UNSOC is an abbreviation for United Nations Staff Officers Course. It is, as the name implies, a course for training would be staff officers in ongoing or coming UN missions. The reason major Folkeson and his six colleagues from the Swedish Armed Forces International Center and two Finnish and a Danish instructors are in Jinja, is a number of decisions made by the Nordic ministers of defence, that the Nordic countries will support the Eastern African Standby Force, EASF.
The course lasts for two weeks and is focused on what the students need to be able to function in a multinational, multifunctional UN sector staff within the framework of a peace support operation led by the UN or the African Union. That means looking closely at the staff planning and decision process that in a number of stages leads from a mission given by the commander to an operations order to the troops tasked with carrying out the mission.
- We used the first week to establish a base of knowledge about the UN, its organizational structure and how it works. From there we went on to look at planning and decision making methods used by the UN. As it happens, the African Union uses much the same methods and that way we could save some time, says major Folkeson.
He has in all 30 officer students from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan, ranging in rank from Captain to full Colonel. It is a mixed group of students with varying degrees of background knowledge, operational experience and familiarity with computers. Being able to work with a computer is important because a UN sector staff would typically be working on a fairly advanced computer network. In order to recreate that particular environment, major Folkeson and his colleagues brought with them from Sweden everything they would need to recreate that kind of a network, including more than 40 computers.
The students have made great progress during the first week. They are highly motivated and are very eager to learn, says major Folkeson, adding: We are having some difficulties with language proficiency. The course language is English and we have to make sure that those students coming from countries where French is the second language have a fair chance to actively participate in the course. But, he says, the students are helping each other out, especially when it comes to computer proficiency. We are no longer looking at 30 individual students from six different countries, instead we see three well functioning training syndicates working together, says major Folkeson.
He and his colleagues are already planning for the next course, expected to be held in March 2012, and the experiences they are gaining in Jinja are important. Every day they are identified and discussed and both course weeks conclude with a lessons learnt discussion, in order to make sure that the relevant experiences are stored for future reference. One of the most important lessons for the training team is about the importance of identifying the students level of knowledge and experience and adjusting the training syllabus accordingly.