People For Peace: MINURSO Acting Force Commander, Major General Md Main Ullah Chowdhury of Bangladesh reflects on what makes peacekeeping work.
More than two million UN peacekeepers have served for peace under the Blue flag. However, they are not alone in the pursuit of peace. Peacekeeping is powered by the strong, effective and diverse partnerships it forms on the ground and at the regional and international level to deliver sustainable peace and security. In this new series, we bring you the voices of peacekeepers and partners across the world, to mark the International Day of Peacekeepers, 29 May.
Acting Force Commander Major General Chowdhury had clear objectives in mind when he joined MINURSO in mid-December, the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, after having served in South Sudan for two years. He shares key aspects of his strategy and shows how positive and inclusive leadership can move mountains and mindsets.
My initial appointment, when I arrived in December, was only for one and a half months, until the end of January 2022. And I thought to myself, what kind of magic am I going to perform during this very short period of time? When I arrived in Laayoune, I said in my very first speech that I am trying to turn seconds into minutes, minutes into hours, and hours into weeks and months. And, as there are five fingers on the hand, I had five priorities for my time here. Today, as I leave, I can say that although it is not always possible to achieve everything you have set out when you set yourself ambitious goals, I think that I have managed to set the tone, to put some things on track, and with this I am satisfied. I feel very proud today that I can see smiles on my colleagues’ faces and feel like I have left my mark.
My first priority was to develop friendships. Friendships are the key to success. This was my very first goal. My second priority was to put my home in order. When I say my home in order, I mean the Force. The Force has a military discipline and is rich with tradition and capacities. We have a great set of people here. My role as the Commander is to provide the spark and all the rest flows from there. People come up with their own original ideas and they have enormous potential, wherever they are. My job is to encourage them, reassure them that they are doing the right thing. I think I have done that, and I trust that the spirit will continue. As you know, there are tremendous challenges, and living and working conditions can be hard. I like to think I have helped motivate our military observers. This brings me to my third priority, which was to take my job beyond Laayoune to everywhere where we are deployed. We need to focus on the field to prevent misunderstandings from arising and causing unnecessary tensions. My fourth priority was integration. I think that without teamwork, without everyone contributing to making a peacekeeping mission a success, we would fail.
My fifth priority was attention to gender. We are the Mission with the highest percentage of women military observers in the United Nations, standing at around 30 per cent. We need to make sure that we provide the right enabling environment for women staff. So, for example, I set myself the deadline of 17 March to ensure there were at least two women military observers on every outpost. This also helps change mindsets, change the working environment, and ensure inclusive peacekeeping.
Finally, I also worked to secure the necessary medical support for our team, especially emergency evacuations. A Force Commander cannot sleep soundly wondering what might happen to his staff. I really want to give credit to the Medical Unit, particularly to the Force Medical Officer and the Senior Medical Officer, in this regard. We conducted a casualty evacuation exercise shortly after my arrival here, on Saturday 31 December. Even though many people were not happy with me for doing this on the last day of the year, I can now sleep in peace because I know that we are ready 24/7 in case anything happens.
I wish everyone to live and work in the spirit of “Five H”: harmony, happiness, honesty, honour, and help. Everybody should work in harmony, everybody should remain happy and smiling, everybody should remain honest to their opinions and humble in their efforts. We should honour one another, help each other, and build friendships that last for a lifetime. I am a fulfilled man today knowing I am leaving so many good friends behind.