Tribute to the late Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, Head of UNDOF on International Day of UN Peacekeepers

UNDOF Commander.jpeg Late Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri (L)

Sincerely, may I express my heartfelt gratitude to you, Right Honourable Speaker, for the opportunity to pay tribute to a departed illustrious son of the land and by all accounts, a fallen hero - Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights who passed away suddenly after suffering a heart attack on Good Friday, 19th April, 2019 while on duty at the southern Israeli port city of Eilat.

Mr. Speaker, I render this tribute on a day set aside by the United Nations to observe the “International Day of UN Peacekeepers.”  This year’s commemoration is being marked with the theme: “Protecting Civilians, Protecting Peace.”

Mr. Speaker, according to the United Nations, more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948 including 98 who died last year bringing to the fore the risks and remarkable sacrifices of peacekeepers in their quest to secure global peace.  

Mr. Speaker, not too long ago, specifically on the 30th of January, 2019, I made a statement in this august House celebrating some outstanding sons and daughters of our nation on their respective appointments to high international offices.  This statement which you kindly admitted, featured that distinguished and exceptional Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri who was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres on 13th October, 2017 as the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  It is indeed tragic that few months after this House celebrated the Major General and his other remarkable colleagues, we should now be paying tribute to his memory, but alas, so is life; and it was William Shakespeare who wrote: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”

Mr. Speaker, Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri was born in 1957. He held a master’s degree in Military Art and Science from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, in the United States, a post-graduate certificate in Public Administration from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography and Rural Resource Development from the University of Ghana.

He was a graduate of the Nigerian Armed Forces Command and General Staff College, Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College and the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

He joined the Ghana Armed Forces in 1985. In a distinguished career spanning more than thirty years: he became the Assistant Director, Ghana Army Operations from 1996 to 1998. He was the Deputy Head of the Ghana Military Academy from 2002 to 2004.  Later the Commanding Officer of an Infantry Battalion from 2004 to 2009 and then becoming the Director for International Peacekeeping Support Operations in 2009. From 2010 to 2011, Major General Vib-Sanziri served as an Army Secretary at the Army Headquarters here in Accra. In 2014, he also served as Director-General for Joint Operations at the General Headquarters until his June 2015 appointment by H.E John Dramani Mahama as Director-General of the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO). In April 2017, he served as Director-General of the International Peace Support Operations at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces.

Major General Vib-Sanziri’s extensive peacekeeping experience includes deployments to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1988 and 1991, United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1993 and 1994 and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2007.  He also served with the Economic Community of West Africa States Monitoring Group in Liberia in 1990, in Sierra Leone, in 1999 and 2000, and, subsequently, with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).  From 2011 to 2014, he served as a strategic military planner in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations.

With his esteemed military career at the national and international levels, it did not come as a surprise to many when the UN Secretary-General appointed him as UNDOF Commander taking over from Major General Jai Shanker Menon of India.

Mr. Speaker, since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the world acknowledges how vital Major General Vib-Sanziri’s recent 1000-strong multi-national force he commanded was in maintaining peace in the Middle East as they provided a buffer between Israel and Syria while helping to manage other complexities including a raging conflict in Syria and President Donald Trump’s recent controversial recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to take note of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres statement to the international media after he had personally called our President, H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo to express his sympathies – the Secretary-General stated that he was “deeply saddened” and praised Vib-Sanziri’s long service in peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Lebanon, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. “The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to General Vib-Sanziri’s family and loved ones and to the Government and the Armed Forces of Ghana,” the statement concluded.

On their part, the Israeli Mission to the United Nations said in a statement: “We extend our deepest condolences to the UN and Ghana on the sudden passing of Maj. Gen. Francis Vib-Sanziri, Head of UNDOF. His experience & leadership were invaluable in commanding UNDOF under difficult and complex circumstances. We pray for his family in this time of mourning.”

Mr. Speaker, in what was a truly solemn and befitting memorial service held in Major General Vib-Sanziri’s honour last Wednesday the 24th of April, 2019 in Camp Ziouani, Israel – Ghana’s Ambassador to Israel, Her Excellency Hannah Ama Nyarko speaking on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and flanked by many Ambassadors of friendly nations, proudly stated: “Ghana had lost a fine, dedicated, professional military officer who served his country and the global community with distinction.”

As we mourn his departure, may I respectfully, express the deepest commiserations of this House to our gallant men and women of the Ghana Armed Forces who have since the days of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and since Ghana’s first peacekeeping operation in the Congo lifted high and proudly the flag of Ghana in UN Peacekeeping missions across the globe. Indeed so stellar is Ghana’s record that when the Queen of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II addressed this august Parliament on 8th November, 1999 during a State Visit, she had this to say: “Ghana is the fifth largest contributor to UN peace keeping forces and over the years has served the interests of the international community in places as far apart as Bosnia, Cambodia and the Lebanon as well as in Africa. Nor, of course should we overlook the fact that Ghana currently provides the United Nations with its present distinguished Secretary-General. These are all proud achievements.”

Mr. Speaker, we duly convey our deepest condolences to the bereaved family especially the widow, Commissioner of Police Beatrice Vib-Sanziri and their two daughters.  May the Good Lord grant them divine strength and solace.

Our sympathies go out to the United Nations, the Ghana Armed Forces and all institutions the Major General was associated with.

May the gentle soul of this great soldier and others departed rest in eternal peace.

On this day Mr. Speaker, we salute all 2,777 troops and police on various peacekeeping operations as at 30th April, 2019 in Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur in Sudan, Lebanon and South Sudan.  We are proud of their exceptional bravery and professionalism which continues to bring our nation much renown. Let them know that they occupy a special place in our hearts and thoughts; for we shall never take their sacrifices to global peace for granted.

I thank you most sincerely, Right Honourable Speaker.

Columnist: Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Member Of Parliament For North Tongu