When the United Nations starts to make use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) this summer, Hidat Teklom will be involved in deciding when and where they fly.
As the Mission’s Air Operations Officer. Ms. Teklom helps plan, coordinate and carrie out the UN’s aviation plans in the country. It is up to her and her team to decide the type of aircraft to be used based on effectiveness and security, and coordinate the flights with key players on the ground and with the crew.
“UAVs are flying objects so they are going to share the same airspace,” Ms. Teklom said. “We will need very close coordination with their launch centre to know what area they will be travelling in, flight level, speed, elapsed time, etc. Unlike a manned aircraft, we cannot communicate directly with the pilot.”
When the head of UN peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, announced in February plans for UAVs to be used in surveillance, he described them as "basically a flying camera”. Approved by the UN Security Council, the UAVs would improve situational awareness in the Kivus and exert some deterrence over armed groups by monitoring their movements during the night. The data would be relayed to the UN Force Commander who could use it to extend the peacekeepers’ capacity to protect civilians in the vast regions.
The UAVs will be contracted through a third party. In late February, 25 companies from 11 countries expressed initial interest in the contracts, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and travelled to the DRC to learn the area and UN operations.
“There will certainly be a lot of adjustments,” said Ms. Teklom. “Even though the challenges are going to be high, being a part of this new technology is a privilege and an honour,” she stressed.
Being part of the new advances in peacekeeping is part of why Ms. Teklom joined the United Nations, “I love being involved, not just being an observer, and to work in a multicultural environment.”
During her seven years with MONUSCO, Ms. Teklom has had to adapt to changing mandates for the Mission linked to the changing security situation in the country, as well as the waning financial resources forcing the Mission to be more creative on how it operates. “On the aviation side, the fleet has been reduced and reorganized,” she noted.
There are also the daily hurdles she faces. “The greatest challenges have to do with last minute changes to the planned flights due to weather or a medical evacuation in a limited air asset. Then there was the national air traffic controllers strike,” said Ms. Teklom, an Eritrean national who herself worked as an air traffic controller before joining the UN.
“Being in the UN has changed my perception towards the positive that this is an Organization which is meant to bring peace and stability to countries in crisis,” Ms. Teklom said.
“Being in the UN has made me more responsible, accountable and able to accommodate a multicultural community.”
Modest about her own abilities, Ms. Teklom describes UN peacekeepers with one adjective, “courageous.”