Affleck calls for stronger US leadership in Congo

December 19, 2012 - 7:33 PM
Affleck Congo

Ben Affleck, actor and founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on the evolving security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With an atypical audience — members of Congress — actor and director Ben Affleck read from a script with a pointed message: A desperate humanitarian situation in Congo requires a stronger display of U.S. leadership, and it will get worse without one.

Glancing down at prepared testimony, Affleck told the House Armed Services Committee that he had traveled to Congo regularly in recent years, seeing both the effects of violence and the potential of the African country. He called for the U.S. to show moral leadership in the region, saying it didn't require a deep investment of tax payer money.

"They deserve better than this cycle of violence and upheaval," he said of the people of Congo.

"Without persistent, high-level leadership by the United States, the key players will not come to the table and do their part," he said.

Affleck, who wore a charcoal gray suit and a blue tie, said the U.S. should lead an effort to reshape the United Nations' role in the region. Despite a U.N. presence in the country for 15 years, and a major peacekeeping operation in the country, a rebel group called the M23 has operated in eastern Congo, terrorizing the region.

Affleck was one of five witnesses — and the only one asked to pose for pictures by starry-eyed aides — to testify to the committee about Congo. The African country of about 68 million people has seen an estimated 5 million people killed since a second regional war began there in 1997. State Department officials have described the situation in Congo as the most volatile in Africa.

The "Argo" star told the committee he planned to travel to Congo again next year. His place at the committee table among academic experts and government officials came through his experience founding the East Congo Initiative, a nonprofit organization that helps direct aid to the war-torn region. The group, which was founded in 2010, says it is the first U.S. organization to focus solely on aiding eastern Congo.

Affleck's earnestness — and apparent knowledge of the conflict — seemed to impress committee members.

As the actor-director completed his testimony, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the committee's chairman, said that he "knew nothing about the Congo other than what I learned today." He thanked Affleck and the other witnesses for informing him.

Later in the afternoon, Affleck met in private with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Massachusetts native posed for a photo with the committee and stood next to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the committee's chairman.

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