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Actor Ben Affleck wants more help for Congo

He testifies before Congress, calling on the U.S. to aid the victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

March 09, 2011|By Julie Mianecki, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington —  

At 14, Laba Kamana was captured by rebel soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For two years, she was raped nearly every day. She finally escaped into the Congolese jungle, one of the world's most dense, and discovered she was pregnant with the child of one of her captors.

On Tuesday, the actor Ben Affleck used the nightmare of the young woman — now 22, studying law and advocating for women's rights — to argue at a congressional hearing that more needs to be done for the central African country whose vast mineral resources and dangerous geography have kept it mired in civil war.

"If we continue to place Congo on the back burner of U.S. policy, it will come back to haunt us," Affleck told a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The last time Congo collapsed, armies came in from across Africa and 5 million people died.… We must learn from history."

Affleck, who founded a nonprofit group called Eastern Congo Initiative to help people like Kamana, said the Congo continued to be one of the most dangerous and unstable countries in Africa, although the war that started there in 1998 theoretically ended with the signing of peace accords in 2003.

The actor called on Congress to do more to protect Congolese civilians from rampant violence, provide support for elections that will take place in November and appoint a U.S. representative to the region.

"The federal budget may be seen as a zero-sum game, but our morality, our sense of decency, our compassion for our fellow human beings, is not," Affleck said.

The actor, who first visited Congo more than five years ago, founded Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010. The group supports community-based organizations and works to bring stability to the war-torn region.

Affleck was joined at the hearing by Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has partnered with him in advocating for increased U.S. aid to Congo.

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