Trump aid cuts leave Western Sahara peacekeeping facing collapse

Trump aid cuts leave Western Sahara peacekeepers staring over financial cliff
3 min read
Slashing funding to UN missions was a favourite topic of the Trump campaign, but it will have real consequences, writes Habibulah Lamin.
Minurso could face total collapse if its funding is slashed [Getty]

The UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, known by its French acronym, Minurso, has been included in the Trump administration plan to reduce funding for peace missions.

As part of a report to be presented as part of the 2019 federal budget, the US contribution to the operations of Minurso is going to shrink by more than half, from $18 million to just $8 million.

Reducing overseas aid - a favourite of Trump on the campaign trail - is likely to be a double-edged sword in Western Sahara.

While the funding cut will put more pressure on the mission to fulfill its long-term duty of organising a referendum over independence, it could also lead to negative side effects, with the mission only able to operate partially - as happened when Morocco expelled some of its elements during the Guerguarat crisis.

This relative calm paved the way for the Trump administration make such swingeing cuts to the Minurso mission

Either way, it is likely that this change is not going to have a massive effect on the ground. The two warring sides, Morocco and the Polisario Front, have remained quiet - certainly compared with other conflicts where peacekeeping missions are deployed. This relative calm paved the way for the Trump administration make such swingeing cuts to the Minurso mission.

Since its return to Western Sahara, little has been heard from Minurso - and dissatisfaction in its work is shared by both parties. The Polisario demands that the mission organises a referendum, while there are some Moroccan voices who seek its total expulsion from Western Sahara as recognition of their claim of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory.

There are still some US figures who may yet stand against this budget cut. Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, is considered the strongest US political supporter of the Polisario, and is likely to oppose the move.

No other country has proposed to make up the funding shortfall

He is supported by Suzanne Scholte, who chairs the US-Western Sahara association. But their influence is likely to be overwhelmed by other Republicans supporting the president's agenda.

Meanwhile, no other country has proposed to make up the funding shortfall, which could even lead to the eventual collapse of Minurso, so fully dependant as it is on the US contribution in order to function in a desert that extends for thousands of kilometres.

The Trump administration has little interest in such details. The US has also cut its support to Algeria.

Minurso is going to be facing a unique challenge, to pull itself back from the edge of a financial cliff.

Habibulah Mohamed Lamin is a journalist formerly based in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. He has worked as a translator and is director of Equipe Media Branch, a group of media activists covering Western Sahara. His work focuses on the politics and culture of the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter: @habibullahWS