The Cable

Exclusive: Ben Affleck to Testify Before Congress as an Africa Expert

With a vicious spate of mass killings plaguing the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a Senate panel is calling on experts to appear before U.S. lawmakers next week. One of them is Hollywood actor and serial activist Ben Affleck, The Cable has learned.

Affleck is slated to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday to discuss the troubled central African country of 75 million people. The Argo director has shown a keen interest in Congo in recent years through his philanthropic organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). But not everyone thinks Affleck's résumé qualifies him to testify on Capitol Hill. When the Seattle-based advisory firm working for Affleck, WilliamsWorks, tried to set up a similar event in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, Republicans did not accept, according to a congressional aide familiar with the matter. "It was floated and turned down," said the aide.

It's unclear if Republicans declined due to scheduling issues or philosophical differences. One GOP aide at the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the meeting would be inappropriate given the wide offering of other experts available to speak on the issue. "People serious about resolving problems -- especially problems related to life and death -- want to have serious conversations with experts and leaders in the field, not celebrities," the aide said. Defending Affleck's presence, a separate aide said it doesn't have to be an "either-or decision," noting that experts could speak alongside the actor during a hearing. "I think there's value in having someone like Ben there," said the aide. "He's pretty invested in the issue."

Other experts who will be appearing before the Senate panel on Wednesday include Russell Feingold, the U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region and Congo; Roger Meece, former U.S. ambassador to Congo; and Raymond Gilpin, an academic dean at the National Defense University.*

Since 1996, the former Belgian colony has been beset with disease, violence, and malnourishment in a conflict involving ethnic rivalries and a battle for the region's resources of copper, gold, and diamonds. Just last week, the United Nations mission in Congo, MONUSCO, said more than 70 people had been hacked to death by armed groups in the resource-rich northeastern North Kivu province.

ECI, Affleck's philanthropic organization, emphasizes direct giving by connecting donors with Congolese nonprofits rather than channeling money into large international NGOs. Affleck also testified on Congo before the House Armed Services Committee in 2012. At the time, he called for the United States to play a greater role in influencing the United Nations' role in the country. "Without persistent, high-level leadership by the United States, the key players will not come to the table and do their part," he said. "They deserve better than this cycle of violence and upheaval."

*Correction (Feb. 20, 2014): This article originally misspelled the first name of Russell Feingold. His first name is spelled Russell, not Russel. (Return to reading.)

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