination Office ( CO ) in South Sudan

Colonel Namatame has belonged to the Central Readiness Force of the Self-Defense Force since January 2012, and is concurrently Head of the CO .
He was appointed Commander of the 9th Engineer Battalion in Hachinohe in 2005, Military Attaché of the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN in 2007, and International Regional Coordinator of the 2nd Operations Division, Operations Department, Joint Staff Office in 2011.
He participated in the Iraq Reconstruction Assistance Unit in 2004 and was in charge of planning and coordination after he had worked in the Staff College of the Ground Self-Defense Force ( GSDF ), Research Department of the GSDF Engineering School and the Human Resource Management Division of the Ground Staff Office.
In 1993, he was selected as a member of the International Peace Cooperation Corps in Mozambique, and became Company Commander of the 11th Engineering Group in Fukushima in 1997.
Colonel Namatame graduated from the National Defense Academy in 1989 and was enlisted into the GSDF in the same year. He was appointed Platoon Commander of the 11th Engineering Group in Fukushima and Akita. He was born in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1966.
He loves cycling. In South Sudan, he enjoys riding an exercise bike.

webJapan Ground Self-Defense ForceOpen new window

Colonel Namatame, you've been working at the Coordination Office ( CO ) of Japan's Self-Defense Forces ( SDF ) operating in South Sudan. What are your duties? How do you identify the role of CO , while the SDF engineer unit is also in operation in the capital city, Juba?

The Japanese contingent participating in UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan) consists of two components: our CO and an engineer unit. South Sudan is the world's newest state; it gained independence in July 2011. I find the people here cheerful and the streets bustling. On the other hand, in the wake of the lengthy civil war before independence, there's much to do here regarding state, institutions, and infrastructure.

Supporting South Sudan's state-building efforts is within UNMISS 's mandate, and the Japanese contingent is expected to help infrastructure development. However, it's actually quite a job to meet all the various and enormous expectations and the local needs. So, proper prioritization is a must, based on local benefit and feasibility as well as careful preparation for construction, like measuring, planning and arranging materials. For those reasons, I think the clear demarcation between the "task coordination function" through gathering local needs and consulting with UNMISS by the CO and the "execution function" as well as preparation for the task by the engineer unit makes our operations more effective and efficient because it enables us to concentrate on each activity.

I've heard the idea of creating coordination mechanism apart from an implementation unit came from our experience inthe United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor, when Japan dispatched engineer units as well. And our wish to create and propose tasks by ourselves through prior discussion and coordination in addition to accomplishing our tasks ordered by the UN came true when the SDF engaged inthe United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. I'd say the establishment of the CO embodies what Japan has learned from its participation in UN peacekeeping operations for 20 years.

It's been almost half a year since Japan launched theInternational Peace Cooperation Assignment in South Sudan. How has the local response been? Do you have anything you find difficult or you are particularly careful about? What kinds of future activities do you have in mind?

When we are in operation mostly in the streets—say, repairing a road—local people living nearby watch us working. They smile, and drivers pass by, waving their hands. I feel that we are welcomed and can work in a warm atmosphere. We take care of local relationships, and have local governmental staff control traffic and liaise with the community.

Since the Japanese contingent is a member of UNMISS , fundamentally it is supposed to serve the UNMISS mandate by carrying out daily tasks upon UNMISS 's request. On the other hand, I think it is useful to make proposals that match local needs and draw implementation plans that take local conditions into account from the technical viewpoint of an engineer. Further more, if the SDF can cooperate, in a com;emental manner, with UN agencies and international development assisatance agencies which have already engaged in activities here, that must be more effective. Over the past six months, the CO has established a process of understanding UN agencies' needs, summing up coordination plans, consulting with UNMISS and creating tasks. In reality, the Japanese engineer unit takes on those collaboration tasks in parallel with steadily performing its daily duties requested by UNMISS .

At the office of the Coordination Office(img)

At the office of the Coordination Office

The CO 's next target is how to promote our "all-Japan" approach to South Sudan as well as to the international community by opening up more opportunities in which Japan can work with UNMISS . That means better teamwork between the Cabinet Office (the Office of Liaison and Coordination Personnel), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Liaison Office of the Government of Japan in Juba) and the Ministry of Defense (the Japanese contingent)continues to be important. We are also discussing how to share information and better cooperate with JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and NGO s so we can leave more examples of closer cooperation with them.

Meeting with officers from the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs(img)

Meeting with officers from the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Juba, where the SDF is in operation, is located in the tropics, so I think you'd be concerned about health risks such as malaria. How is the living environment in Juba like? Did you find any security problems?

We can get minimum daily necessities, so you won't find life here inconvenient unless you are choosy. On the other hand, the most important thing is not to get sick, since South Sudan is a landlocked country far from Japan, and hospitals equipped with advanced medical appliances seem to be unavailable. We keep in mind that our health comes first, so no SDF personnel have had malaria or other serious diseases yet. It's also important to follow safety regulations to avoid careless injuries and accidents. Japanese peacekeepers make a habit of wearing a blue plastic helmet, not a blue beret, when they operate a machine or drive a vehicle.

From the security aspect, South Sudanese welcome the Mission as a whole, and we don't feel uneasy about local response to the Japanese unit's activities.

Colonel Namatame watching Japanese peacekeepers' activity(img)

Colonel Namatame watching Japanese peacekeepers' activity

You have experience in the International Peace Cooperation Assignment in Mozambique as well as in the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN Open new window, right? Could you describe your jobs there? Tell me how you're tapping into those experiences for the International Peace Cooperation Assignment in South Sudan.

In ONUMOZ (United Nations Operation in Mozambique), as a member of the movement control units of the SDF , I was in charge of ground handling for UN flight operations, i.e. loading up an aircraft with supplies and checking passengers in. I made efforts to coordinate different thoughts between the Mission Headquarters managing tasks, aircrew on the ground, senders of supplies, the transportation unit bringing cargo, airport officials and so on. In retrospect, I think it was the pioneer of the current integrated type of mission in which civilians and the military work together.

Juba, where the SDF is in operation, is located in the tropics, so I think you'd be concerned about health risks such as malaria. How is the living environment in Juba like? Did you find any security problems?

Colonel Namatame working for the UN mission in Mozambiqu(img)1Colonel Namatame working for the UN mission in Mozambique(img)2

Colonel Namatame working for the UN mission in Mozambique

From 2007 to 2010, I was assinged to New York as the military attaché of the Japanese Missoin and tasked with contacting the DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) , UN secretariat and arranging the dispatch and rotation of Japanese units and personnel. When the Japanese government decided to send an SDF unit to MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), I was contacting and coordinating with the UN secretariat, the Japanese side in Tokyo and the advanced team in Haiti so deploy the unit within a limited time. At that time, I had been so busy for weeks that I called up or e-mailed while walking or eating anonigiri(rice ball), but I found it rewarding to make what we had discussed a reality as well as I felt energy and potential of Japan. Besides coordination like that, I was given opportunities to attend fora such as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations(C-34), in which UN members discuss various peacekeeping issues and wrap up recommendations. From those experiences, I learned the characteristics of the recent peacekeeping operations, which put more emphasis on interrelation between peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

I'm sure I'm making full use of my “knowledge” about the features of integrated peacekeeping missions and UN procedures I learned in New York, plus my “experience” in Mozambique where all sections shared a goal and worked as one. I didn't intend it, but I feel a strange twist of fate. In my SDF career paralleled with the Japan's history of UN peacekeeping operations.

Do you have any personal stories you still remember about the past international peace cooperation you engaged in?

When I worked at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN Open new window, I happened to attend a meeting between a Japanese official from Tokyo and a UN official of the secretariat. At the beginning, the UN official said that he'd been in charge of ONUMOZ years ago, and that the Japanese units' activities had been really appreciated and he still remembered on-site reports. People still remembered our accomplishments with a good impression even 20 years later. Such a story makes me happy.

I hope our presence in South Sudan will leave the locals with a positive impression and will be engraved on their mind as a firm step toward consolidated peace and stability.

Give some messages or advice to students and other young people who are setting their heart on working in the field of international peace cooperation.

It seems to me that not just Japanese but any people engaging in UN activities and international peace cooperation are action-oriented and they always think about what they can do today. In the meantime, you must recognize properly what you can't do in order to become confident enough to demonstrate what you can do. It's essential for you to understand precisely your authority that is given to your post, and the mandate of the organization you belong to, in addition to your competence. Positive reactions and communication on top of better understanding of yourself would enable mutually complementary work in the international community, which I'm sure will bear lots of visible fruit.

Interviewed on August 8, 2012, at the Coordination Office in South Sudan.
Interviewers and Photographers:Masayasu Kubo and Makoto Yashiro, Liaison and Coordination Personnel in South Sudan, Cabinet Office

Back number :

No.1  Mr. Yasushi AkashiNo.2  Dr. Hideki KobayashiNo.3  Mr.Shigeru YotoriyamaSpecial Edition  Mr. Lou Oshiba

In “Relay Messages from Japanese Peacekeepers”, we look back on the history of Japan's international peace cooperation through messages delivered by prominent figures who are well versed in international peace cooperation as well as former members of International Peace Cooperation Corps in commemoration of the 20 years since the enactment of the International Peace Cooperation Law.

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