Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed A female Ugandan soldier serving under the United Nations Guard Unit (UNGU) scans the horizon through a pair of binoculars while on duty at a security tower in Mogadishu, Somalia.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


A contingent of 530 Ugandan “Blue Helmets” (63 women, 467 men) is playing a crucial role in the United Nations’ efforts to help bring peace and stability to Somalia. They make up the United Nations Guard Unit (UNGU, that is tasked with protecting UN compounds in Mogadishu in order to assist the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) to carry out their mandate.

The job does not come without risks.  An attack on the United Nations compound in Somalia in January this year is “still fresh in our minds” according to the commander of Ugandan peacekeepers who are tasked with protecting the base and its personnel.

Seven mortars landed inside the compound in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on New Year’s Day, injuring two UN staff members and one contractor. The group, Al-Shabaab, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

This was a “notable indirect mortar attack shelling of United Nations compound within Mogadishu International Airport,” said Colonel Stuart R. Agaba, the commander of the UNGU.

“UNGU responded immediately by adopting a counter infiltration – defensive posture and was more than ready to fend off any follow-up attack,” added Colonel Agaba.

That includes deterring and protecting UN personnel and infrastructure against armed attack including patrolling inside and in the immediate vicinity of UN compounds. The Ugandan peacekeepers are also trained to provide a “rapid extraction and evacuation capability for UN personnel.”

Perilous

The UN describes the security situation in Somalia as “volatile” and recently in Mogadishu there has been “a spike in reported activities,” by terrorist organizations.  According to Colonel Agaba, the Ugandan peacekeepers are working in a “in perilous operational environment,” that “oscillates between medium to high risk.”

The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has been providing troops for the UNGU since 2015; this is the fifth rotation of forces who serve for one year.

This is a “new experience for men and women of the UPDF,” said Colonel Agaba. “They have a myriad of experiences, they learn endurance, how to manage stress and get to understand how the UN works,” he added.

Women

Currently, there are 63 women serving in the contingent. “Female soldiers, both rank and file,” are a key element of the UNGU as they “give hope to women and children of the host country,” said Colonel Agaba.

The female officers are deployed in a range of roles including commanding troops, search and security and other guard duties and play a key role in the Security Information and Operations Centre (SIOC).

Pan-Africanist ideology

Somalia is a near neighbour of Uganda’s in East Africa and according to Colonel Agaba, his country’s contribution to peacekeeping “stems from a pan-Africanist ideology in which Uganda has made and continues to make sacrifices for Somalia’s quest for peace, prosperity and stability.”

And as the commanding officer Colonel Agaba believes that “ensuring that UNGU officers, men and women, effectively carry out mandated operations with utmost compliance to UN principles, makes our contribution to UN global peace efforts a gratifying experience.”

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