On Tuesday June 18, 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry appointed his former colleague at the United States Senate Russell “Russ” Feingold as the new United States Special Representative for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A tireless advocate of peace in the African Great Lakes region in the US Senate, he has an extensive background in sub-saharan African affairs and brings a wealth of knowledge of the region. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2011.
Photo: Congolese refugees in Rwanda in March 2013 fleeing fightings among Rwandan government backed M23 rebel factions
US Secretary of State John Kerry assign mission to Russ Feingold: Disarm M23 rebels and push for political negotiation elsewhere.
Russ Feingold’s mission was outline by US Secretary State John Kerry when announcing the appointment: “As everybody here knows, the suffering in the Great Lakes region of Africa and the ongoing crisis in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to trouble all of us greatly. We are convinced that we have to help the parties find a path to a lasting peace, to a permanent cessation of hostilities, and to the disarmament and demobilization of M23, accountability for human rights abuses, and finally, a breaking down of the barriers that are standing between humanitarian aid and the civilians who need it.…Russ will be coordinating with me and with the Bureau of African Affairs to shape our strategy on the many challenges in the region – cross-border security; political, economic, and social assistance issues; and many other issues. I mentioned some of them earlier – M23, the violence, the need to build confidence and capacity in the region. He will also work very closely with the United Nations Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson, and he will work specifically to ensure the prompt and full implementation of the UN’s Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework.
So, his mission appears clear: disarmament and demobilization of M23 rebels and helping the parties to find a path to a lasting peace and permanent cessation of hostilities.
Direct Talks Among the Great Lakes region warring protagonists?
More interesting was what John Kerry said in his conclusion:
“I want to emphasize that the stakes in this part of the world – and this was brought home to me in many of my conversations when I was in Addis Ababa for the 50th anniversary of the African Union – the stakes are very significant, and it is absolutely vital that we do everything possible in order to move things in the right direction and make the right choices.”
Is it a reference to the recent statements by the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwte (see our article:Talk to Your Armed Opposition, Tanzanian President Kikwete Tells Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Joseph Kabila of DRC of May 29, 2013)?
Russ Feingold has gone further, well before President Jakaya Kikwete. In 2009, while visiting the Great Lakes Region as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs., he said:
“The international community should urge Kigali to open direct negotiations with non-genocidaire combatants of the FDLR to encourage their repatriation. It is critical to augment non-military initiatives to induce defections and open channels of dialogue between the warring parties.”
It appears that his approach is a clear confirmation that the US Will Push direct talks between the Rwandan dictator General Paul Kagame and his moderate armed opposition (see our article: US Government to Push For Direct Peace Talks Among African Governments and Their Moderate Armed Opposition? of June 18, 2013)
The appointment of Russ Feingold was welcomed by many experts, observers and NGOs working in or on the African Great Lakes Region, especially 19 NGOs and advocacy groups leaders including John Prendergast and Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project, Mark Schneider of International Crisis Group, and Jason Stearns of Rift Valley Institute who wrote:
“There are so many terrible symptoms of the crisis afflicting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its Great Lakes neighbors – and so many international efforts to deal with them – that policy makers can lose sight of the fundamental roots of these problems. In our view, the U.S. and the international community have failed to give sufficient priority to two root causes: (1) the failure of DRC’s democratic elections and institutions and (2) the absence of a comprehensive regional peace process.”
The 19 NGOs and advocacy groups leaders singled out Rwanda and Ugandan Governments as the root of the conflict in Eastern DRC:
“Congo’s eastern neighbors, particularly Rwanda and Uganda, as well as elites in Congo, have spent years constructing and supporting systems to illegally exploit the Congo’s resources. ”
Feingold replaces R. Barrie Walkley, who has been the special representative since December 2011.
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