Hmm.. the guy who I heard it from was Russian and he was saying it was a Russian saying... but I did a quick search and it seems many prominent names used it and it is indeed attributed to a couple people but nobody know who the original author is...
The expression "shortage of sand in Sahara" has been around for many decades and people use it to explain any unjustifiable shortage and it came into being to criticise the communist system.
Miltons Friedman version in the 80's: If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.
I found this article:
Other people who used it: William F. Buckley Jr, French Sage, Alfred E. Kahn.
The earliest instance of the vivid phrase “shortage of sand in the Sahara” located byQIwas printed in 1951 in “Labour” magazine which was issued by the Trades Union Congress in London. A group of workers from Birmingham visited Sweden and were hosted by the Gothenburg Trades Council. The visitors commented on a shortage of timber; however, the overall context did not disparage government:
The visitors were not surprised to find a housing shortage in Sweden; they knew before they went that the problem was world-wide. What they were surprised to find was a shortage of timber. “It sounds like a shortage of sand in the Sahara,” they commented. Then it was explained that the Swedish home market was going short to enable the country to export much of its valuable timber.
In 1971 the conservative magazine editor and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. published “Cruising Speed: A Documentary” which recorded in diary form the incidents and events in Buckley’s life during one week in November 1970. Buckley relayed a joke castigating communism:2
Curiously, the failures of Communism are more often treated as a joke than as a tragedy. (As in the current jollity: What would happen if the Communists occupied the Sahara? Answer: Nothing—for 50 years. Then there would be a shortage of sand.)
This was the earliest strongly matching instance of the quip found byQI. The target was not the U.S. government, but an archetypal communist government. The creator of the joke was anonymous, and the duration of the delay was 50 years instead of five.