• March 11, 2011
  • News & Analysis
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Congo takes center stage (with an assist from Ben Affleck) for Capitol Hill hearings

We’ve talked about Congo often this week.  And we weren’t the only ones…

On Tuesday, March 9, the House Africa subcommittee  convened a hearing about the ongoing conflict in  the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo).  The panel of experts who spoke to the subcommittee included the actor Ben Affleck (founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative);Donald Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; USAID’s Rajakumari Jandhyala, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa; and the Enough Project’s John Prendergast.

Three members of the Resolve team attended the hearing and watched as both the panelists and members of Congress condemned the detrimental affect the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is having on northern Congo,  and discussed the steps the Obama administration is taking — or needs to take in the future — to help  improve security for people living in LRA-affected regions.

If you’re really bored and want to experience all three hours of the hearing like our interns did, click here.  Or, if you’d just like to experience some of the moments when our interns gave the hearing a thumbs up, read on.

Rep. Chris Smith asked, “Mr. Prendergast you might like to speak to this.  The Administration’s LRA Strategy, how well or poorly do you think its being implemented?  What is it from your perspective?”

In his reply John Prendergast said, “I think it’s such a crucial element of overall security and stability in central Africa… I feel like there is one major thing that has to be done.  The elephant that is swinging its tail around the living room is that you have to create a focused military strategy to apprehend or whatever the leadership of the Lord’s Resistance Army.  As long as Joseph Kony continues to run around, we have presented him with a very very fair peace deal peace proposal, which he didn’t even bother to show up to not sign and so there’s a military option that needs to be exercised…  Hopefully we’ll apprehend them and send them to Hague and they’ll be a great trial and the ICC will have a major success.  If not, we’ll do what we have to do to bring an end to this tragedy because the attacks in the Congo are getting worse not better.  You know we see almost an attack every week over the last few months in North Eastern Congo and these are remote areas no one knows, every once and a while a report trickles in and makes a little column in a local newspaper here in the United States.  We’re not even looking at this anymore.  So we have to refocus and say, what is the thing that is gonna end it.  That is the catalyst I think that will end it.

Ben Affleck then agreed with John Prendergast:  “I think he makes a really good point, you know.  Absolutely. I’ve seen this stuff and I’ve seen the evidence of the people that are after this stuff.  There are really good people involved trying to pursue some of the goals John is talking about and you do hear every month or two oh yeah 400 people got killed and such and such and often it will take two three days or a week to even come through.

Rep. Donald Payne made what might be our favorite comment from the day, “As we contextualize the gruesome violence in the Congo we know that this gruesome history is no excuse for the ugly reign of terror that armed groups such as the FDLR and the LRA have perpetrated against the people of the Congo.  There is no excuse for impunity…  In addition to the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, continues to wreak havoc in parts of the DRC.  The DRC continues to face insurgency from armed major groups and major humanitarian crisis continues especially in Eastern Congo fueled by a resource grab…  The American People and indeed the world are not willing to watch idly by as women and children in the DRC are victimized time after time, time and again, year after year.  They have advocated over the last few years, or we have advocated bi-partisan legislation such as conflict minerals bill and the LRA legislation.  Americans from red blue and purple districts come together for the people of the Congo.  That’s a united effort.  The people of the Congo deserve to see first hand the resounding impact that our relatively small foreign aid investment can have on the world’s most vulnerable of populations.  Indeed while the human needs are enormous the required economic commitment is miniscule when compared to the 100 billion dollars yearly committed in Afghanistan and trillions of dollars we’ve spent in Iraq during our course of time there.  And the potential impact is monumental.  The United States must leverage the good will that the American people have for the people of Eastern Congo by devastating and having a coherent and focused policy towards the Congo.  That’s what I hope we can have as a conclusion of these hearings as we move forward.

We also appreciated Rep. Jeff Fortenberry mentioning the LRA.  As part of his statement at the hearing, he said,  “In the last Congress we made two significant strides toward mitigating two sources of the conflict by passing the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 as well as the Conflict Minerals Provisions in another law.  We also directed millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to the victims of sexual and gender based violence.”

In introductory statements, USAID’s Rajakumari Jandhyala, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa said,  “A key area of concern remains the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel movement that has roamed effectively ungoverned portions of the DRC, southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) since being ejected from northern Uganda in 2005.  The 2010 LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act called for the development of an interagency LRA strategy, and USAID has been a key partner with the State Department in developing this strategy.  USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and Office of Food for Peace have ongoing commitments to provide emergency humanitarian and food relief where the LRA is active.

Human Rights Watch and other actors consistently identify a lack of reliable communications in LRA-affected areas as a key factor enabling a shockingly high level of violence against citizens.  In response, USAID assembled a team to design a program to increase communications by supporting community-based protection planning and providing information communications technology in LRA-affected areas.”

Similarly, Ambassador Donald Yamamoto, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, mentioned the LRA when he said, “The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, also retains a violent and committed core of leaders who remain fully capable of carrying out brutal attacks on civilians in remote border areas of the DRC, Southern Sudan, and the Central African Republic.  The LRA’s estimated fighting strength has been reduced by approximately 60 percent since 2008, largely through the cooperation of those countries’ armed forces and the Ugandan forces that are also pursuing the LRA.

The U.S. government has provided logistical and intelligence support to these efforts, and we are helping sustain and improve this cooperation, which is essential to finally ending the threat that this militia has posed for 23 years.  One key U.S. contribution in the effort to demobilize armed groups is the approximately $4 million from the FY 2010 supplemental budget that is supporting a UN demobilization program that will help Congolese ex-combatants from these and other armed groups reintegrate into civilian society.

— Michael

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