Major General Cheick Oumar Diarra


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Major General Cheick Oumar Diarra

(1944 - 2005)




Nowa Omoigui




October 29, 2005


Among the many productive lives lost in the crash of BellView 210 on Saturday October 22, 2005, was a military and diplomatic giant, Major General Cheick Oumar Diarra, described by a former colleague as "a very versatile workaholic whose dedication was akin to being married to his work."


Married, with four children, the late Major General Cheick Oumar Diarra was born on Sunday January 30, 1944, in the historic city of Markala on the majestic River Niger, located in the Ségou Region of Mali.  Modern Mali encompasses peoples of the middle Niger, famous in their own right, but named after the ancient, unrelated Mali empire. He could not have known at the time that the historic World War 2 allied offensive at Anzio was well on its way, or that United States marines had invaded Japanese held Majuro in the Marshall Islands on the day of his birth. The French Governor of Mali at the time was Auguste Calvel, a "Free French" official who had replaced "Vichy French" loyalist Jean Desanti in April 1942.


Diarra obtained his primary education from 1951 to 1957 at Ecole de Markala during French colonial rule, after which he attended the Lycée Terrasson in Bamako from 1957 to 1964. While he was in secondary school, Mali (then known as the Sudanese republic, and initially federated with Senegal) gained independence on September 22, 1960 under Modibo Keita.


He was later admitted as an officer cadet at Mali's Defence Academy - the Ecole Militaire Inter-armes located in the garrison town of Kati - from 1967 to1969 after which he was commissioned 2nd Lt. on October 1st, 1969. He was still a cadet when, on Nov 19, 1968, Keita was overthrown by then Captain Moussa Traoré, an erstwhile instructor at the military academy. Subsequently, from 1970 to 1974, he attended the Soviet Military Aeronautic University in Kiev (Ukraine) graduating with a Master of Science degree. From 1983 to 1984 he proceeded to France to attend the Brevet d’Etudes Militaires Supérieures, at the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre Inter-armées de Paris. He was conferred with the Certificat du Cours Supérieur Inter-armées in 1984. He returned to France in 1999, this time to obtain the Certificat de l’enseignement militaire supérieur du troisième degré, at the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale de Paris.


As a military officer, he rose steadily and without blemish from the rank of Second Lieutenant in 1969, Lieutenant in 1971, Captain in 1976, Major in 1980, Lieutenant Colonel in 1986, Colonel in 1992, Brigadier-General in 1997 and finally, Major General in 2000. A speaker of four (4) languages - Bambara, French, Russian, and English - he received many honors over the course of his illustrious career as a national and international public servant. These include the Commandeur de l’Ordre National, Croix de la Valeur Militaire, Commemorative Campaign Medal of 1976, Commemorative Campaign Medal of 1985, UN Medal Numbers 1, 2, and 3 UNAMIR, the ECOMOG Medal and UN Medals Numbers 1 and 2 MINURCA.


At the time of his death in the unfortunate plane crash of October 22, 2005, at Lisa, in Ogun State of Nigeria, he was the Deputy Executive Secretary for Political Affairs, Defence and Security at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja. In this position - which he has held since 2001 - he supervised the Departments of Political Affairs, Humanitarian Affairs, Defence and Security, as well as the Observation and Monitoring Centre. He was responsible for the implementation of the ECOWAS mechanism for conflict prevention, management, resolution, peacekeeping and security.


General Diarra brought elaborate Command and Staff expertise and Defence-Diplomatic experience to bear on his most recent job in Abuja.


From 1979 until 1986, he was the Deputy Chief of staff, Government of the Republic of Mali in Bamako, a position in which he coordinated all administrative units under the authority of the Chief of Staff and was personally responsible for Policy Analysis. Although only a Major for most of this period, he acted as the Chief of Staff from time to time.


After promotion to the rank of Lt. Col., he became Chief of the Planning Division of the General Staff from 1986 until 1987. In this position, he coordinated plans, directed training and partook in strategic programming for all Malian security forces. But it was not long before he was plucked away to take on the position of "Chief of Cabinet" at the Ministry of Defence and Security. In this capacity he was the Adviser to the Minister of Defence and Security on military and security policy and was responsible for cabinet staff supervision.


In late 1987, he was asked to assume the position of Director of the National Police, responsible for the maintenance of law and order. In this position he also acted as the National Security Adviser.


By 1989, however, he was redeployed back to the Ministry of Defence and Security, this time as Director of the Cabinet of the Minister of Defence and Security. In this position he was, once again, asked to assist the Minister, but, in addition, coordinate activities of the Army, AirForce, National Police (Surete Nationale), National Gendarmerie, Republican Guard and National Guard. This appointment made him a critical node in the security heirarchy, the significance of which was to become apparent in due course.


Following the popular uprising of March 26, 1991, and the replacement - in a Palace Coup - of General Moussa Traoré by a transitional military regime under then Lieutenant-Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré, then Lieutenant Colonel Diarra became Minister of Transport and Public Works, giving up his position as Member of the Higher Defence Council, which he had held since 1979. He also gave up his position - held since 1984 - as President of the Sub-Commission for Defence and Security. The transitional government, of which he was an insider, later handed over power to elected President Alpha Oumar Konaré in June 1992. Nevertheless, after this, Diarra, now a full Colonel, assumed the crucial positions, first, as General Inspector of the Armed Forces, and then as Chargé de Mission, Ministry of Defence and Security - until 1994. These roles allowed him to gain first hand experience in the reprofessionalisation and democratization of the politicised Malian military and provided a backdrop to the next phase of his career - this time as an international public servant.


From 1994 until 1996, Colonel Diarra was the Civilian Police Commissioner (CIVPOL) for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), responsible not only for the 120 Police monitors under his command, but also for the supervision, training and restructuring of the Rwandese National Gendarmerie and Communal Police. During the initial phase of this operation he served as a Military observer and was the acting Deputy Chief Military Observer and Chief Liaison Officer. In this role he helped network UNAMIR units with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Rwandan Government and French forces during "Operation Turquois", the controversial French led "Safe Haven" operation mandated by UN Resolution 929 of June 22, 1994.


In 1997, Diarra, now a Brigadier-General, was appointed Malian Contingent Commander and functioned as the ECOMOG Chief Liaison Officer and Electoral Sector Commander in Monrovia, Liberia, until 1998 when he was again tasked by the UN to serve as Civilian Police Commissioner (CIVPOL) for the United Nations Mission in Central African Republic (MINURCA).


Following his promotion to the rank of Major General, his last job - in 2000 - before assuming his most recent assignment in Abuja, was as an Ambassador and Special envoy of the Chairman of ECOWAS for Sierra Leone.


In the course of his career as a soldier-diplomat, Major General Diarra took part in many international workshops and conferences, in many of which he was a speaker. Beginning in 1989 the more prominent of these conferences include the Conference on Crisis Management on Matters of Security, held in Bamako, Mali in 1989; United Nations Workshop on Crisis Resolution and Confidence–Building among African countries, Arusha, Tanzania in 1990; Consultations on Rwanda, held in the USA in1994; United Nations Conference on Lessons Learnt from UNAMIR, held in the USA in 1996; and the United States Army Workshop on Problems and Solutions in Future Coalition Operations, held in France in 1996. He delivered papers on various aspects of Peace operations at the International Conference on Civil Military Relations, held in Mali in 1996; United Nations Training Conference on Peace Operations, held in Cameroon in 1996; Conference on Conflict Prevention, Disarmament and Development in West Africa held in Mali in 1996; Conference on Training of Trainers on the role of Civilian Police in Peace Operations, held in Durban in 1998; Seminar on Training of Trainers on practical disarmament measures for military and civilian officials, held in Yaounde in 1998; the Sub-regional seminar on the Secretary-General’s report, held in Yaounde in 1999; Sub-regional seminar on the Role of the Military in Peacekeeping, held in Accra in 2001; as well as the Séminaire sur la Promotion des Relations Civilo-militaires en Afrique: Facteurs de Paix et de Sécurité en Afrique held in Lomé, Togo in 2001.


Burial rites for the late General, born on Sunday, January 30, 1944, will be held on Sunday October 30, 2005 in the land of his ancestors.  He was 61 years old.


This page offers its sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, country men and women and all those - on behalf of the United Nations and ECOWAS - for whom he toiled so hard for peace. I benefitted personally and professionally - as a defence writer - from some of his work. May his soul rest in peace, and may what he has started and helped achieve with such passion and eloquence not be allowed to go to waste.



Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Colonel Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd) and personal staff of the late General for their assistance in preparing this eulogy.




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