Full circle; how UN-trained corrections officer became a peacekeeper serving in South Sudan mission

16 Sep 2019

Full circle; how UN-trained corrections officer became a peacekeeper serving in South Sudan mission

Janet Adongo

The year is 2006, the place is Liberia, West Africa. A United Nations peacekeeping mission with a mandate that includes capacity building is carrying out the recruitment of corrections officers.

Among the applicants is a certain Samuel Godoe, a young and determined gentleman. He is deemed suitable and is selected to join the team that will undergo further training by UN peacekeepers.

Mr. Godoe would eventually go on to join the national ranks of corrections officers, tasked with ensuring compliance with rule of law in his post-conflict nation, recovering from years of conflict.

Discerning readers may at this point hear a bell ringing, maybe a coin dropping. Yes, that does sound a lot like South Sudan 2019. And yes, here in Malakal he is, the same old(er) Samuel Godoe, or Major Godoe, as he should be addressed these days.

“Sometimes I think about it and it’s quite unbelievable. The UN officers who did our recruitment and training would tell us that if we stayed the course, we too could be like them one day, working for the UN,” he says. “And more than a decade later, here I am.”

He is, but fortunately, Major Godoe is not alone. He is part of a team of 15 corrections officers from eleven different countries who recently received medals of honour for their distinguished service to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.

One of his colleagues is Sergeant Major George Lomalagi from Fiji, a firm favourite among those detained in the holding facility within the UN Protection of Civilians site. The cells are managed by the corrections officers in a bid to maintain law and order in a “town” consisting of almost 30,000 internally displaced persons.

“Whenever they see me walking in, they begin to shout ‘Bula! Ni sa yadra!’ That’s ‘Hello! Good morning!’ in Fiji,” the Sergeant Major says. “I’m so glad that they have connected with me enough to consider me a friend, but my greatest moments are those I spend encouraging them and helping them change the way they think so that their behaviour can change as well.”

Corrections officers serving with the peacekeeping mission maintain custody of individuals resident at the protection site who commit crimes, making sure that they are treated humanely and fairly. Improvements in South Sudan’s justice system have meant that a mobile court now regularly visits Malakal to try some of the more complex cases.

The mission’s head of corrections unit, Ms. Anu Kaarina Melkko, expressed her satisfaction with the progress at the holding facility.

“The conditions for both staff and detainees have indeed been challenging, but your competence, team work and flexibility have carried you through,” she said as she handed out the precious pieces of metal to deserving officers.

One of them, Major Godoe, now plays the role of the UN peacekeeper who inspired him in Liberia in 2006.

“Whenever I sit with the nationals of South Sudan, I share my story and I end it by telling them, that one day, they too, could be wearing the blue helmet with pride in another mission in another part of the world. But they have to stay the course.”