Nineteen advocacy groups and Congo experts are giving the thumps up to President Barack Obama’s appointment of former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold as the new U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Feingold is a former chairman of the Africa Subcommittee in the Senate and co-author of several legislations on the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels and the crisis in the DRC.
His appointment comes on the heels of the signing of a peace framework by Great Lakes Region countries and the dispatch of a UN intervention brigade composed of African troops.
Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy analyst for the Enough Project, a U.S.-based advocacy group, said advocacy groups have sent an open letter to Mr. Feingold urging him to use leverage and incentives to focus on the many concerns in the DRC.
“We warmly welcome Senator Feingold as the new Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region. By appointing Senator Feingold, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama are sending strong signals to the people in eastern Congo and in fact that they deem Congo to be a priority and ending this war to be an important part of the administration’s strategy in Africa,” he said.
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In their open letter to Senator Feingold, the 19 advocacy groups called on him to focus on democratic reforms in the Congo, and to ensure peace between the DRC and its neighbors.
“We are calling on Senator Feingold to focus on two main areas to help enable peace in the region. First of all, to make sure to hold the Congolese government accountable for meaningful democratization reforms. The government needs to hold provincial and local elections which are long, long overdue. Number two, there needs to be a very serious reform of the Congolese army,” Lezhnev said.
They called for expanding assistance to build democratic and effective political parties, as well as strengthen legislative capacity.
The groups also called on the US to use “carrots and sticks” to advance cooperation between and the DRC and its neighbors, including the use of sanctions and restriction of financial support.
“The US is the largest shareholder in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. So it can use it to help incentivize progress in the peace process. Number two, the US gives various forms of military aid which it can put on and take off the table if necessary; and the US has a sanctions region. So if any official or smugglers are found to be enabling armed groups they should be sanctioned,” Lezhnev said.
An estimated 5.4 million people have died since 1996 in the DRC conflicts. In their open letter to the new US Special Envoy, the advocacy groups expressed their support for establishment of specific benchmarks for progress, noting shortcomings in past international peace efforts.