CAPITOL HILL — Hollywood star Ben Affleck Wednesday called on President Barack Obama to directly engage with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo to encourage him to live up to his commitment to security reforms.
The actor and activist was appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify alongside Russell Feingold, the U.S special envoy for the Great Lakes region and Congo, and Roger Meece, former U.S ambassador to Congo.
The hearing, before the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, came three months after M23, an eastern-DRC-based rebel group, announced it was ending its 19-month uprising against the Kinshasa government.
“If it were not for bold leadership by you, the U.S Congress, together with the Obama administration, Congo would not be at this important turning point,” said Affleck.
The star who is also the founder of Eastern Congo Initiative, a grant-making and advocacy organization working in Congo urged the Obama administration to play a greater role in the DRC’s future.
“I am also here today with an urgent message: Our work in DRC is not finished,” said Affleck. “We cannot risk diminished U.S leadership at a time when lasting peace and stability are within reach.”
Sen. John McCain said he found Affleck’s expertise credible and remarkable.
“Your credibility is really remarkable because of the depth of your commitment,” said McCain.
The Oscar winner who has visited Congo at least nine times, said he was inspired by the stories he hears from women and children.
“They are devastating but also hopeful,” said Affleck. “People have the desire to reclaim themselves and their personal dignity.”
Both Affleck and Feingold credited US and international engagement for helping bring about M23’s military defeat by Congolese government forces.
However, they urged continued international pressure on the Congolese government to implement security sector reforms and organize free and fair elections.
Feingold told legislators the Great Lakes and DRC are, in his words, “at a crossroads.” Eastern DRC has experienced two decades of almost uninterrupted warfare and instability including, most recently, the M23 insurgency.
“The decisions that the Congo, the region and the international community take now will set the trajectory of the next several years in terms of security, good governance, and development,” said Feingold.
Last year, UN officials accused neighboring Rwanda of supporting M23, prompting US and UK sanctions against the Rwandan government, which has always denied the charge.
Feingold emphasized the need to fight all armed groups that continue to prey upon the population in Eastern DRC including a Rwandan group FDLR.
“I continue to emphasize, that it is essential that the FARDC and MONUSCO, conduct military operations against the FDLR and the ADF,” said Feingold.
“Following-through on this, is important to building confidence within the region and maintaining MONUSCO’s credibility as an impartial actor.”