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Niger Crisis: Dr. Omar Touray has passed the litmus test already

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By Hassoum Ceesay,
ORG, Historian

Ace Gambian diplomat Dr. Omar Touray, President of ECOWAS Commission, has already passed the litmus test of success as far as the Niger Republic coup crisis is concerned. If the crisis were a baptism of fire for our capable compatriot, I dare say with the bird’s eye view of a historian, that the fire had annealed him into a successful diplomat in the rank of Kissinger or Jaja Wachuku. True, the coup crisis, which has pitted the Niger junta against the protocols of ECOWAS, is still ongoing, but so far, ECOWAS has succeeded on many fronts that its previous attempts at military interventions had failed. This success is due to the adroit leadership of Dr. Touray. I will mention just three hurdles that he has chaperoned ECOWAS over in this crisis.

Firstly, ECOWAS is fully united in its stance on Niger. This is a rare consensus that I am sure it took the capable hands of Dr. Touray and his team of technocrats to achieve. Be it the ECOMOG intervention of 1990 in Liberia, In Sierra Leone in 1997 to remove the AFRC Junta of Johnny Paul Koroma or the ECOMIB military intervention in Guinea Bissau in 1999, were all embroiled in the facile Francophone- Anglophone divide. Ivory Coast, for example, under the sage President Boigny refused to support the ECOMOG in Liberia, even though Liberia and Ivory Coast share a long frontier and linguistic heritage. Senegal under Abdou Diouf also refused to send troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone. When Nigeria under President Babangida took the lead in ECOMOG operations in Liberia, the Francophile Boigny, for example, took instructions from Paris and abandoned the ECOWAS peace keeping mandate in Liberia and even supported Charles Taylor with arms and training. For the Niger coup crisis,  so far all the 11 eligible ECOWAS member states have pledged to support both the Military option and the Mediation option. This is rare unity in a body known in the recent past for its inability to agree on many things.

Second, so far ECOWAS has adopted a clever two-track approach towards solving the Niger Republic Crisis: mediation and military intervention options. Here too Dr. Touray’s diplomatic handiwork is clear. Those of us who have read widely his literary output on Gambian foreign policy, African Union dispute solving mechanisms and his Agenda for his tenure at ECOWAS which he unveiled shortly after he became President, cannot but see his inimitable imprint. The military option remains on the table because ECOWAS is dealing with an entrenched junta of more than 12 Generals, who are war tested following decades fighting the Tuareg insurgency of Mano Dayak or the ongoing terrorism by jihadists. Commonsense tells that if you want to deal with them, you leave them in no doubt about your readiness to meet them on their turf, so to say. At the same time, Niger is a country of peaceful people located right at the heart of West Africa, with long frontiers and rich heritage of scholarship of Abdou Moumini, Boubou Hama, for example; the cradle of the former great Songhay Empire of Sonni Ber Ali. Therefore, it is sensible to play to the good senses of the junta that a peaceful option is on the table to protect their national heirloom, culture and pride, so to write.

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In fact, the approach of sending religious, cultural and social leaders like the Emir of Sokoto, the Lamido of Kano and similar respected leaders intends to directly tap into this vein of Niger rich and highly respected heritage and pride. This is a typical African way of solving conflicts. You send the elders to find out the issues and then send more elders to calm down the antagonists and then the elders will break kola nuts and solve the matter amicably. Here too,  Dr. Touray as the chief technocrat of the ECOWAS Commission is wisely acting according to the dictates of the African prototype of conflict prevention and mediation. Already, we have seen how successful this ECOWAS approach is. The Junta had refused to meet earlier foreign delegations, but now has met an ECOWAS delegation led by General (Ret’d) Abubakar, former Nigerian Head of State(1998-1999), who met both the New Prime Minister and the ousted President on Friday. The photo op of the ECOWAS delegation with the ousted President have calmed down the tension by many notches because it has allayed fears over the health of the ousted ruler, who is seen smiling. This one photo is good enough to obviate immediate military intervention. It has restored confidence on all sides that not all is lost. The unveiling of a roadmap transition by the Junta leader in Niamey on Saturday is good news because it has given an indication of what they are ready for; now ECOWAS mediators can pick it up from there to find an acceptable peaceful agreement.

Dr. Touray was Gambian Foreign Minister in 2009 when Nino Vieira, President of Guinea Bissau, was assassinated, and he led The Gambia’s unsung, but highly effective, diplomatic engagement with the restive military and the PAIGC to obviate a vindictive bloodbath, and the calm swearing in of interim president Raimundo Pereira, and the eventual election of Malam Bacai Sanha as President in September, 2009.

All told therefore, the Niger Republic coup crisis is in the good management hands of ECOWAS under Commission President Dr. Touray. So far, he has exhibited the Kissingerian approach to solving hot conflicts: dress the negotiating table for possible mediation, whilst making it very clear that where the talks fail, military option, which option nobody wants to pick, remains on the table. So far, ECOWAS is doing extremely well in handling this ongoing conflict, and this is thanks to the very assiduous diplomatic leadership of its President Dr. Touray. More grease to his elbows.

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Hassoum Ceesay is a noted historian and author. He has reviewed for academic journals books on Niger Republic history such as Historical Dictionary of Niger (2020) and Yearning For Relief: History of the Sawaba Movement (2013).

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