CAROLINE KALOMBE, Mogadishu, Somalia
MIRIAM Kunda is one of the Zambian police officers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The AMISOM is an active, regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations. It was created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council on January 19, 2007 with an initial six month mandate. AMISOM replaced and subsumed the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Peace Support Mission to Somalia or IGASOM, which was a proposed Inter-Governmental Authority on Development protection and training mission in Somalia approved by the African Union in September 2006. IGASOM was also approved by the United Nations Security Council.
Following several resolutions, in August 2017, the UN Security Council issued resolution 2372 to enable the gradual handing over of security responsibilities from AMISOM to the Somali security forces contingent on abilities of the Somali security forces and political and security progress in Somalia.
It is the mission Ms Kunda is on. A mechanic, the 46-year-old is a motor vehicle transport officer.
Her role is to ensure that officers are not only safely deployed but that their security is guaranteed as they conduct their patrols.
Ms Kunda says transport is of utmost importance for the effective implementation of the tasks related to the mission.
The duties executed by individual officers and collectively as a unit have a cardinal impact on the overall achievements of the entire mission. Therefore, it is important that each officer conducts their work diligently.
The transport or logistics unit of the AMISOM has a crucial task of ensuring that effective and efficient logistic capabilities are present in the mission area. The unit has to ensure that motor vehicles used to deploy and redeploy officers to sites and patrols are in good conditions.
Ms Kunda is among the 43 female police officers from six contributing countries to the AMISOM. Other than Zambia, the others are Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. The countries to have contributed troops to AMISOM are Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Ms Kunda has served in the Zambia Police Service for 22 years and is the officer in charge, mechanical workshop for Central Province. In AMISOM, she has served for 11 months and her potential to lead the transport section was spotted as soon as she concluded her induction to the mission.
She was given the task of training newly inducted officers to drive a 12-tonne armoured personnel vehicle nicknamed ‘the Mamba’.
“All these officers you see driving this vehicle have passed through me. I have to train them and certify them for them to be able to drive around the mission area,” she says.
Ms Kunda is the first female to be appointed as motor vehicle transport officer. She says it is a huge responsibility as she has to work extra hard to ensure that she performs accordingly.
“In the beginning, it was difficult for the men to accept that I was given this role,” she says. “But I have the passion for the job and I had to find a way for them to understand me and to understand them as well especially that we come from different backgrounds.”
Ms Kunda says she has since learnt a lot and received support from her male counterparts which makes it easier for her to conduct her job. She has been training officers from January this year and has continued to do so diligently. Ms Kunda has earned the respect of her colleagues.
“I have performed according to standard and I am hoping to do more to show that nothing will bring me down. It is not about being male or female, it is about the capacity to do the work and achieve results,” she says.
Ms Kunda says she did not expect to be given the position because no other woman has held the job before, but that once she was appointed, she had to ensure that she performed her role impeccably.
She believes it is possible for women to work with heavy machinery and still maintain their feminine side. She believes working with heavy machinery cannot stop a woman from wearing make-up or getting a manicure. However, she says it is important to take note of the equipment a woman is working with to avoid injury.
“You can do the job and still look beautiful,” she says.
There are 180 police officers from the six contributing countries of which 43 are females.
Zambia has 11 female police officers serving on the AMISOM, which is the second highest number after Ghana, which has 13. Overall, Zambia has 31 officers serving in the mission.
So, how did Somalia initially descend into chaos?
You will have to trace it to the fall in 1991 of the socialist state founded by Siad Barre, who came to power in 1969 through a coup. Also, partly, his disastrous war to get hold of a region in Ethiopia. The adventure or misadventure led to the defeat of Somalia’s forces and the arming of the warlords who brought Barre down.
But despite overthrowing Barre, the rival warlords could not agree on a replacement. This is what led to the social collapse and lawlessness. And when it was confronted with famine, the country failed to cope, leading to millions of its people dying.
American and Pakistani forces did try to intervene in 1993 through what was called Operation Restore Hope. The appalling famine is what led the United Nation to launch a humanitarian effort led by US and Pakistani troops but they were thwarted by General Mohamed Farah Aideed. The mission did suffer casualties, including the episode described in the film ‘Black Hawk Down’ when 17 United States Rangers were killed. The United Nations mission left in 1995 in the wake of the US withdrawal.
Since the two-year peace process established the Transitional Federal Government in 2004, there have been many efforts to establish real authority in Somalia but with most of them ending in failure.
The tenth Parliament of the Federal Republic of Somalia was sworn in on December 27, 2016, whereas the President was sworn in on February 8 and inaugurated on February 22, 2017.
Somalia has not had a one-person one-vote democratic election since 1969. It is Somalia’s Members of Parliament who elected a Somali-US national and former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi as the country’s new president in a vote held in an aircraft hangar. The vote was held at the heavily guarded airport complex in the capital, Mogadishu, as the rest of the country is too dangerous.
That is why Ms Kunda’s mission in Somalia is no child’s play.
CAROLINE KALOMBE, Mogadishu, Somalia