Kohler’s resignation raises serious questions about the sustainability of the ‘new momentum’ he helped broker.
Rabat – Algeria has reacted to the resignation of Horst Kohler, the UN envoy for Western Sahara. Algiers says that it “deeply regrets” Kohler’s resignation and will remember the former German president as a serious broker in the Western Sahara conflict.
Western Sahara analysts and observers were shocked earlier this week by the bombshell announcement of Kohler’s resignation. In a declaration read by U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday, the UN noted that he decided to step down due to health reasons.
Kohler, now 76, had decided that he was no longer up to the strenuous tasks that come with bringing four-decade-long foes to the same negotiating table, keeping them there, and, as is the hope of the political process Kohler was spearheading, brokering a lasting and thoroughly negotiated settlement.
In its reaction to Kohler’s decision, Algeria echoed the sentiments of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Morocco, who shared their thoughts immediately after the news was made public.
The new Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Sabri Boukaddoum said on Thursday, that Algeria “takes Personal Envoy Horst Kohler’s resignation with deep regret.” Boukaddoum went on to highlight his diplomatic role in restoring hope among observers and actors alike noting that his approach in the conflict could lead to genuine confidence building in the decades-long stalemate.
While Algeria saluted Kohler’s “serious efforts” in the Sahara dossier, the statement made sure to renew Algiers’ commitment to what has come to define its Western Sahara stance—and by extension its foreign policy towards Morocco: A referendum on self-determination.
“Algeria remains convinced that the solution to the Western Sahara issue is for the people of Western Sahara to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination, in conformity with international law and UN tradition on issues of decolonization.”
The mention of “decolonization” and “self-determination” blatantly disregards the latest UN resolutions and recommendations on the way forward for the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.
Resolution 2468, the latest on the issue, urges all parties—including Algeria—to let go of the self-determination card and instead pave the way for a politically negotiated settlement. The resolution champions compromise, realism, and pragmatism, a move that has largely been interpreted as is a disqualification of a referendum on self-determination.
But Algiers’ commitment to its default Western Sahara policy also raises serious questions as to what awaits the next UN envoy.
Kohler, who was appointed in August 2017 to replace American Christopher Ross, has won plaudits for convincing the four parties in the Sahara dossier—Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Polisario—to sit at the same roundtables.
Kohler’s tenure has generated hope about the feasibility of a lasting solution in Western Sahara, with observers and diplomats alike suggesting that Kohler’s efforts have sparked a “new momentum” for the UN agenda in the conflict.
With Kohler now gone, however, it remains to be seen whether the new momentum he helped broker will survive him.