Sahara: Mission impossible for Horst Kohler?

Horst Kohler, the new Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Sahara, is about to begin his mediation with a forthcoming visit to the Maghreb. Yet, questions remain as to his ability to convince the Polisario and Algeria to engage in a new dynamic, in a new spirit of realism as recommended by the Security Council.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres himself stressed “the importance of this visit to help re-launch the political process in a new spirit and a new dynamic, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2351 (2017)”, according to the UN spokesman.

If Antonio Guterres insisted on “a new spirit” and “a new dynamic”, it is precisely to avoid the tensions of the past, which led the political process to a dead-end. The political process was launched in 2007 after Morocco presented the autonomy plan for the Sahara.

The autonomy proposal is considered by the Security Council and the major world capitals as a “serious” and “credible” basis for a settlement of the Sahara issue, at a time Algeria and the Polisario are clinging to the referendum option, deemed long time ago as unfeasible.

Actually, the new UN emissary should not expect concessions on the part of Algeria. Despite the deep economic and financial crisis facing the North African country since the fall of oil prices, Algerian leaders are not yet in a logic of new dynamics or compromise.

It is true that some Algerian politicians dare, from time to time, to criticize the huge financial aid granted by Algeria to the Polisario. One of these critics was Amar Saadani, the leader of the FLN who was pushed to resign in October 2016, precisely because of his position on the Sahara issue.

But the military wing of the regime is keeping a close eye on things, and the military brass do not tolerate any internal dissent on the Sahara issue, deeming it is the only way to maintain pressure on their long-time Moroccan rival.

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