Special Envoy Feingold Expresses Optimism About the Road Ahead for the Great Lakes Region

Today, U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Russell D. Feingold gave his final speech as special envoy at the U.S. Institute for Peace.  After serving the State Department for more than a year and a half, Special Envoy Feingold will depart State next month. 

In his final public remarks, the Special Envoy reviewed the progress achieved in the Great Lakes during his tenure, including the defeat of the M23 rebel group in the DRC, and spoke extensively about the many reasons why he departs his position optimistic about the road ahead for the region, including one of the most important:  that the international community is more coordinated and engaged in the region today, in close partnership with the region, than any time in recent history. 

The Great Lakes region and the international community are united in their commitment to once and for all end the threat from armed groups in eastern DRC, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).  The DRC’s and the region’s security efforts are being coupled with increased calls for accountability, the permanent end to impunity, and greater democratic freedoms.  Burundi, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, and Rwanda all have presidential elections within the next three years -- presenting these countries with opportunities to further their democratization and commitment to political freedoms by undertaking peaceful, inclusive, and transparent electoral processes in accordance with their constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits.  As the Special Envoy has clearly and consistently said, the decision to step down from power and enable peaceful transfers of power is one of the best legacies a president can leave behind and one of the best things he can do for the prosperity and stability of his country.

Special Envoy Feingold also reviewed three developments initiated by his office that exemplify the opportunities for continued engagement in and expanded cooperation with the region. The first was the United States’ growing relationship with Angola in the wake of Angola assuming the chairmanship of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and its election to the UN Security Council.  The holding of the U.S.-Angola Strategic Dialogue in December 2014 highlighted our shared hope and expectations for expanded cooperation on regional and global issues. 

The second development is increased engagement with China on our shared priorities in Africa.  Special Envoy Feingold’s outreach to China culminated with his November 2014 visit to Beijing and China’s recent attendance at a meeting of the International Great Lakes Contact Group. 

The third is the Great Lakes to Great Lakes Initiative, launched by the Special Envoy’s office earlier this month, which brings together scientists, academics, and policymakers from the North American Great Lakes and their counterparts from the African Great Lakes to discuss trans-boundary lake management as a means to promote sustainable economic growth and development. 

These positive trends and developments reveal the many opportunities for and benefits from expanded U.S. engagement in the region.  The State Department will continue to devote high-level attention to this important region of the world and appoint another Special Envoy to continue where Special Envoy Feingold left off.

About the authors: Brennan Gilmore serves as the Senior Advisor and Jeanne Hruska as an Advisor to the U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

Special Envoy Feingold
February 24, 2015

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