Secretary of State John Kerry said that he is appointing former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold as the U.S. special envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region.
“The suffering in the Great Lakes region of Africa and the ongoing crisis in the east part of the Democratic Republic of Congo troubles all of us greatly,” Kerry said today in making the announcement. “The stakes in this part of the world,” Kerry said, “are very significant.”
The new post for Feingold, a Democrat, will focus in large part on conflict-torn and resource-rich Congo, an area almost the size of Western Europe that produces about half the world’s cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries, and about 3 percent of its copper.
Despite an official end to conflict there in 2003, the country has struggled to subdue rebel groups and control border regions such as eastern Congo, an area rich in tin, gold and coltan, an ore used in electronics. The Congolese government and rebels have been negotiating in Uganda since December under a United Nations peace framework.
Kerry and Feingold were colleagues in the Senate for 18 years and served together on the Foreign Relations Committee, where Feingold was chairman of the subcommittee on Africa. Describing Feingold as “the Senate’s leading advocate and expert on Africa,” Kerry said the new envoy will focus on cross-border security, political and economic development, dealing with rebel groups, and the need to build confidence and capacity, Kerry said.
Feingold said in a statement that “people in the region have arrived at a time of significant opportunity for peace.”
The appointment of former Irish President Mary Robinson as a United Nations special envoy to the region, and a February 2013 agreement on a framework for peace and cooperation “have brought a renewed focus to the causes of instability in the region, and created an historic opportunity for this important, but challenged, region of Africa,” Feingold said.