The Obama administration continues to give excuses regarding the overdue appointment of a special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region. Following a strong call for the appointment of a special envoy during a hearing on March 8th and a online petition by Africa Faith and Justice Network, A Thousand Sisters, Enough Project, Falling Whistles, Free the Slaves, Friends of the Congo, Jewish World Watch, and STAND, the US Department of State responded saying that there was no need for such a position because US ambassadors in the region are doing what the special envoy would. In addition, the State Department said that there is a resistance to the special envoy structure from the leaders of the Great Lakes nations.

However, the situation in the Great Lakes region is not stable and requires special attention. It was, in part, the hard work of the US special envoy to Sudan that the referendum to allow South Sudan to become a separate state was possible.

Furthermore, leaders in the Great Lakes region are benefiting from the instability and the US Department of State knows well that these leaders have no desire to implement democratic principles which would require them, among other things, to respect human rights, rule of law, the end of impunity and term limit for the office of president.

For example, in Rwanda President Kagame continues to restrict freedom of expression and opposition; in Burundi after the election there is ongoing political tension, rebel groups are regrouping and the regime continues its crackdown on civil society and media; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially in the East, security still is an issues, rape against women and girls continues, Hutu rebels opposed to the Rwandan regime still hide in eastern Congo’s forest and late this year Congo will hold elections which may or may not turn violent; in Uganda president Museveni is using force against civilians who took to the streets because of the rising cost of food and fuel.

In addition, the appointment of a special envoy is required by the 2006 US public law 109-456 section 107 which reads “… 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.” Some members of the US House of Representatives, in a letter to President Obama, stand by what the law says and are calling on him to simply apply the law. They underscored the fact that a special envoy appointment would be complementary to related US Great Lakes region laws namely Public Laws 111-172, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 and section 1502 (Conflict Mineral) of Public Law 111-203, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act 2010. To this list we must add Public Law 109-456, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006.

As a reminder, “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.”