Last month’s appointment of former Sen. Russ Feingold as the new United States special envoy for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) signals an important surge of energy into American diplomacy in this troubled region. His appointment should be seen in the context of other recent positive steps, including the “Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region,” a February 2013 agreement among 11 African states known as the PSC Framework. The framework aims at ending the decades-long instability, violence, multiple humanitarian crises and grave human rights violations in eastern Congo. It focuses particularly on actions to be taken by the government of the DRC and by the countries of the Great Lakes region to resolve these issues, but also includes a set of steps to be taken by the international community.
The international community has responded strongly. Along with Feingold’s appointment, significant moves include the United Nations’ appointment of former Irish President and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson as the secretary-general’s Great Lakes special envoy; the beefing-up of the U.N. force in Congo with an intervention brigade made up of soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi; and the visit of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to the region. These could be the harbingers of a new cycle of effective, positive international engagement.
One decade ago, a similar positive cycle began when a major war involving multiple African armies fighting on Congolese soil was brought to a close and a transition government of national unity came together in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. The three-year transition ended in 2006 with reasonably successful national elections. The United States, United Nations and other international actors played a major role in working with the Congolese to reach this outcome.