MEET CATHERINE UGORJI WHO KEEPS PEACE IN THE MOST DEADLIEST PLACE
Superintendent Catherine Ugorji is settling in for another 24-hour shift monitoring UN patrols in the troubled Malian city of Gao. This formidable Nigerian policewoman cracks jokes with colleagues from Burkina Faso and Tunisia in fluent French, and scans her computer screen for the evening’s planned routes.
As a woman, she is a highly unusual presence on the sprawling UN base here, where the prefabricated buildings, mess hall and football field are all full of men.
It doesn’t seem to bother her much. “I like action. Whatever they say a man does, I like doing it,” she says.
She is one of just 477 female police and military working for Mali’s 15,000-strong peacekeeping mission, and the UN would like to recruit more.
But the job is a difficult sell.
The Mali mission has the grim distinction of being the deadliest active peacekeeping deployment in the world, with 106 blue helmets murdered so far by hostile forces and dozens more killed by accidents and illness.
Ugorji is used to working in challenging environments, however. She cut her teeth as a beat cop on the mean streets of Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and a place legendary in West Africa for the inventiveness of its criminals. Her time chasing drug dealers and scammers around Lagos makes her work as a peacekeeper in this jihadist enclave seem “very easy”, she beams.
“Lagos is a very tough town. I worked as a divisional police officer and crime officer,” she says. “I would work around the clock… In the night is when all the bad people move.”
In her time off, she catches up with her husband and three children via WhatsApp, or heads to the gym for what she says is typically a two-hour workout.