By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-01-16 Print this article Print

Remote personnel, incompatible computer gear, unreliable power and communications lines, and equipment-disabling lightning strikes are just some of the obstacles confronting the technology managers supporting the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Si

. 1, En route to Liberia">

Nov. 1, En route to Liberia

It's taken Mayordomo all week to secure his Movement of Personnel sheet, an official form that says he's entitled to a seat on the 10 a.m. flight to Liberia. But when he gets to the heliport Saturday morning, the travel staff immediately informs him the flight has been changed to 11. So after the chopper flight to the airport across the harbor, he spends most of the time in the waiting room on his cell phone trying to secure passage back on a 4 p.m. cargo flight rather than the passenger flight at 2. Otherwise, there won't be time to do or see much of anything in Monrovia, which is typically a 45-minute drive from the airport.

Monrovia still lacks electric power and running water, and if he doesn't come back tonight, the next flight isn't until Monday.

Systems supervisor Aleksandar Ljamic, who is also traveling to Liberia today, doesn't have the luxury of making this a day trip. Ljamic, another international staffer recruited out of Kosovo, wears a pea-green shirt that reads "United Colors of Benetton." He will be staying at least a few days to troubleshoot the financial software the UNAMSIL computing team installed as part of its rapid-deployment effort.

On arrival at Robertsfield airport in Liberia, Mayordomo learns that there will be no 4 p.m. cargo flight today. Worse, immigration is taking forever processing his passport. He finally pins down the man responsible for procuring transportation. Will there be time for even a brief visit to Monrovia? "My drivers are very fast," he's assured.

Moments later he's in a white U.N. minivan roaring down a long, reasonably straight two-lane road. The speedometer reads 110 kilometers per hour, sometimes sneaking up to 120 (about 75 m.p.h.). The roads here are much better than in Sierra Leone. Still, the driver zigzags around deep potholes, honks his horn to scare pedestrians off the roadway, and passes cars, veering back into the right lane just in time to miss oncoming vehicles.

Despite the speed, it's 1 p.m. by the time Mayordomo arrives at the German Embassy building DPKO has taken over. He should be returning to the airport already. Still, he finds the person responsible for arranging transportation on this end and bargains to be allowed 15 minutes.

He had hoped to see the mobile data van at work here, but it's gone. It had been moved to this location a few weeks into the mission, but apparently it's been moved again. The van is only meant to act as a data and communications hub for the first 30 to 90 days of a mission, at most, and the U.N. is starting to settle into more permanent quarters. The trailer-mounted satellite dish that the van brought is still here, now connected by cables leading into the building.

Inside, Mayordomo darts upstairs and finds the equipment room. But there's no one here to talk to. Servers and communications equipment are piled on the floor. He's turning to leave when a burly U.N. official pokes his nose in. "Gentlemen, how's our comms and I.T. setup?" he asks, puffing on a big cigar.

Mayordomo explains he's a visitor from UNAMSIL who worked on the rapid deployment. "Now, we need to get some racks in here," he adds. "It's not good to have this stuff lying on the floor." "All I know is when you punch '9' you get a New York dial tone," the man says, referring to the way the U.N.'s satellite network can patch calls into the phone system at the headquarters building in New York City. "I think that's pretty good."

Two days later, the cigar smoker turns up on a video documentary produced by DPKO public relations that's playing in the lobby of the Mammy Yoko: Jacques Klein, U.S. Air Force Major General (retired) and former Defense Department and State Department official, now serving as the Secretary General's Special Representative to Liberia. He's best known for playing a similar role in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But at the time, Mayordomo doesn't recognize him—which is good, because if he had stopped to talk he would have missed his plane.

Hopping aboard the pickup that will take him to the airport, Mayordomo asks the driver, "Can you fly?" So the ride back reaches speeds of 130 k.p.h., which is more than 80 m.p.h. and way too fast for this rural road. The driver is Liberian, and Mayordomo asks him a little bit about exiled president Charles Taylor. "Do you want him back?" Mayordomo asks. "No!" shouts the driver.

Mayordomo reaches the airport just in time to race across the runway and board the plane by running up the cargo ramp, climbing over suitcases and squeezing around a veil of netting to get to the passenger compartment.


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