Kerry Picks Former Sen. Russ Feingold for Key Africa Post

Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:30pm

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Tuesday he is appointing former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to be the new special envoy to the African Great Lakes region.

Feingold, a progressive Democrat who lost his seat in the wave election of 2010, once served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the chairman of the Africa subcommittee. The region includes Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and the embattled Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Associated Press first broke the news, citing Kerry’s desire to have Feingold focus on resolving the strife in Congo. Since losing his re-election bid, Feingold’s public focus largely has been on his Progressives United PAC, launched in the wake of a Supreme Court decision rolling back part of his landmark campaign finance bill.

Feingold’s departure from the Hill in 2011, at the same time as former Africa subcommittee ranking member Sam Brownback of Kansas, created a significant void in leadership on human rights issues on Africa policy. The two senators had a list of legislative successes in the 111th Congress on the issue.

From CQ colleague Emily Cadei, in a 2011 piece:

Humanitarian groups scored several major successes on Capitol Hill in the 111th Congress, and Feingold and Brownback — both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — had their fingerprints all over them.

Among their most prominent victories was the passage of a bill, sponsored by Feingold and cosponsored by Brownback, to aid victims of the atrocities committed by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. It passed with more cosponsors than any sub-Saharan Africa bill in the last three decades, its backers say.

Another was a provision, based on a bill sponsored by Brownback and cosponsored by Feingold and folded into the large financial regulatory overhaul measure, to require companies to disclose whether they obtained certain types of minerals used to manufacture consumer electronics from war-torn Congo, one of the main sources for these minerals.

“For all of our issues, they’ve been amazing. That’s how we’ve been able to get things done,” says Darren Fenwick, the senior manager of government affairs at the Enough Project, an arm of the liberal Center for American Progress that calls for intervention to stop crimes against humanity in Africa. “We’ve been having conversations now to try and figure out who will fill the void.”