The story of UNMIL [Book]: Leading the Mission to a close
When Farid Zarif arrived in Liberia in September 2015 to take the helm of UNMIL’s final chapter, he had a long biography of leadership positions in the UN, as well as diplomatic and senior roles in his own country of Afghanistan. He went on to lead the Mission in a critical phase: Liberia would take over responsibility for its own security. Free and fair elections would be held with UNMIL largely in the background. And UNMIL would be closing without leaving significant gaps in capacity among its Liberian hosts.
SRSG Zarif studied law, political science, international relations and diplomacy at Kabul University, the Afghan Institute of Diplomacy and University of Oxford. He has extensive experience in diplomatic, international and UN affairs. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of UN Mission in Liberia, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General, he had previously served as SRSG and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 2011 to 2015.
Prior to that, he served as Director of the Europe and Latin America Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (2010-2011) in the UN Headquarters in New York. In addition, he served in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Eritrea, Liberia, South Africa, Iraq and Sudan in various senior capacities, including elections coordinator, deputy humanitarian coordinator and chief of staff.
Before he joined the United Nations in 1993, he served in various positions inside and outside Afghanistan, including as Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (1981-1987), Deputy Foreign Minister (1987-1989) and Presidential Adviser on International Affairs (1989-1991). He served as Secretary-General of the Economic Advisory Council, the think-tank of the Chambers of Commerce and leadership of the corresponding civil society organizations.
SRSG Zarif not only led the Mission through an important phase, and inserted his “good offices” at critical moments in Liberia’s political developments, but he also created an environment in the Mission of commitment and excellence, according to a 2017 survey of UN staff in the field and at Headquarters.
UNMIL was ranked the best field mission in which to work, according to the first UN Global Staff Survey of 2017. Some 4,000 staff members, or 10 per cent of the Secretariat work force, were asked to rank answers to a number of questions on job satisfaction, empowerment, leadership and ethical practices, as well as their overall feelings on the UN.
UNMIL ranked highest in job satisfaction; highest in leadership and ethical climate; and second highest in empowerment of staff, the Mission ranked fairly low on positive attitudes towards the UN bureaucracy in general, indicating the staff desire for greater reforms in the Organization.
“He has guarded the organization against growing carelessness or arrogant complacency, and also truly appreciates the work of every staff member,” said a staff member.