Russ Feingold was the highest-level U.S. envoy ever deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and he played a number of important roles in that position. Today, two months after Feingold’s resignation to run for Senate, the pressure is mounting on Secretary of State John Kerry to appoint a new, high-level Special Envoy. NGOs, Members of Congress, and Congo experts are all weighing in on the conversation.
While the U.S. State Department continues to delay the decision, a name has emerged as a frontrunner in the Congo coalition community, as Jason Stearns, Director of the Rift Valley Institute’s Usalama Project, highlighted last week: former Congressman Tom Perriello. Perriello has extensive experience working on African peace processes – from Sierra Leone to Sudan – and would bring strong energy and a problem-solving attitude to the job, with an eagerness to travel frequently to the region. Perriello also has ample experience working with members of civil society on the continent, a critical asset for any high-level diplomat appointed to help support peacebuilding in the Great Lakes. He has strong relationships throughout the current administration, and has demonstrated his political ability to bring together and build trust even with those who may not agree with him. He also has a pre-existing relationship with Feingold, who could transfer practical, useful insights and help ensure momentum is not lost as Perriello transitions into the post.
The United States must swiftly appoint a new envoy whose credentials and position within the State Department’s hierarchy mirror those of Feingold: a high-level appointee who reports directly to the Secretary of State, with an experienced staff. Additionally, the Special Envoy should travel frequently to the region in order to maintain relationships with the governments and civil society in the region, as well as other envoys, to effectively build on the progress established by Special Envoy Feingold. For these reasons, Perriello is well-placed to step into this critical position.
President Obama’s decision to appoint Feingold to the Special Envoy position in 2013 signaled a turning point in U.S. engagement in Africa’s Great Lakes region: Feingold was the highest-level U.S. official ever charged specifically with overseeing relations with Congo and the region. His tenure was characterized by over a dozen trips to the region, during which he established strong relationships with both local civil society and political figures. In the nearly two years he held the position, Feingold contributed to the dismantling of M23, was a strong voice for justice and accountability, and pressured President Kabila to respect his constitutional term limits in the upcoming 2016 elections. With Feingold’s departure and no replacement yet named, the groundwork he laid in many of these important areas and more is at risk of crumbling.
I’m joining NGOs, Members of Congress asking @JohnKerry to appoint a high-level #CongoEnvoy now @US_SEGL
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- The Special Envoy Gap: Why the US government has taken so long to name a new Special Envoy to the Great Lakes