Niger Crisis: A litmus test for Gambian Diplomat Dr. Omar Touray

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Dr. Omar Touray, Ecowas Commission President

By: Basidia M Drammeh

Dr. Omar Touray is a seasoned Gambian diplomat and a prominent academic who rose to fame recently due to his hot seat as President of the Economic Community of West African States, which has been at loggerheads with Niger’s military junta who recently toppled Mohmmad Bazoum’s government in a military coup on July 26.

Who is Dr. Omar Touray?

Born in the Gambia in 1965, Dr. Touray received his B.A. (literature and linguistics) from Ain Shams University in Egypt in 1987. He graduated with a Ph.D. in international relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva in 1994. He also studied Finance and Islamic Finance at IE Business School in Madrid. Dr. Touray speaks multiple languages, including Arabic, English, and French, and our indigenous languages.

Dr. Touray is a Gambian diplomat and development professional with an illustrious career. He served the United Nations in various capacities before being tapped by the Jammeh administration t serve as Senior Assistant Secretary at the Gambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming First Secretary of the Gambian Embassy to Belgium and Permanent Mission to the European Union and the World Trade Organization later in 1995. In mid-1996, he was moved to the post of Counsellor and Head of Chancery at the same embassy, and he remained in that post until April 2002. Touray also served as Gambia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the African Union and Ambassador to Ethiopia in 2002, with concurrent accreditation as High Commissioner to South Africa and Kenya. He had been Permanent Representative Designate to the United Nations in New York before he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2008. Dr. Touray worked at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, since 2012 before he was appointed the President of the ECOWAS Commission on July 03, 2022, to serve for a four-year term.

Litmus Test

Touray’s appointment to Ecowas’ top job coincided with the rise of military coups in turbulent West Africa, the latest of which was the military takeover in Niger. Following the coup on July 26, ECOWAS convened an emergency summit during which leaders of the regional grouping slammed sanctions on the country, issued a seven-day ultimatum for restoring Bazoum as president, and threatened military action, in the event of non-compliance. The statement was read out by Dr. Touray at the conclusion of the summit in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

However, most people in West Africa have no appetite for using military force, arguing that it could spiral into a regional conflict with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea openly voicing support for the Junta. The three countries issued a joint statement stating that any military action against Niger would also be considered a declaration of war against them. People also contend that ECOWAS plays double-standard approaches, turning a blind eye to leaders who manipulate their constitutions to perpetuate themselves in power while getting tough on those who usurp power in coups.

The initial enthusiasm for war is increasingly dwindling with Nigeria’s Senate expressing opposition.

Even though Ecowas’ military chiefs have recently met in Accra, Ghana, to weigh military intervention, the regional grouping looks perplexed about convincing Niger’s military junta to step down amid widespread opposition to the war. While threatening force, ECOWAS remains engaged in diplomatic efforts aimed at averting war. Meanwhile, a lack of action by ECOWAS could enforce the perception that it is another toothless puppet, hence triggering coups elsewhere.

Dr. Touray’s legacy apparently hinges on his ability to use his outstanding diplomatic prowess to resolve the increasingly intractable Niger nightmare!

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