Meet Christine Thomas Kapalata
Former member of the SWTP deployed in Central African Republic
Why did you want to start working for peace and what was your entry point?
I am working with the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Central African Republic. I am based in a town called Bouar situated in the western part of the country. This year I completed 13 years with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Before joining the UN, I worked for the Tanzanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Tanzanian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Tell us the story about what you consider as your biggest reward during your career? Or proudest moment?
There are many small rewards when one works with a UN Peacekeeping Mission. Pride comes with the simple gratitude of a woman when you hand over a water well to her village, knowing the well will save her hours of walking in search of water. Pride comes when I see the look of relief and happiness on the faces of the population after successfully negotiating the departure of an armed group from their village after it has been occupied by armed elements for weeks, months, or even years. Personally, I was also proud when I was promoted to the Director’s level (D1) in October 2015. It was for me the apex of my dream as a staff member of the United Nations and the validation of my hard work with the United Nations for more than ten years.
What has been your greatest challenge during your career?
A big challenge for me and the Mission was the holding peaceful Presidential and Legislative elections in the Central Africa Republic in 2016. The odds were so much pitted against the Mission! Most people were sceptical that the elections could be held since the disarmament and demobilization of armed groups had not taken place. To quite a lot of people -- even some colleagues -- it looked like we were putting the cart before the horse. It was therefore a big challenge for us as leaders to convince not only the population, but also the staff members that were not fully convinced. But the elections were held in a largely peaceful atmosphere and Central Africans elected their President and Members of Parliament.
Is there anything about working in this field that you did not expect when starting?
The United Nations from the outside looks very different from what it actually is once you join and start working within it. Before I joined the UN, I was under the impression that it was the most powerful and respected organization in the world and that everything within it worked like clockwork. However, after I joined and was deployed to the field, I realized that the Organization -- like many others -- has a lot of challenges because the needs are numerous, and its resources are limited. I also realized that Peacekeeping is not only about peacekeepers, it is actually an ensemble of many other activities such as disarmament, child protection, human rights, to name but a few. I also realized that the work of a Peacekeeper is quite complex. I also learned that the UN is an Organization that is at times revered and -- at others -- criticized, but uniquely indispensable.
What are the most important lessons that you would like to share with anyone interested in pursuing a career with UN Peace Operations?
For anyone who aspires to join the United Nations, the most important information that I can share is that it is of cardinal importance to have a sound academic background in one’s chosen field. This is a foundation to deliver to the best of your ability. It is also important to have a willingness to work in all conditions and under diverse circumstances because the United Nations is a melting pot of cultures, traditions and races.
Do you have a personal habit or trait that has been critical for your success?
I believe it is my attitude to hard work and demonstrate tolerance. I also believe in seeing the strengths of members of any team I work with; this has been my most important asset. I believe these attributes have made it possible for me to work well with colleagues and leaders from diverse backgrounds.
What is your job description? Can you describe a typical work-week, or month?
I am the Head of Office in a Field Office some 450 km from the Mission Headquarters. As Head of Office, I am responsible for the management of the Field Office and I also represent the Head of Mission in the region. Under the rubric of management are other aspects such as analysis, advising and reporting. In my portfolio there is also the responsibility for planning, coordinating and facilitating the activities in the Field Office and in some cases throughout the Sector. Another important aspect of my job is serving as the Area Security Coordinator. This means I am responsible for the security of UN personnel in consultation with the Regional Security Officer. I am therefore the link for security issues between the Designated Official, who is the Head of Mission, and the staff members at the Field level.
Every day is different, and each day brings with it challenges and opportunities. A typical day will normally start with morning meetings either with staff members, the Military Force or with local authorities, responding to requests/ questions or just providing advice to staff members. As the Representative of the Head of Mission, I am usually called upon to represent him on a good number of activities at the Field or Sector level. As the Field Office has about ten substantive Sections, this means on average, once a week, I have to attend a ceremony or activity on behalf of the Head of Mission. It is also my responsibility to ensure that every day the Mission HQ is briefed on what is going on in the Sector. It is the responsibility of the Head of Office to ensure the accuracy of the report that goes to HQ every evening in a timely manner.
Why did you choose to work for United Nations Peace Operations?
I was a representative of my Government (Tanzania) to the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee in New York for close to six years. During that time, I had to work closely with the United Nations Secretariat. I used to admire the stoicism of the various UN Departments and the manner in which they responded to Member states demands especially with regard to demands on the Secretary General to produce reports on a variety of subjects. This gave me the impression that the Organization must be a very well run Organization, with very competent staff. I therefore developed the desire to work with the UN Secretariat. Initially I was not specific on which Department I wanted to work with -- I was just happy to be associated with the prestigious UN Secretariat. I applied several times with no response. And then one Saturday morning when I opened my computer I saw that I had received an offer to join the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. I was over the moon. I was not choosy about my posting, all I wanted was to work with the United Nations.
What do you believe are the most important skills necessary for UN Peace Operations?
To be effective in the United Nations, first of all one needs to be competent and professional in your field. People skills are also very important; by this I mean one needs to be able to work with people from various backgrounds. This requires respect for diversity, tolerance, and a spirit of teamwork. Hard work is also indispensable when one is employed by the UN.
We know that many of our followers would like to hear some advice on how to get a job with the United Nations. Do you have any good tips to share?
One of the tips I have to offer is perseverance. Because the United Nations gets applications from all over the world, sometimes it takes time to go through the numerous applications. Similarly, I would suggest competence: the UN is interested in getting the best staff on its payroll so it is important to know your subject and have confidence in your expertise.