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Why Africa’s Great Lakes Region Needs a Special Envoy

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Why Africa’s Great Lakes Region Needs a Special Envoy

Posted by David Sullivan on March 16, 2011

Why Africa's Great Lakes Region Needs a Special Envoy

The Enough Project has long been pushing for a special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, a focus of the testimony by Ben Affleck and my colleague John Prendergast on Capitol Hill last week.

At Congo Siasa, Jason Stearns reinforces several points on the urgency of an envoy, including the need for a position capable of coordinating senior U.S. diplomatic engagement with Congo and its neighbors. Jason rightly notes that an envoy should report to Secretary Clinton in order to coordinate policy across the department.

Adding to the conversation, I think this organizational chart for the Africa bureau from State’s foreign affairs manual explains why Congo policy is currently falling through the cracks. Aside from Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson and his principal deputy Don Yamamoto, the key management position in the bureau is the deputy assistant secretary, or DAS. There are three DAS positions that divide up responsibility for most of the regional and functional issues the bureau covers.

When it comes to Congo and the Great Lakes region, this division of responsibilities quickly becomes problematic. Responsibility for Congo flows through the DAS for Central and Southern Africa, currently Susan Page. However, responsibility for regional security issues, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, and for other important cross-cutting issues of particular importance to Congo, such as democracy and human rights, runs through Karl Wycoff, the DAS for East Africa and regional affairs. At the same time, the DAS responsible for regional economic issues, notably conflict minerals, is William Fitzgerald who covers West Africa.

So even within the Africa bureau, the basket of issues that could and should be coordinated by a single, empowered envoy are instead spread out among three different deputy assistant secretaries, each with their own additional workloads related to their respective regions. Given the pressing need for a more focused policy that can adequately tackle thorny issues like elections, conflict minerals, and sexual violence, it’s all the more important that the Obama administration appoint a Great Lakes envoy soon.


Photo: Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson speaks at the Center for Amercian Progress (CAP)