On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

My Life in the International Peace Cooperation Corps in Sudan

Major Ko Kusaka
International Activity Education Corps, Central Readiness Force

In July 2011, I returned to Japan, my home country, after having worked as the sixth and the last database staff officer of the Joint Mission Analysis Center ( JMAC ) in the UN Mission dispatched under the scheme of Japan's International Peace Cooperation Corps in Sudan. As I left Japan in April of the same year, my term of the dispatch was only for three months. However, during this time, I was able to receive support from organizations such as the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters of the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defense, for whom I work. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported me in Sudan, too. I would like to take this opportunity to truly appreciate all of them.

Thank you for visiting "On-site Reports from Our Peacekeepers." Please give me five minutes to talk about my experiences in Sudan. It would be very nice if I could tell you how the officers of the Ministry of Defense are working with the UN Peacekeeping Operations. By the way, thanks to the prohibition of photography in Sudan, I'm afraid that I have only a few photos to show you.

Two of the six Corps officers(img)

Two of the six Corps officers

1. The Country of Sudan

As you may know, Sudan is in Africa. Before South Sudan's independence, the area of Sudan used to be 250km2, the biggest in Africa. It used to have nine neighboring countries, the most in Africa. For this reason, instability of this country could be influential on many countries, so I think Sudan is important from the viewpoint of international security. It makes sense that Japan dispatched officials to UNMIS , when it contributed to UN Peacekeeping Operations from this viewpoint.

Sudan, except the south, is an Islamic region, and most of the Sudanese people, except those in the south, are Muslim. The Islamic call for prayer ringing out from the speakers creates an exotic mood every day. Because Sudan is an Islamic nation, Friday and Saturday are the public holidays for UNMIS . At the beginning, I felt somewhat happy for not working on Friday, but it brought a feeling of strangeness to work on Sunday.

The north of the country is in the desert climate zone, and the south (currently the Republic of South Sudan) is in the semiarid climate zone. I stayed in the capital city of Khartoum, and a sandstorm called haboob made me realize that the north region including Khartoum was in the desert climate zone. During my stay, I experienced two small haboobs. The wind becomes stronger and stronger, and then the sky turns yellow. Dust breaks into houses. I wear contact lenses, and didn't feel like going out on such a day.

Sand in my room(img)

Sand in my room

Yellow sky(img)

Yellow sky

2. The Work of JMAC 

In traditional peacekeeping operations missions, a force sector is often designed as the main body; the force commander often becomes the chief officer. On the other hand, it is observed that recent missions, in their mandate, have civil sectors as well as force sectors. Because both sectors are ultimately designed for the same purpose, a division into which both sectors are integrated is also established for more efficient performance of the mission. JMAC is one of the units in this division. JMAC is responsible for strategic information analysis from the long-term standpoint of the whole mission. It does not focus on the situation of the following days. It analyzes how the situation will change, if an election is held six months later. I worked in the database team of this JMAC .

When I was working there, the database team had three staff officers; one manager, one developer (the author) and one operator. We all looked at computers all day long, and were engaged in different tasks to archive data. Besides the database team, JMAC also has an analysis team. Our database team was expected to assist this analysis team. That is to say, our team stores a lot of information in the database, so that the analysis team could make use of this database when necessary. For instance, the analysis team can obtain necessary data by searching the archived database, as the data can be retrieved by category.

As such, the work of our database team is basically low-key. However, the team gets busy whenever the database gets compromised or even destroyed. Because the database is made with special software, it is necessary to repair the database with the complicated blueprint of this software. Fortunately, I only experienced minor repair work once. It was completed simply by replacing the broken files with other appropriate files and then the database resumed its function. However, I did not understand why it got broken at the beginning, so I begged for help for the Japanese UN volunteer personnel who were working nearby and who had deep knowledge of PCs. Although the UN has an IT section, they could not resolve the problem, and my colleague in the team laughingly said "the Japanese technology won the IT section."

The database team(img)

The database team

3. Japanese People in Sudan

It was estimated that 148 Japanese people lived in Sudan during my tenure there. The two of us—members of the six International Peace Cooperation Corps members in Sudan—became the 149th and 150th Japanese.

Except for the Japanese Military Attaché who received us at the airport, the first Japanese we met was the landlord of our apartment. We, the six International Peace Cooperation Corps members, took over the rooms from our predecessors, and the landlord of this apartment was Japanese. It is convenient to have a Japanese landlord. It brings a sense of ease. It is possible to negotiate in Japanese. I appreciate him for his kindness.

I also found Japanese people not only in the Japanese Embassy but in the UN organizations and NGO s. As I sometimes had meals with them, I realized that a part of my job here was to be a PR staff of the Ministry of Defense who was dispatched to the peacekeeping operation mission.

4. The Desert

The members of the UN Peacekeeping Operation missions can take so-called " UN leave," but I didn't take it, because it was unofficially said that our mission was almost ending. I just visited the Meroe Pyramids on weekends (Friday and Saturday). The Kingdom of Kush, which once controlled the kingdom of Egypt, finally settled near the Meroe Pyramids.

The Meroe Pyramids are located in the desert about 100 km north of Khartoum. The satellite photos show the geological formation; the north is largely desert; it looks brown and it gets green as you move southward. The place was deep in the desert. It was my first experience to visit the desert, and it was extremely hot.

The Meroe Pyramids(img)

The Meroe Pyramids

Me and the Pyramids(img)

Me and the Pyramids

A cute camel(img)

A cute camel

5. Chinese and Korean Penetrations

Chinese penetration into Africa is occasionally reported in the media, and I saw for myself how true this was in Sudan. About half of the passengers flying to Sudan looked Chinese; I couldn't help wondering if the plane was really heading to Sudan. Also, houses were being built all over Khartoum, and I found many Chinese construction workers there.

The numbers of Koreans in Sudan, too, were large. There are parking lots probably for the UNMIS staff along the outer wall of the UNMIS site, and there were a number of Korea's famous Hyundai vehicles. I think about half of the vehicles there were Hyundai. Of course the Japanese cars such as Toyota and Nissan were also well represented in Sudan, but the Hyundai seemed to fit right in. The current capital of South Sudan is Juba, though they are considering relocating it to Ramciel. Local media have reported that a Korean firm called the Land Housing Corporation will cooperate in this relocation process, and an MOU was signed on June 16, 2011.

6. Independence of South Sudan

Following the referendum in January, South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9th, 2011. On that day in Khartoum, where I was staying, life seemed normal. It was just heard that a big independent ceremony was held in the South Sudan's capital city of Juba.

On the other hand, as you may know, armed conflicts are still observed along the border, especially in the Abyei area where a territorial dispute has been unsolved for years. A new UN Peacekeeping Operation mission called UNISFA was established in the area. After its establishment, the single country finally had three UN Peacekeeping Operation missions; UNMIS , UNAMID and UNISFA . In Sudan, I realized that world peace was yet to be created.

Also, there are many petroleum areas in South Sudan, but the pipelines are constructed only in Sudan. Therefore, this pipeline is quoted for negotiations between the two countries over petroleum oil.

Although South Sudan achieved its independence, improvement of its governance is a primary challenge, along with all the above-mentioned issues. It is said that the Khartoum government intentionally delayed the development projects in the South region before the independence of South Sudan. Therefore, the statistics indicate low primary education rates and a weak infrastructure in South Sudan.

The country is facing many challenges, but I hope that South Sudan will be developed with the help of peacekeeping operations and other UN organizations and NGO s.

These are just some personal thoughts. I hope I was able to give you some idea of the activities of a Japanese Self-Defense officer dispatched to the UN Peacekeeping Operation mission. Thank you for taking the time to read my article. Shukran(Thank you)!