UNSOC stands for United Nations Staff Officers Course, which is a course designed to educate and train prospective staff members in how to work in a UN department. Bengt-Åke and his six Swedish colleagues from the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre (SWEDINT) are in Jinja, together with one Danish and two Finnish instructors, following the decisions made at a number of Nordic defence meetings since 2008 - decisions which mean that the Nordic countries will support EASF, the Eastern Africa Stand By Force, in its peacekeeping duties.
The course is two weeks long and focuses on the working process involved in moving a task from inception to an operational order via questions and assumptions.
"The first week involved a great deal of background information about the UN and its organization and functions. The students should be able to serve in a multinational, multifunctional team within the framework of a peace effort led by the UN, the African Union or any other regional organization, and therefore it is important to have a solid basic knowledge of the UN. The African Union uses many UN practices and organizational models," says Bengt-Åke Folkeson.
Overall, he and his colleagues have 30 officers from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan as students and it is a varied group, ranging from captains to colonels, all of whom have different levels of English, different computer skills and different staff working cultures.
"I think they've come on well during the first week," says Bengt-Åke Folkeson. "They are highly motivated and really want to learn and they ask a lot of good questions. The difficulty is that the course language is English and it's important to find the right level so that those who have French or another language as their mother tongue can also keep up. But," he adds, "the students support each other, particularly as far as computers are concerned and now, at the beginning of the second week, they are no longer students from six different nations, but three groups of student working on tasks together."
Right now, implementation is planned for March next year, and the experience gained from this first exercise is important. We compile our daily experiences and these are summarized at the end of each week. One of the key lessons for future courses concerns knowledge levels:
"When we give this course at home at SWEDINT we set it at a pretty high level right from the start. Here it has become clear that knowledge of the UN and the African Union was not as extensive as we thought and we are adapting to this," says Bengt-Åke Folkeson.