Humanitarian and advocacy groups in the US and Europe are pressing their respective governments to appoint special envoys to Africa’s Great Lakes region. On the US side, this appointment is long overdue. The necessity for a special envoy was recognized by US lawmakers when they passed the “Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act” in 2006 which became Public Law 109-456.

In a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer, NGOs urge her to use her “position as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to press the Administration and the State Department for the immediate appointment of a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, as called for in Section 107” of public law 109-456.

Section 107 states that “Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President should appoint a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region to help coordinate efforts to resolve the instability and insecurity in Eastern Congo.”
On the European side, NGOs are pushing for replacement of former European envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Mr. Roeland van de Geer who was assign as European Union’s Ambassador to South Africa in September 2010.

In a letter to the European Union High Representative, Catherine Ashton, NGOs explain the urgency for an EU envoy in these terms: “The situation in the Great Lakes region is far from stable. Rwanda continues to be marked by restricted freedom of expression; political tensions and armed elements in post-election Burundi have resulted in a recent wave of killings and a crackdown on civil society and media; and the continuing insecurity and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially in the East, continues to threaten the safety of civilians. Upcoming events, including elections in the DRC, entail a risk of further destabilization and conflict.”

Although Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) advocates for the appointment of a US special envoy in the region, it also want to see a more constructive US policy in the region. Such policy would include, among other things, unconditional support to democracy, rule of law, human rights promotion, civil society empowerment, conflict prevention and development. This means no more cozy relationship with the Great Lakes’ dictatorial regimes, but encourage them to build strong institutions.

AFJN strongly discourages appointing anyone who in some way or another was involved in shaping and implementing the failed Clinton administration’s Great Lakes policy. While we respect President Obama’s decision to recycle many former Clinton officials, the case of the Great Lakes must be an exception for the fact that the envoy must be able to revisit previous policies and objectively advise the president on unhealthy relationships that have been established and have compromised US credibility in the region. Furthermore, it is time that the US takes seriously some of the diaspora voices to inform its policies on way forward to a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Great Lakes.