Ingemar Björnfot: a man with a plan
For most of us, he is a new face on the Entebbe Support Base (ESB). For others, his name might ring a couple of bells since he has been in the United Nations Common System for over fifteen years. Get acquainted with Mr Ingemar Björnfot, our freshly appointed Head of Premises ESB. In this article, he shines a light on his current two roles (yes, there’s another one!); his extraordinary international career which took him to many divergent corners around the globe; the defiant challenges the organisation faces today as well as his views on the current state of the world.
All what follows underneath are strictly Ingemar’s own views and opinions. They are not necessarily related to his employment and official functions.
Two Distinct Hats
Being the largest entity on the ESB, the Regional Service Centre Entebbe (RSCE) considers the services which the ESB provides to the centre to be truly indispensable. In name of the RSCE, this article has been created to officially welcome Ingemar to the ESB community. After all, the high quality of service which the RSCE has been receiving during its first ten years of existence is ultimately embodied by the person who fulfils the role of Head of Premises ESB. However, Ingemar’s primary role is with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) as the Chief Centralized Warehouse Section. How does he manage to juggle these two distinct hats? Ingemar informs us what his roles entail him to do:
“As the Chief of the MONUSCO Centralized Warehouse Section - a concept within the modern UN supply chain management concept –, I am responsible for all MONUSCO warehouses, be it in Entebbe or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in places such as Kinshasa, Beni, Goma or Bukavu.” Ingemar explains that his role does not require him to own any assets, however, he is the accountable person: “The warehouses are the custodians of the various cost centres’ equipment, assets and consumables. I house these items, look after them and keep track of them on behalf of their owners. But all items are and stay their owner’s, be it related to transport, medical, field technology services or engineering.”
His other hat being Head of Premises ESB has a whole other job description as it speaks to a different part of his skillset: “As Head of Premises, I represent our Director of Mission Support in Kinshasa vis-à-vis the government of Uganda when it comes to the memorandum of understanding with the host government. I also represent the Director in regard to our ESB tenants, of which the RSCE is one of a total of twelve at the base. The RSCE – being a success story and by far the largest ESB tenant – has a high profile. Even though MONUSCO was here long before under the old name of United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), we are keeping a lower profile. That’s why some members of the public are unaware that MONUSCO also has activities in Uganda.”
Ingemar has been in his current capacity since mid-August. Taking into account the risk that every conversation nowadays eventually revolves around COVID-19 in one way or another, how has the pandemic influenced his first few months on the job(s)?
“My main role is to lead and support my team, which is mainly scattered all over the DRC. The main challenge I face now, being new with MONUSCO, is that I cannot easily travel and go see my staff and premises in the different places in the DRC where we have operations.” At the time of the writing, the DRC still enforced a fourteen-day quarantine upon all international travellers. Ingemar continues: “We meet online on Microsoft Teams like everyone seems to be doing around the world today. I value the worth of a physical in-person meeting more.”
There also seems to be some professional upsides on the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 for Ingemar. “The current global health situation has given me a fairly manageable introduction to both my roles. Because of the reduced activities at ESB, the operational pace in MONUSCO has been somewhat slower than usual and everything is done in a restricted environment.”
Ingemar informs us about his thoughts on how Uganda has done so far in its efforts to flatten the curve: “We know from the statistics that COVID-19 is only now just taking off in Uganda. A successful lockdown was initiated in March which produced results not to have an overwhelming first wave as yet while other nations in other regions of the world are experiencing a second wave or even a third one. I am convinced that Uganda can get through this with its young and healthy population. The median age is 17 years and around seventy-five per cent of Ugandans are thirty years or younger, and only a few per cent are over sixty-five. Seeing that this seemingly indomitable virus is especially dangerous for the older generation, having these young demographics are an undeniable plus.”
When it comes to the inexorability, treatability and contagiousness of the disease, life is not a bed of roses, Ingemar clarifies: “If you’d ever find oneself in the situation of having to be put on ventilation - a form of treatment during which the patient is put in a medically induced coma and a tube is inserted down the trachea - the survival stats are downright bad, even in the most developed countries. I am personally extremely concerned with the spread of COVID-19 and the validity of the global test results. We remain largely in the unknown, what we do not know is ginormous. There is a huge number of people that get infected but of which we never learn. The global count of infections is of some interest but isn’t anywhere near a small piece of the whole puzzle that reveals the complete truth.”
Ingemar was born and brought up in his native Sweden, in Scandinavia. He tells us that he is genetically from above the arctic circle in northern Sweden but has spent most of his younger years down south in the city of Malmö and in the Swedish capital Stockholm. Scandinavians – generally known for their huge trust in the government and civic-mindedness – did not experience any strict lockdowns over the last couple of months. “Sweden indeed did not force any totalitarian or draconian measures on its people. Seeing the high confidence of the Swedes in its governing bodies and towards each other as caring neighbours, the population has been following the restrictions obediently from the start. We comply with the rules like social distancing and we work at home where possible. Nothing to get too excited about.”
Ingemar tells us that he always felt a bit ‘different’ in comparison to his peers within the UN, being of Swedish descent. He particularly feels strong about characteristic Scandinavian themes such as gender equality and environmentalism. He explains why these two topics are of fundamental importance for him.
“When I joined the UN, I was not aware of the gender and environmental issues within the Secretariat. When I was growing up in seventies Sweden, the gender revolution had already happened during the late sixties. It was the most natural thing to have women present in the workplace, contributing to the welfare system while working as a nurse, teacher or in another occupation. From what I can remember, all my parents’ friends – both men and women – were out working and putting food on the table.”
Ingemar is a fierce promotor of gender balance within the organization. He stipulates that his egalitarian background created a shock-effect at first: “We started discussing gender imbalances in the UN’s workforce during the mid-2000s. I was shocked this was an issue, that this was a debate necessary to have. Up until then, I had been working for several female CEOs. I’ve never really stood still or reflected upon this, the boss was the boss, regardless of the fact if that person is a man or a woman.”
Another thing which Ingemar feels strongly about is the condition of the environment and the action mankind should take to prevent further deterioration and rapid global warming. “As a child, I knew to turn off the light when I left a room. Equally, it was the norm to not to mix paper waste, plastic bottles and cans with other domestic trash. When I was a bit older, I even collected abandoned bottles and cans with friends. These I could then trade in for pant (a deposit-refund recycling system for beverage containers in Sweden) which substantially upped however little my pocket money allowance was at that time.”
Ingemar experienced a comparable Aha-moment when the UN started launching ecological initiatives such as ‘Greening the Blue’. “This was another moment where I simply had to sit down and realize this is an issue. It still boggles my mind that we ship these immense power generators to remote locations, depending on fuel supplies through vulnerable and long supply lines into the most middle-of-nowhere and hard-to-reach places in Africa. Why can’t we just invest in solar power, a power resource which is abundant for most of the year in many places on the African continent?”
A man with a plan
In his fifteen years with the secretariat, Ingemar has served the organization in a multitude of different duty stations: from New York to Darfur, Jerusalem, Beirut and now with us in Entebbe. Hand in hand with the location changes came different job titles. Ingemar has a broad background in mission support, more precisely in logistics and administration support.
“My first proper job with the secretariat was back in 2005 when I joined as a Logistics Operations Officer in New York at the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), even before it split up in DPKO and the Department of Field Support (DFS). My broad background includes the military where I served both in Bosnia and Kosovo (both ex-Yugoslavia) as a captain and a young major respectively. Next to my logistics background, I’ve also worked in administration before my time in the military. My UN career has been going in between these two fields of expertise.”
Why did he decide to take the leap to the UN and more specifically with peacekeeping, one might wonder? A career with the Swedish Armed Forces does also sound appealing, no? Ingemar’s answer is short but speaks of altruism: “Being employed in former Yugoslavia opened my eyes to the needs of people in grim and tough environments. I wanted to do my part, help people and countries to get back on their feet again, that is why I started applying.”
Ingemar’s other main skill is planning. “One of my strengths is planning. That’s why I enjoyed learning so many new things during my time as a Planning Officer at DFS. I am a studious person, always eager to learn. That’s probably why I never stayed in any role for longer than two years, nine times out of ten you’ve learned everything there is to a job after twenty-four months!”
During his one and a half decade of service, Ingemar has witnessed massive changes happening with the organisation: “When I joined, peacekeeping as we know it today was still in its infancy. Few people around the world were doing it, certainly so in New York. At the turn of the millennium came MONUC in the DRC, a large mission under the new complex mandate of multidimensional missions. These kinds of missions not only act in observational or inter-positional roles, but they also participate in more multidimensional tasks—such as electoral supervision, police and security forces reform and institution-building.”
With the tragedy in Rwanda that happened in the mid-nineties, Ingemar noted a lot of global political goodwill and the influx of money which was readily available to prevent another genocide from happening. “Due to the strong financial situation and willingness of nations worldwide to do their part, the UN Security Council at the time was willing to create big peacekeeping missions such as MONUC and the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). This ignited a huge burst in peacekeeping operations globally, with budgets going from several hundred millions of dollars in traditional peacekeeping to multi-billion dollar operations like the African Union - United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was in its first year of existence.”
Nowadays the contrast is rather large, Ingemar narrates: “With the financial crisis of 2008 also came a changing of governments who show less goodwill, interest and ability to spend funds on the UN and peacekeeping. We find ourselves today in a contracting financial environment while at the same time discourses around the world seem to be less about globalisation and more and more individualistic. When there are tough times at home, for politicians it is a hard message to communicate to citizens to give away 100 millions of dollars to people on other continents when there is a poor health care system locally and when people are hungry right at home…”
What does Ingemar like to do when he’s not working? He’s quite into sports both active and passive. He is a certified PADI Divemaster for a number of years now and likes to get underneath the water surface as much as possible when he travels. This, unfortunately, does not happen quite enough to his liking, especially now that international travel is highly restricted. On the passive side, he’s a huge sports spectator as he enjoys watching motorsports like the Formula One Grand Prix and the occasional game of – once a Swede, always a Swede – ice hockey.
Nevertheless, his favourite pastime is keeping up with what’s going on around the world. “My main interest today is following the news continuously: everything related to global affairs, international relations and political news. I am subscribed to the magazine ‘The Economist’ which always offers outstanding journalism and to some online newsletters from other main publishers” for example.
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