Editor’s Note: This post was written by Garrett Moore.
In addition to activists, Members of Congress, and NGOs, notable Congolese officials are also increasingly frustrated with the gap in U.S. Congo envoys. Several Members of Parliament from the Democratic Republic of Congo declared last week in an open letter to President Obama the need for a new U.S. Special Envoy to Congo and the Great Lakes Region. They join NGOs, members of Congress, and Congolese experts in their call for Secretary of State John Kerry to swiftly fill the vacancy.
The need for a Senior U.S. Special Envoy is clear, as Congo prepares for its critical transitional elections next year, Burundi is undergoing a major political crisis, and instability threatens to increase in the Great Lakes region. In the east, attacks around Beni, North Kivu, have escalated again. The political crisis in Burundi has resulted in civilian deaths and displaced over 100,000 people who are now threatened by the outbreak of disease. Despite these growing concerns that demand high-level attention, the position of U.S. Special Envoy has been vacant since March.
There is widespread support for the appointment of former Congressman Tom Perriello for the envoy position. He is well equipped to take up the position considering his experience in peace processes in Sudan and Sierra Leone. He received the backing of several NGOs and former colleagues while in his current position of the State Department’s Special Representative for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Perriello’s work outside of a single embassy would strengthen U.S. and international backing of cross-border security and democratic institutions.
Perriello would build off progress made by former U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold. Feingold developed strong relationships with both civil society and political figures during his twelve trips to the Great Lakes, supporting lasting peace in Congo and the region. In their letter, Congolese Members of Parliament state that Feingold “played a decisive role in the defeat of the M23”, a brutal rebellion that took over the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma in 2012. Perriello could add key diplomatic pressure to Feingold’s calls for presidents in the Great Lakes region to respect their countries’ constitutions and democratic institutions.
The open letter from Congolese politicians amplifies the demand for a Special Envoy. Secretary Kerry and President Obama must prioritize security and democracy in Congo and the Great Lakes region by immediately filling this vital position.
Photo Credit: State Department, May 2014.