You did it. Senator Feingold is the new U.S. Special Envoy for Congo
On June 18, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of former Senator Russ Feingold as the new U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. This is a huge development, especially since Enough Project activists have been calling on President Obama and Secretary Kerry to appoint a high-level envoy for several months. 108,000 petitioners, led by Congolese women’s activist Neema Namadamu, called for this through a Change.org petition, which was delivered to the White House by Robin Wright in February.
John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project joined Anthony W. Gambino, Stephen Weissman, and 17 other regional experts and prominent advocacy groups in congratulating Special Envoy Feingold on his new position.
In an open letter , the organizations and experts called on Sen. Feingold to use U.S. leverage and incentives to act on two major causes of instability and violence – the failure of democratic elections and institutions in Congo, and the lack of a comprehensive peace process for the Great Lakes Region.
The letter states:
There are so many terrible symptoms of the crisis afflicting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its Great Lakes neighbors – and so many international efforts to deal with them – that policy makers can lose sight of the fundamental roots of these problems. In our view, the U.S. and the international community have failed to give sufficient priority to two root causes: (1) the failure of DRC’s democratic elections and institutions and (2) the absence of a comprehensive regional peace process. Unless these central issues are addressed, ongoing international programs to strengthen Congolese security forces, improve governance, promote human rights, and foster sustainable economic development will founder.
The U.S. Special Representative will need to work closely with U.N. Special Envoy Mary Robinson to help achieve democratic reform and peace in the region. Sen. Feingold can help create benchmarks to ensure the government of Congo is fulfilling its commitments to political reform and the inclusion of civil society leaders, particularly women’s groups, in any sort of national dialogue on these issues. It is particularly important that the U.S. condemn the continuation of past support to armed groups, namely M23, in the region by the governments of Rwanda and Uganda.
The letter also recommends support for MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, and its disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, repatriation, and resettlement, or DDR/RR, programs for armed groups. Additionally, by tackling the conflict minerals trade, further progress can be made in weakening armed groups. The U.S., World Bank, and other international partners can help by condemning and sanctioning those that support illicit trade and offering incentives for conflict-free, transparent sourcing and investments that support development in national and regional infrastructure.
The signatories are hopeful that the appointment of Senator Feingold will be a turning point for Congo. Feingold has a strong record in human rights work and should work closely with Mary Robinson. The Congo experts urge the U.S. to concentrate its efforts on democratic reform and a holistic peace process to bring peace and stability to Congo and the war-torn region.
The signatories include: Anthony W. Gambino, former USAID Mission Director to the DRC; Stephen R. Weissman, Former Staff Director; House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa; John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project; Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group; David Abramowitz of Humanity United; Sarah Pray of the Open Society Policy Center; Jason K. Stearns of the Rift Valley Institute; Wynnette LaBrosse of Open Square; Jolly Okot and Lisa Dougan of Invisible Children; Dr. Denis Mukwege of Panzi Hospital; Michael Poffenberger of The Resolve; Michel Gabaudan of Refugees International; Jacques Bahati of the Africa Faith and Justice Network; Vukasin Petrovic of Freedom House; Sean D. Carasso and Monique Beadle of Falling Whistles; Alysha Atma of the Atma Foundation;Timi Gerson of American Jewish World Service; and Naama Haviv of Jewish World Watch.
Photo: U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold (AP).