Oscar-winning actor Ben Affleck spoke emphatically in front of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Tuesday about the many challenges facing the citizens of war-torn Congo.
Affleck is the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, a US-based advocacy organization for the people of Eastern Congo.
Dressed conservatively and speaking from prepared notes, Affleck spoke of his recent visit to the Congo with fellow ECI member Cindy McCain, “We saw first hand the tragedy and triumph of the Congolese people.”
“We’re going to lose a generation of women and children in Congo unless we do something now,” McCain, wife of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), testified.
McCain, acknowledging her unorthodox alliance with avowed Democrat Affleck, admitted to the committee, “We’re strange political bedfellows—we’re the odd couple, perhaps, in politics. But that’s the beauty of this—because this transcends political parties.”
For 12 minutes, committee members listened intently to Affleck’s testimony as half a dozen cameras franticly clicked away at the visitor from Hollywood.
“The United States government can and should play an active role in ensuring this November’s elections are free and fair,” Affleck said of the African country’s fragile democracy. “The last time Congo collapsed, armies came in from across Africa… Five million people died… We must learn from history and do our part to make sure this never happens again.”
Affleck made the case for the U.S. to spend more money in the troubled region, “In this time of heightened concern over federal spending, some suggest that austerity demands we turn a blind eye to the crisis in Congo—I believe nothing could be more misguided. It would simply be penny-wise and pound-foolish to allow the Congo to again fall into a state of crisis.”
The war in Congo ended in 2003, but disease, starvation and gang violence have since ravaged the country. According to the United Nations, the crisis in Eastern Congo has displaced approximately 1.7 million Congolese people and over 1000 rapes are committed each month.
Affleck emphasized the importance of the U.S. ensuring stability in the Congo, “Our goal must be to avert humanitarian disaster by proactive investment and stronger diplomacy… Come November, we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say we did what our principals demanded—we helped democracy emerge in a place where tragedy was the alternative.”
At one point during Affleck’s testimony, he held up a booklet drafted in November of last year by the EIC with the cumbersome title, “Strengthening the United States Foreign Policy in the Democratic Republic Congo.” Affleck took one look at the booklet and quipped, “They do titles differently in D.C. than we do back home.”
After Affleck’s testimony, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) acknowledged the power of Hollywood superstars getting leaders to act, “I know President Obama moved on the Special Envoy in Sudan because of George Clooney—maybe he’ll move on Congo because of Ben.”