On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

One-Year-Old South Sudan and the Work of Logistics Officers

Major Yuichiro Koma
Logistics Officer, UNMISS 

1 . Opening

I left Japan on May 26, 2012, and arrived to work in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, as a logistics officer for UNMISS . Five months have already passed since I started working there, and I'm doing well thanks to the warm support from the government and my colleagues. In this ”on-site report“, I would like to talk about the current situation of South Sudan and the work of UNMISS logistics officers.

My office(img)

My officep

2 . Current Situation in South Sudan

(1) Climate

South Sudan is in the savanna climate region; it has both a rainy season (April to October) and a dry season (November to March) and is now in the transition to a dry season. The rainy season here is not like that in Japan; it has torrential thunderstorms lasting for one or two hours once every few days usually after sunset or before dawn. The temperature in the rainy season is almost the same as that of Tokyo in summer. I hear that the temperature in the dry season will reach 40 degrees Celsius in the day time. Well, it is getting hotter now, and the rainy days come at wider intervals. I can recognize that the rainy season is ending soon.

Fortunately I was not disturbed by the rain in Juba. However, the north of the country has more rainfall and is a vast swamp area that locals call ”Sudd“, and some of the roads are closed, as shown in the pictures below. Therefore, we have no choice but to rely on airlift for the delivery of goods.

Road conditions in the north (It is difficult to move through as people get mired in the mud. Cars also get stuck easily.)(img)

Road conditions in the north
(It is difficult to move through as people get mired in the mud. Cars also get stuck easily.)

(2) Security Situation

Probably many of you think that South Sudan is a dangerous place. However, the security situation in Juba is stable; there are no serious violent crimes or criminal activities against UN staff, although minor offences, including theft, are reported. Actually, I don't feel it dangerous to walk alone or jog around the hotel, so I could say that Juba is a safe place if you don't go out at night and avoid the off-limits areas created by the UN . On the other hand, nonlocals, including Japanese, clearly stand out; they tend to draw a lot of attention. I'm staying alert and trying not to forget that South Sudan is not Japan.

(3) Living Environment

The three Japanese staff officers including myself are staying at a hotel in Juba. Living in a hotel may sound luxurious, but the hotel life here is totally different from that of Japan; the room is quite simple, without a TV and without a refrigerator, although it is air conditioned, and a washroom and shower room with hot water are attached. However, I will not complain about the hotel, because it is secure and enough meals with satisfying quality are served. I can also call my family in Japan through the internet, although it is often disconnected and the connection speed is slow. I was surprised to see the hotel for the first time, as it looked like a military camp in an exercise area. Anyway, there is no place like home.

The outlook of the hotel and my room(img)

The outlook of the hotel and my room

(4) Situation in Juba

Contrary to the general image many have of developing countries, a variety of goods such as foods and electricity are sold in the market of Juba. Most daily commodities are available, if we don't request a specific brand or quality. The price is generally cheaper, and shoppers don't demand an outrageous price. Spending money in the local market will help develop the economy of South Sudan. Therefore, I'm just paying the asked price.

There are many restaurants for foreigners in the city such as Chinese and Italian. We can also have Japanese dishes cooked by the chef who studied in a Japanese restaurant in Kenya. Different kinds of local beer are also available. Eating out is one of our amusements in Juba.

By the way, traffic conditions are poor and disordered, and traffic accidents are frequently taking place in Juba. I could say that traffic accidents are one of the major causes of injury and death in Juba. I have a rental car with a local driver for commuting and holidays. However, I got a UN driver's license when I arrived here, and sometimes need to drive by myself on business. Whenever I drive, my heart is in my mouth. There are neither traffic lights nor concepts of yielding to pedestrians and through traffic in South Sudan; everyone drives without paying attention to others as if they had priority. Pedestrians also jump out from blind areas. Motorbike taxis calledboda bodaare especially dangerous; reverse driving, reckless overtaking and sudden lane changes are often observed. In addition, their driving skills are low. We have to pay maximum attention to other drivers.

Be careful of boda boda!(img)

Be careful ofboda boda!

3 . The Work of Logistics Officers

Logistics officers belong to the Logistics Section (J4) in the Force Headquarters ( FHQ ) of UNMISS . FHQ has a Force Commander ( FC ) and about 90 officers (from 23 countries), which is the only organization composed of military officers. J4 has four officers; chief officer (Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel), deputy chief officer (Australian Navy Lieutenant Commander), and two officers (Swedish Navy Lieutenant Commander, and me). In J4, I'm mainly in charge of grasping the logistics situations of battalions and military liaison officers deployed to the six states (Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Lakes) out of 10 states in South Sudan, solving problems for them, and offering induction training to newly posted officers concerning logistics. Moreover, as an extraordinary task, the chief officer asks me to travel to provincial areas to check the conditions of the equipment of newly deployed units and bases being constructed for their operations. For this purpose, I have already visited Western Equatoria State, Lakes State, and Jonglei State.

Regarding the relationship between the troops and UNMISS , any troops dispatched to UNMISS are under control of FC . However, FC has operational authority only over the battalions (battalions have been dispatched from India, Kenya, Rwanda, Mongolia and Nepal.). Engineering units are categorized as supporting units, and the civilian chief of the mission support section has operational authority over the engineering units. On the other hand, I, as a Japanese Self Defense Forces ( JSDF ) personnel dispatched to UNMISS , regularly share information with the Japanese Coordination Center and the Japanese engineering unit. Also, information concerning new foreign troops and their deployment is collected at FHQ ; it is meaningful to place JSDF personnel in FHQ , considering the importance of information gathering.

Some of my predecessors told me that everyone's everyone (Bs don't agree with that; it seems that they are working sincerely. Like Japan, FC makes a decision based on a report after discussion in a meeting organized by the chief of staff. What differs greatly is that no one works overtime.

Hiking with my colleagues of J4(img)

Hiking with my colleagues of J4

At the camp of the Rwandan Battalion in West Equatoria State(img)

At the camp of the Rwandan Battalion in West Equatoria State

4 . Japan's Image and Appreciation for Japan

Because disciplined and high skilled work of the JSDF in other UN missions has been greatly appreciated, there were high expectations to the Japanese engineering unit before being dispatched to UNMISS . I do recognize that their precise work is highly appreciated and trusted in Juba, and that the Japanese engineering unit is surely responding to the expectations. It especially made me grad when the Japanese unit repaired the road between Juba and the UN House, the building of FHQ , and quick operations and high level of the accomplishment were greatly appreciated by my colleagues of FHQ .

On the other hand, I'm a little disappointed with people of Juba; they say hello to me in Chinese, although many Japanese cars are running in the downtown. Maybe this is because there are no Japanese companies in South Sudan yet and the JSDF is still new to the people. On the contrary, China penetrated into South Sudan long before its independence, establishing a Chinese presence there. Of course, some people say ”Japan“ to me in a friendly voice when I'm in camouflage wear. The people of Juba are definitely watching the activities of the Japanese engineering unit, so I believe that they will say hello to me in Japanese in the near future.

5 . Closing

This mission is the first international peace cooperation assignment for me. It gives me a good opportunity to work with foreign soldiers as staff officer of UNMISS . I truly appreciate it.

The other day, I happened to be in a car with someone who knows old-time Juba. He told me that Juba has changed a lot in the past two years as the roads were repaired, and the number of buildings and shops increased. Actually, the downtown is full of vitality, people are all friendly, and kids are smiling. As I see these kids full of hopes with shining eyes, I pray for a bright future for this one-year-old infant country. Although I will leave here in a month, I would like to do my best for the development of South Sudan as a member of UNMISS , and one day I would like to come back to see further a developed South Sudan.

Children are the bearers of South Sudan's future.(img)

Children are the bearers of South Sudan's future.

Cheering for the development of South Sudan from the top of Jebel Hill !(img)

Cheering for the development of South Sudan from the top of Jebel Hill !

October 2012, Juba