This piece, written by Raise Hope for Congo Assistant Campaign Manager Alex Hellmuth and STAND National Student Director Mickey Jackson, originally appeared on the Enough Project blog.
Yesterday, hundreds of students across the country, and around the world, took time out of their day to call the White House. The students raised their voices to ask for greater U.S. involvement in Congo’s peace process, and specifically, for the appointment of a presidential envoy to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to the conflict in eastern Congo. Since April, the M23 rebellion has wreaked havoc on the eastern Congolese population and displaced over 600,000 people. Recent reports note there is a rise in sexual violence in North Kivu due to the heavy movements and presence of militias.
The action was co-sponsored by the Conflict-free Campus Initiative and STAND. This call-in day builds off of the Vote4Congo campaign in November when students sent in photos holding signs that read “I’m voting for Congo” to show that no matter who was elected as President, the conflict in Congo had to be made a priority. Over 400 photos were collected and made into an Instagram petition that was delivered to the White House earlier this January.
By appointing an envoy, President Obama can help ensure that the peace talks, which lack transparency and the involvement of the international community, include all the appropriate actors and address the short-term needs for peace and long-term systemic drivers of conflict in the region. Additionally, a presidential envoy would ideally be a high-level individual with experience and relationships in the region, and could push for the inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities in eastern Congo, including women, civil society, and youth.
Yesterday’s call-in came after World Pulse and the Enough Project delivered a petition, authored by a group of Congolese women, with over 100,000 signatures to National Security Council officials at the White House that also asked for the appointment of a presidential envoy. In addition, Katy Johnson and Mark Bennett, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,not only called the White House but also, wrote into their student newspaper about the opportunity for students to take action for human rights in Congo and demand an inclusive peace process for Congo.
The growing demand among constituents for greater U.S. involvement in Congo’s conflict can no longer be ignored by the White House. This is President Obama’s chance to show his commitment to the people of Congo and young activists throughout the U.S. Student activists for Congo will continue to push until peace is realized.