View over the compound's fence
Lifestyle,  Travel

Representing Romania in EU’s mission for Somalia – Part 1

I met Anca last year while attending a training in Bucharest. We chatted during the few short breaks of the course. Her stories about Africa were fascinating. Therefore, at the end of the training, when she had her presentation about one of her projects in Africa, I knew I wanted to learn more about this.

After our course, I called her and asked if she wanted to hang out. As much as I wanted not to make it awkward, well, it was kind of awkward. We barely knew each other, but there was so much chemistry.

Now when I look back, almost a year later, I am so grateful and happy that I spoke out. I discovered a great character, and I am proud to say that today Anca is my friend. This makes it possible now to share with you her story about Africa, that moved me at that time.

It’s crazy how life’s opportunities appear and beautifully unfold if you allow them to. So, there it is, the story through her eyes, I hope you enjoy it :

European Union’s mission in Somalia

“I graduated from the Police Academy in 2011. After 3 years working for the General Directorate of Bucharest Gendarmerie, I moved to the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Gendarmerie. I was working in the Analysis Department.

The project in Somalia is actually a CSDP mission: EUCAP Somalia (EU Capacity Building Mission to Somalia). As such, it is part of the Common Security and Defence Policy Framework of the European Union.

At the time, the mission’s mandate was :

(..) contributes to the resilience and capacity building of Somali federal and regional maritime civilian law enforcement capability under local ownership. The main goal is to advise the Somali federal and regional authorities in developing the normal suite of coast guard and maritime policing functions on land and at sea. The mission provides strategic-level advising, mentoring, and some specialized training in the maritime domain, such as police/prosecutor cooperation and support to law-drafting. This ensures a focus on the development of a resilient and sustainable maritime security architecture. (*source https://www.eucap-som.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/EUCAP-Somalia-Factsheet.pdf)

source: https://www.eucap-som.eu/

In other words, we were there to :

  • support the Somali counterparts in establishing their Coast Guard
  • advise on law drafting
  • deliver training on a wide range of law enforcement and maritime security activities.
3 girls in uniform
Graduation of Train the Trainers held in the Police Academy in Mogadishu, 2017 (photo from personal archive)
5 people standing on a deck
Discussing capacity building opportunities with colleagues from EUNAVFOR Atalanta, 2017 (photo from personal archive)
two people sitting at a table
Discussing capacity building opportunities with the Somali Police Force Police Commissioner at the time, 2017 (photo from personal archive)

An essential detail: Somalia has the longest coastline in continental Africa (over 3300 km long) and minimal capabilities to protect it. In other words, this makes them easy targets for maritime crimes, including IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing. Also, let us not forget the movie Captain Phillips featuring Tom Hanks :)

I was part of the Operations Department, and my main counterpart was the Somali Police Force-Maritime Police Unit in Mogadishu.

Romania’s participation in the Mission

To my knowledge, the Superior Council of Defence (CSAT) in Romania makes on a yearly basis a decision to attach a certain number of experts to international missions. The CSAT is part of the engagement with the EU or other international organizations (such as NATO). For example, we shared the compound with the sister Mission EUTM Somalia (EU Training Mission). Another Romanian colleague from the Ministry of Defence was part of it. This is because EUTM was a military mission, as opposed to the one I was part of.

military parade inside compound
1 December 2018 military parade inside our compound in Mogadishu. (photo from personal archive)

This deployment of experts (from various ministries and areas of expertise) is called secondment. You are deployed for a determined period to provide your best expertise where needed. Afterwards, you return to your job in your country.

The selection process for International Mission in Somalia

There were two phases: a national and international one.

To participate in the national selection, I had to fulfill specific requirements: several years of experience, mandatory pre-deployment training, language skills, etc. After ensuring I fulfilled the initial conditions, I had to submit a request to my managers in the Gendarmerie. After its approval, I had to sit for a very comprehensive and high-level English exam. Then I went through a complete and thorough medical examination, and only afterward, they sent my application to the HR department of the Mission.

I received the invitation for an interview, I studied and prepared for it. If someone asked me to recall my interview, I would tell them I have no recollection of the actual conversation. I was so nervous. A month or so after the interview, I learned that I was going to be a new Mission Member of EUCAP Somalia. It was so thrilling! Afterwards, I had to undergo all the mandatory vaccinations for the area, and a couple of months later, my journey began.

Attending a VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) exercise with from EUNAVFOR Atalanta, 2017 (photo from personal archive)

When I think about it, there was a mix of factors that contributed to my decision to apply for this job. I was curious and eager to try something else. I wanted to expand my knowledge and learn how others work, to become part of an international working environment. Lastly, I wanted to visit Africa and meet other people from different cultures. Trust me, I had the opportunity to do all the above and even more.

My first challenges

After arriving in Somalia, the cultural differences were something I had to quickly adapt to. I was an European woman in a Muslim country. Initially, I was not considered a subject matter expert. First and foremost, I was a woman in the eyes of my Somali counterparts. It took a while to earn their trust and respect. In the end, I can proudly say that I was successful and highly respected in work and appreciated as a person by my Somali colleagues.

Confinement came with its own challenges:

  • Waking up every day to see a HESCO wall with razor wire topping it,
  • Going in town to visit your counterparts only in certain security conditions,
  • Wearing body armor and traveling in armored vehicles,
  • Having to live in this tiny village where you cannot avoid the ones you dislike,
  • And the food! I promised myself I would never again have chicken and rice.

Of course, a very poor internet connection didn’t help at all with keeping in touch with family and friends. Let’s say some got lost along the way, but I gained Mission friends, which compensates overall.

sunset over compound
Sunset over our compound in Mogadishu, date unknown (photo from personal archive). Disclaimer: Current compound topography does not match the elements in the photo. Therefore, it cannot be considered a vulnerability.

Lastly, the weather was unfamiliar to me. Or not the weather per se, as I enjoyed permanent 30-35 degrees Celsius, but the humidity. There were days when the humidity was 98%. Due to it, the bed sheets and pillows were damp and heavy. Clothes were getting all moldy if you didn’t wear them for a week.

mongoose lying on the ground
A herd of mongoose represented the ‘pets’ in our compound in Mogadishu. (date unknown, photo from personal archive)

My coping mechanisms included an excellent support group within the Mission and outside of it. I was training almost every day, trying to keep a regular work schedule. Of course, chocolate and other goodies that I brought from home helped a lot, too. 😊

miniature Christmas tree made of wood
Christmas tree in our compound in Mogadishu, Christmas 2017. (photo from personal archive)

It was very easy to find yourself in the office at 10 pm. Simply, there was nothing else to do on a weeknight. I was soon to discover that the continent had so much more to offer.”

To be continued.

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