US Special Envoy: No cozy relationships with Africa Great Lakes’ heavy handed regimes

by Jacques Bahati

Former Senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, has been appointed US Special Representative for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. National and international organizations have been calling for this appointment since 2006.

Although Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) receives with optimism the appointment of the special envoy, we wait to see more constructive US policy in the region. Such policy would include unconditional support to democracy, rule of law, human rights promotion, civil society empowerment and conflict prevention and development. We oppose any policy that will nurture further cozy relationships with the Great Lakes’ heavy handed regimes. “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions” (Accra/Ghana Speech, President Obama July 11, 2009).

Working closely with Secretary of State Kerry, a special envoy has legal tools to achieve fair, creditable and just US policies in this regionPublic Law 109-456section 105 states that “The Secretary of State is authorized to withhold assistance made available under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.), other than humanitarian, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism assistance, for a foreign country if the Secretary determines that the government of the foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  We recall that in July 2012 in accordance with US Public law 112-74 the US withheld $200,000 from the Rwandan government over Rwanda’s support to rebel group M23, but more has to be done.
It is our hope that the special envoy will help facilitate a much-needed change from the failed policies of the Clinton Administration era which emboldened Rwandan President Kagame to invade DRC in 1996 (with Ugandan President Museveni’s support ). The ongoing proxy wars and friendly relationships with certain rebel groups in eastern DRC continue to challenge peacekeeping efforts in DRC’s border provinces with these two nations.

In coordinating US diplomatic efforts in the region we hope that the special envoy will also give due attention to the implementation of other relevant US laws such as Section 1502 of Public Law 111-203, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act of 2010 which focuses on conflict mineral from the DRC and the region in general.

The appointment of a special envoy is required by the 2006 US public law 109-456, The Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act, the only bill the former junior Senator Barack Obama introduced in his time in the senate. Section 107 of this law requires 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.”  President Obama has been reminded of this since he became President in 2008 and it has taken 5 years to deliver on a law he wrote.

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