Centre stage for SA as it hosts UN peacekeeping technology symposium

Fatima Fokina
A UN vehicle leads a logistics convoy in support of Minusca.

Next Tuesday (June 21) sees South Africa host a United Nations (UN) International Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping Symposium for the first time.

The four-day event at the CSIR International Conference Centre in Pretoria is the sixth one to be held as part of the world body’s efforts to provide the latest and most cost effective technology for its 12 peacekeeping missions worldwide, of which six are in Africa.

It is seen as a “key annual event” for the provision of technology to UN missions, Department of Defence (DoD) Head of Communication (HOC) Siphiwe Dlamini said in a statement.

Dlamini’s preview statement further notes: “The emphasis will be on tangible outcomes, optimisation of operational procedures and ‘know-how’ transfer on using modern technologies not yet included in the typical peacekeeping mission portfolio”.

Five areas are listed for exploring creative and collaborative opportunities to enhance field technology. They are protecting peacekeepers; information-driven peace operations; integrated training and capacity building; eco-responsibility and telemedicine.

South Africa is the first African country to host the UN peacekeeping technology symposium, with the previous five in either Asian or European countries. Dlamini has it this is “an important milestone” for the continent.

The fourth instalment of the Symposium was hosted by Germany, and the theme was “Next Tech Peacekeeping”. The fifth edition was hosted by Kazakhstan in May 2019, and the focus areas included Big Data Analysis, IED and asymmetric threats, and Telehealth.

As host, South Africa hopes the symposium will promote locally developed technology products, increase awareness of what South Africa has to offer UN missions and member states as well as “enhance” capabilities in the local defence industry at a platform with “global reach”. The “endeavour” also looks to generate collaborative technology development with “strategic countries in line with the Presidential campaign to attract foreign direct investment (FDI)”.

In addition to the DoD, other South African involvement in the peacekeeping technology symposium comes from the State Security Agency (SSA), Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Home Affairs (DHA), SA Police Service (SAPS), National Defence Industry Council (NDIC) among others.

The Symposium usually attracts around 300 participants from 50 countries and attendees this year will include participants invited by the United Nations comprising of member states, civil society and academia, UN Officials, international consultants, participants invited as observers by the United Nations and the Government of South Africa, including representatives from inter-governmental or non-governmental organizations or institutions.

The Symposium dates back to 2014 when the Department of Peacekeeping Operation (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) of the UN commissioned a “Panel of Experts in Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping” to recommend ways in which the organisation could leverage technology and innovation to enhance its operational effectiveness.

The Expert Panel conducted a study for six months and produced a report in December 2014. The main findings of the report were that UN missions frequently lack a wide range of the very capabilities now considered by most militaries, law-enforcement agencies, and international organisations to be minimally necessary to operate effectively; and that the lack of technological advancement in UN operations has resulted in some member states with very capable security forces being reluctant to participate in more difficult/challenging peacekeeping operations.

The Expert Panel came up with a number of recommendations based on the following priorities: Leveraging technology for mandate implementation; interoperability; information sharing; medical support; camp and installation security; and mobile communications and information platforms. One of its recommendations was to identify “technology contributing countries” and engage them the same way as troop and police contributing countries.

South Africa began lobbying to host the Symposium in 2018, and this was followed by a Department of Defence visit to New York in 2019. A UN delegation visited South Africa earlier this year to confirm all systems were go for the June event.

As the host, Sout Africa is expected to share challenges experienced in UN missions where South Africa is involved, and how this impact indigenous technology development capabilities, and advance a proposal where the UN will give preference to African products for African missions over other regions.

By hosting the Symposium, South Africa will be able to promote locally developed technologies and indigenous defence industrial capabilities and increase the awareness of what South Africa has to offer to the UN missions and the member states technology-wise.

The Symposium usually sees senior officials from the UN’s Department of Field Support give an overview of the prevailing challenges that are experienced in peacekeeping deployments. During such presentation the role of technological interventions is highlighted in order to stimulate interest from member states. Member states subsequently present their technological solutions to address operational challenges. Countries such as Japan, South Korea, Israel and Italy have taken advantage of this platform to advance their technology products as solutions to a number of UN operational challenges.

The DoD, SA Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) and Armscor are organising an exhibition alongside the Symposium. South African companies are invited to take exhibition space and showcase local capabilities to the high-level UN gathering.

On 24 June the CSIR will also host a UN Procurement Summit, which will examine what the UN is looking for in a supplier, and how companies can best supply the UN. Key speakers are Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Operational Support UN Department of Operational Support, and Christian Francis Saunders, Assistant Secretary-General for Supply Chain Management.

Some of the topics under discussion at the Summit will cover doing business with the United Nations, the tender process, tips to win a tender, and aviation requirements.

To register to attend the UN Procurement Summit 2022, click here.

Further information is available from Robert Mace [email protected] You can also contact Robert should you be interested in securing a stand at the exhibition.

Centre stage for SA as it hosts UN peacekeeping technology symposium

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