When the State Department’s Donald Yamamoto noted recently that the Obama administration was only taking the appointment of a special representative for Africa’s Great Lakes region “under advisement,” during testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it raised concerns among not just a couple of members of Congress. Sixteen U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama this week urging him to appoint a special representative, to “make an important statement that [violence in eastern Congo and ongoing LRA atrocities] are a high priority for your Administration.”
The letter cites numerous concerns the senators share regarding atrocities committed against civilians by armed groups, some of whom have been terrorizing local communities since the 1980s. The letter placed particular emphasis on the Lord’s Resistance Army and violence perpetrated by militias battling for control of Congo’s lucrative mines. The senators stressed that these problems could be exacerbated by the upcoming November elections if the international community fails to pay attention.
The senators also asks President Obama to recall the legislation he co-authored as a senator in December 2006, the “Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act,” which called for the appointment of a special envoy for the Great Lakes region. They noted that a special representative would play a necessary coordinating role across a number of countries and issues deserving of U.S. attention:
Each day, our Ambassadors in the countries of the Great Lakes region confront a multitude of challenges, and we appreciate their service. However, a Special Representative, empowered to travel frequently to engage the myriad actors in the region, would not be duplicative of these efforts. A Special Representative would build upon the work of the Ambassadors, (…) imparting focus on U.S. efforts in the DRC and the broader Great Lakes region.
Join these 16 senators in their call for the appointment of a Great Lakes special representative. Tell Obama & Clinton: Send an Envoy to Congo.
Photo: In May 2010, President Obama signed a bill calling for a new U.S. strategy to tackle the Lord's Resistance Army. A year later, advocates have been disappointed that the 'new' strategy has in practice been more of the same. (White House)