South African companies urged to be more active in bidding for UN tenders


Officials from the United Nations Procurement Division have urged South African companies to register and bid for billions of dollars worth of tenders issued each year by the organisation, especially as South Africa is ideally located to be a supplier to UN missions on the continent.

Delivering the opening address at the UN Procurement Summit in Pretoria on 24 June, defence minister Thandi Modise urged the South African defence industry to come together and pursue the opportunities the UN is offering. She said the industry underrates itself, and reminded the sector that the Department of Defence depends on the industry. “You become important to us as the industry because without you we are unable to do our business as a country involved in contributing troops.”

Atul Khare, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Operational Support, said the close cooperation between South Africa and the United Nations “continues to be a priority for my department…the contribution of the Republic of South Africa, including its commercial entities, can be a critical enabler for the ultimate success of the UN mandate delivery.”

Khare, in South Africa for the 6th International United Nations Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping Symposium (6PTPS) from 21-24 June, said global challenges to supply chain operations coupled with ever-diminishing resources have led to the UN seeking new technologies to create greater efficiency, and the UN wants to learn from suppliers about innovative solutions, particularly in responding to the challenges of maintaining peace and security and also achieving sustainable development goals.

Khare believes that more collaboration and cooperation with service providers in South Africa will improve peacekeeping operations. Some of the goods and services the UN is looking for include fixed and rotary wing airlift, telemedicine providers, information technology solutions, and peacekeeper protection technologies.

Christian Saunders, Assistance Secretary-General for Supply Chain Management at the Department of Operational Support, pointed out that in 2021 the UN Secretariat spent $2.7 billion on goods and services globally, out of which $41 million was procured in South Africa. The aviation industry took most of that, with aviation services accounting for $38 million, and professional services $1.2 million, with pharmaceuticals and health, ICT, transport and storage amounting to half a million dollars.

“I believe South Africa and the business community has much much more to offer the UN,” Saunders told delegates. However, he cautioned that to work with the UN requires patience and persistence, as the Procurement Division is “a large bureau and are not as quick and agile as we would like, but we are striving to streamline and simplify. We are a good partner, an ethical partner, a long term partner, and most importantly, we pay our bills.” He urged suppliers not to be despondent if they don’t succeed at first, but to try again.

One area the UN is strongly encouraging South African suppliers to bid for is air transport – with Covid-19 supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine, the cost of transport has gone up dramatically and since the majority of UN missions are in Africa, the UN is pushing to buy more locally, Saunders said.

“There is huge opportunity for South African businesses, not just in the defence industry but across the board,” he explained, as the UN literally buys tens of thousands of different goods and services.

While the UN Secretariat spends nearly $3 billion, procurement across all UN divisions amounts to $18 billion a year. The different divisions, such as the Secretariat, UNHCR etc. are all active on the UN Global Marketplace – to do business with the United Nations, companies have to register there (, where tender opportunities can also be viewed.

Greg Kuchler, Acting Chief of Service, UN Procurement Division, highlighted the fact that the majority of UN peacekeeping operations are in Africa, and South Africa’s proximity to these does help.

Giving a breakdown of UN spend, he said the biggest single Secretariat spend item in 2021 was ICT ($418 million), followed closely by air transport ($394 million), with building and construction coming in third at $331 million. Food and catering amounted to $288 million while fuels, including aviation fuel, was number five at $234 million.

Some of the solicitations to look out for in 2022/23 cover fuel, medicine, ICT, security and energy. Next year the UN will rebid its fuel requirements for UNMISS (South Sudan), UNISFA (Abyei), UNAMA (Afghanistan), UNIFIL (Lebanon) and UNMHA (Yemen). Medical requirements will cover oxygen generation, trauma bags, pharmaceuticals, and imaging equipment.

ICT solicitations are vast and range from servers to audio-visual equipment, computers and tablets, ICT security systems to VHF/UHF trunked radio systems. On the energy side, the UN will be looking for efficient generators and turnkey renewable energy supplies. Other requirements include prefabricated buildings, ISR data management, green power generation, camp/perimeter security, and counter-IED technology (security is a big focus, especially with the rise in attacks against peacekeepers).