Innocent at Large: With the UN in the Horn of Africa:
One Canadian’s Story
by George Somerville
Sunday, 7 July 2013
(Join us also for an informal reception at 4:30pm)
Balsillie School of International Affairs
67 Erb Street West, Waterloo
Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies
Department of National Defence – Defence Engagement Program
Academic Council on the United Nations System
George Somerwill worked as a journalist for the BBC African Service in the early seventies, and joined the CBC in 1976. During his journalism career, George traveled frequently to Africa to cover political and humanitarian stories.
Following a brief stint with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in the early nineties, George joined CARE Canada, working in emergency programming in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Rwanda. It was while working with CARE in Angola in 1995, that he was recruited by the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
In 1998, while taking up a humanitarian post with the UN Oil-For-Food Programme (OFFP) in Saddam’s Iraq, George took over as Baghdad spokesperson for the OFFP. It was a fascinating three years, trying to deal with the world’s media, while both the UN Security Council and the UN senior management were themselves far from agreement about how to deal with Iraq.
In 2002, as the West hunted for Osama bin Laden and Afghan refugees poured into Pakistan, George served with UNICEF Pakistan. In 2003, he returned to United Nations peacekeeping and to the Horn of Africa, to serve in the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).
From 2004 to 2007, as the UN struggled to bring peace to North and South Sudan, George joined the fledgling UN peacekeeping mission in Khartoum as the Chief of Public Information, UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS). It was a challenging assignment, as the host government did not appreciate the UN’s attempts to bring peace and to encourage freedom of information.
George ended his UN career with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), where he served as Director of Communications from 2007 to 2011. The government of Africa’s first elected woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, had welcomed the UN since 2003, and she challenged the UN to use as many communications initiatives as possible to promote peace and the development in her country.
George Somerwill has an MA in Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development, from the University of York (UK).
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