On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

From the Last Member of the International Peace Cooperation Assignment in Sudan

Major Masahide Kimura
Staff Officer (Logistics), Force Headquarters, UNMIS 

1. Introduction

I worked in the United Nations Mission in Sudan from April 19 to September 28, 2011, as one of the last Japanese staff officers. Overcoming a couple of violent situations such as the Sudan Armed Forces' occupation of Abyei on May 21 and the following escalation of the conflict in neighboring South Kordofan State in Sudan, South Sudan achieved independence on July 9, thus became the 54th nation in Africa. UNMIS accordingly ceased its operations and started withdrawing on July 11.

While the majority of UNMIS 's staff officers had moved to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to work anew in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, I engaged in the tasks accompanying the withdrawal of UNMIS in Khartoum until September 28.

Because I had the precious opportunity to witness a nation's independence and engaged in a UN peacekeeping mission's withdrawal, I would like to introduce my experience in Sudan, hoping it will serve as reference to Japan's future international peacekeeping operations.

2. My Experience

(1) As a Logistics Officer

As I mentioned, my mission as a staff officer in charge of logistics in the UNMIS Force Headquarters was to liaise and coordinate with all sectors and the ISS for the purposes of carrying out the assignments according to the logistics priorities, and to provide the best logistic support for the UNMIS military section.

A "sector" refers to a troop, and the " ISS " stands for the "Integrated Support Service," a unit that is comprised of civilians and that helps the Mission procure and take care of equipment. Therefore, I mainly communicated with each troop and coordinated logistics requests with the ISS .

I checked the current state of each military observer and troop, and, in cooperation with the ISS , dealt with the maintenance of the vehicles of military observers, who observe the implementation status of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, food and water supplies for troops, the working status of military observers, and the maintenance of their camps. For that purpose, we had regular meetings with the transport and other sections within the ISS , shared information, and worked together to solve problems.

The hottest issue while I was on duty there was the mud tire supply for military observers' vehicles. The supply had started in January 2011, before I arrived at my post, but tended to be delayed. Private companies are commissioned to transport UN equipment, but they could be searched at checkpoints at the Sudanese authorities' discretion if they did not have security clearance (travel permission). Security clearance had not been issued since the security deterioration in May, and freight transportation had been stuck at Port Sudan and El Obeid, a major logistics base, for more than two months, even though import procedures had been completed.

Faced with this situation, we repeatedly requested an early distribution of mud tires from the transport section in meetings, but the UNMIS 's mandate expired with South Sudan's independence, leaving the problem unsettled. South Sudan's mere 60km of paved roads were a major obstacle to military observers' activities, since the rainy season from June through September turned the remaining unpaved roads in marshes. I regret we were not able to fix the problem.

The troops' self-support system was severely affected after trucks that had supplied food and water had suspended their operations due to deteriorating security, so we were forced to rely on the special flight requests.

Through the experience, I learned that logistics can be severely harmed by the security situation, and that a continuous and detailed observation of troops is indispensable for working efficiently with the ISS .

Once I fully explained the current situation of the troops, the ISS took action. When military observers' vehicles did not work, I recorded their inoperative period and troubled parts, which I think facilitated the ISS 's response. As is the case with Japan's Self-Defense Forces, I learned attentiveness is the crux of logistics.

I was given the first opportunity to visit a troop about a month after I started working, and went to see local sites. I reconfirmed the importance of grasping what was happening on the ground.

Unpaved, undrained muddy roads(img)1Unpaved, undrained muddy roads(img)2

Unpaved, undrained muddy roads

With a Chinese engineering captain at Wau(img)

With a Chinese engineering captain at Wau

With logistics staff officers at the Sector Force Headquarters in Juba(img)

With logistics staff officers at the Sector Force Headquarters in Juba

(2) As a Member of the UNMIS Withdrawal Team

As I mentioned, I was directed to work in the UNMIS withdrawal team after the mission ceased its operations. Even after I left Sudan, the withdrawal operation had not been completed due to the delayed transportation of equipment, since the Sudanese authorities were reluctant to issue security clearances. I nevertheless fulfilled my duty and managed to fly back to Japan.

I was initially engaged in preparing meetings, preparing conference rooms, and other general and logistic assignments, but later, as other staffers returned to their home country, I was ordered to liaise with the troops deployed in El Obeid and Kadugli. The team consisted of 10 personnel in the Force Headquarters plus nearly 1,000 civilians, headed by Deputy Force Commander. The team was downsized as the task progressed.

I made a point of double-checking to keep up with the present withdrawal status, by communicating not only with troops but with each section in the ISS , just as I had learned from other logistic affairs before. That was the policy of Brigadier Zakir, head of the team, and I learned that every duty starts from grasping the overall situation.

(3) My Life

Khartoum, where my workplace was, is a seven-million hub city, so I found no inconvenience living there. A small supermarket was within five-minute walk, along with a restaurant—but no McDonalds or KFCs, unlike other big cities. The restaurant was run by a Malaysian and served Chinese dishes, so I often made the 15-minute walk to eat there.

Unfortunately, I could not find any Sudanese restaurants that served local specialties; the only exception was the dishes a Japanese NGO local staffer cooked as my last lunch before I left for Japan. Main ingredients were beans, minced lamb and vegetables. The food was light but rich, with beans as the dominant taste. I regretted that I had not known about local dishes.

The scorching climate hit me. I used to drink no less than three liters of water every day. Non-Japanese air conditioners were so noisy and the heat made me so thirsty, I always found it difficult to fall into a deep sleep. I returned to Japan in fall, was finally able to get a sound sleep, and I truly appreciated how important deep sleep is.

While I was on duty, English was my primary cause of trouble. As UN staff came from all over the world, everyone had their own accent. People from the Commonwealth were the majority of all the UNMIS staff, so British, Australian, and Indian English were all Greek to me; I had studied only American English back in Japan. As time passed, however, I grew accustomed to their versions of English, and I was able to understand and then speak to them. My theory is that when you come to understand English, you can speak it.

I rented an apartment owned by a man and his Japanese wife; it was a 10-minute walk from the UNMIS Force Headquarters. Other Japanese who worked in UNMIS and NGO s lived within a 1 or 2km radius, so we used to throw parties and stay in touch. "Parties" may be exaggerated, as we just came to dine and exchange news, but those gatherings were quite helpful for me to manage stress, especially after Major Ko Kusaka, the other Japanese staff officer (database), left Sudan in late July.

Commanding Khartoum from the roof of the UNMIS Force HQ(img)

Commanding Khartoum from the roof of the UNMIS Force HQ

A taste of our home party—shogayaki (ginger-fried pork), curry, tempura, etc.(img)

A taste of our home party—shogayaki (ginger-fried pork), curry, tempura, etc.

A scene near my apartment; the road is covered with water after rain(img)

A scene near my apartment; the road is covered with water after rain

Pomelos—a precious source of Vitamin C(img)

Pomelos—a precious source of Vitamin C

2. Concluding Remarks

I owe the accomplishment of my mission as a last member in Japan's International Peace Cooperation Assignment in Sudan to the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters, the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, and my family. I was dispatched one month after the Great East Japan Earthquake, just when Japan was struggling for reconstruction. I am confident that I worked in UNMIS on behalf of Japan, thinking about my colleagues engaging in rescue activities back in Japan.

When I arrived in Japan in the fall and saw all the leaves turning, I finally felt I was back in Japan. It gave me utmost pleasure to contribute to Japan's international peace cooperation as a Japanese. I am ready to work again in the Self-Defense Forces, tapping into my experience in Sudan.

With Brig. Zakir, Head of the UNMIS withdrawal team. Mission accomplished!(img)

With Brig. Zakir, Head of the UNMIS withdrawal team. Mission accomplished!