Making her Mark: Female Ghanaian Peacekeeper at the Helm of Formed Police Unit
Before heading out for their afternoon patrol, a group of 25 men and women dressed in navy blue uniforms line up to receive the daily report and instructions.
They are the Ghanaian Formed Police Unit (FPU) – an armed police force mandated to support the UN Police in providing security at the United Nations Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu, located in the Unity region of South Sudan.
This unit comes under the command of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Sylivia Adzo Sowlitse.
Since joining the Ghanaian police service in 1988, ASP Adzo Sowlitse has risen through the ranks to become the first female Commander of the UN Formed Police Unit in South Sudan.
She says that being a woman in the police force means competing with men and demonstrating her full capabilities at all times.
“I worked my heart out,” says Sowlitse. “I never complained about any job that was assigned to me. I did it to the best of my ability and knowledge. I guess that is what made my boss have confidence in me that I will be able to execute the task that has been given to me.”
Sowlitse was raised by her grandmother, whom she describes as “her backbone” and a young mother in the Volta region in Ghana. She says that, growing up as an only child, she wanted to be a flight attendant but ended up a caterer, hawking the streets selling cookies.
That was until she heard about enlisting in the police force. She was later deployed at the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur serving as a police officer from 2013 to 2015.
The Deputy Commanding Officer, Gabriel Kyei-Yoboah, said the contingent under the leadership of the Commanding Officer Sowlitse was well united and structured.
“I have a good working relationship with my commander. We share ideas and we implement those ideas together. The working relationship is good,” he says.
The contingent of 270 FPU officers - 240 men and 30 women - say Sowlitse is a strong leader and role model.
“This is my first experience working under the command of a female senior officer. She is excellent. She is on top of her job. Command and control is excellent. She is the type who I can call a mother to the contingent,” says Inspector Mohammed Awudu.
For the 30 women who form part of FPU, having a female Commander gives them the confidence to work hard and follow in her footsteps.
However, as can be expected, the job comes with challenges.
Shortly after arriving in Bentiu in December 2016, the FPU were confronted by an incident where armed militants entered the UN protection area threatening the safety of those seeking sanctuary at the site. Sowlitse said the situation was “overwhelming” but as per the training she received, she stood her ground, remained agile and was able to effectively execute her role as the leader of the unit.
“Somewhere along the line I had to dish out instructions for them to return to the buffer line re-strategize and launch a new way of doing it,” she says.
What kept the unit going at the time was a Ghanaian song, the officers often sing, which loosely translated says: “I am here to serve humanity. Rain or shine, land or sea, in the air, I am ever ready. With policing, you give your all, even at the peril of your life.”
That is an attitude that Sowlitse wholeheartedly endorses.
“I always go in to tell them that you can,” says Sowlitse. “We have this slogan ‘one can do, all can do,’ so we are motivated to give our best.”
As she comes towards the end of her tour of duty, ASP Adzo Sowlitse says that she wants women in peacekeeping to make their mark by leaving a legacy that will encourage the deployment of more women like her to serve in peacekeeping missions around the world.