For the secretary-general, these tensions appear to have helped fuel continued frustration towards Morocco and the visit may have been an attempt to show Western Sahara that the international body has not forgotten about the issue, according to Jacob Mundy, a political science professor and North Africa expert at Colgate University. As Mundy noted, the visit was unusual in the fact that Ban only met with one side. “It’s kind of unprecedented, just on its face, only going to meet with one side of the conflict,” he said. “The secretariat has never visibly shown this much frustration before and if it was… it never would have made its frustration public.”
The Western Sahara conflict is fast approaching its 40th anniversary with no end in sight. A web of geopolitical interests keeps the conflict in a permanent state of limbo. At the heart of this web is the U.N. Security Council, which has managed the conflict since the late 1980s. The council has been historically reticent to take dramatic action to resolve the dispute and remains so today. Though there has been “peace” in Western Sahara since 1991 when a cease-fire came into effect, all efforts to reconcile Morocco’s claim of sovereignty against the local population’s right to self-determination have failed. The status quo thus seems indefinitely sustainable. Unless the conflict takes a sudden turn for the worse, it is unlikely that the international community will make the tough choices necessary to achieve a lasting solution. Therein lies the paradox of the Western Sahara peace process: The peace process now exists to contain the conflict, but only a crisis will save Western Sahara.
At the end of every April, a small drama plays out in the UN Security Council. This is when the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO, its French acronym) comes up for its annual renewal. Western Sahara — Africa’s last colony according to the United Nations — is largely ignored by the Security Council the other eleven months of the year. The Secretary-General has a Person Envoy working on the case, former US Ambassador Christopher Ross, one of the great Arabophone diplomats of his age. The mandate given to Ambassador Ross, to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution that will afford Western Sahara its long denied right to self-determination, is a farce and everyone knows it.
Co-authored with Anna Theofilopoulou.
The Secretariat under Ban Ki-moon does not seem to recognize, or is unwilling to admit, the tough choices facing the UN venture in Western Sahara. As early as December 1995, Boutros Ghali admitted to the Council that the differences between the sides were irreconcilable and surprised everybody by admitting that he never believed that the referendum would happen. He understood that there were really only three options on the table: force a solution on the parties, withdraw or keep pressing for negotiations. Consistently, the Security Council chose number three. For the Obama administration, these choices remain fundamentally the same and dismal in their prospects.
Pourquoi l’ONU ne résoudra pas le Sahara occidental (jusqu’à ce que cela devienne une crise)
Translation by Amis du Peuple du Sahara Occidental, France
Por qué no resolverá la ONU el problema del Sáhara (hasta que se convierta en una crisis abierta)
translation by Javier Villate
in Middle East Report Online (26 June 2004), http://www.merip.org/mero/mero062604.html.
Reprinted as ‘Die Uno Scheitert in der Wüste,’ Woz Die Wochenzeitung (Le Monde Diplomatique, Germany) 27 (1 July 2004): 11.
Since 1988, the United Nations has been actively involved in the Western Sahara dispute between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Saharan liberation movement known as the Frente POLISARIO. Over fifteen years later, there seems to be no end in sight for this seemingly intractable conflict. For the UN, the Western Sahara file is beginning to look less like East Timor and a lot more like Cyprus.
in Mediterranean Quarterly 15.3 (2004), pp.130-148.