Actor Ben Affleck may be known as a heartthrob hunk, but at a House hearing on Tuesday on the saga of the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, he testified as a heartthrob humanitarian.
The House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee hearing featured testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and human rights groups, including the Eastern Congo Initiative that Affleck founded in 2010.
Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., said the Congo is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with 80 percent of its people living on an average of $2 a day. The sufferings of war have been compounded by human rights abuses committed against innocent women, men, and children, he said.
Affleck’s appearance brought attention to an issue that he and many others say has been overlooked. “The International Rescue Committee estimates that 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the conflict since 1998; many of these deaths were children under the age of 5,” Affleck said. “Not all were killed in combat but rather perished from the ravages that accompany this horrific region: malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea.”
The actor and director, whose organization is attempting to help community groups rebuild the country, said there should also be diplomatic efforts to help stablize the Congo through elections that are scheduled for November.
“Today with the national election eight months away on November 27, the U.S. is not focused on the Congo," Affleck said. "Even with events like last week’s attack on the president’s residence in Kinshasa, that, paired with Congo’s recent history, should remind everybody of the fragility of Congo’s progress and stability. The path to stability in today’s Congo requires fostering stable elections and preventing another disaster that would easily require hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. Come November we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say that we did what our principles demanded [and] we help democracy emerge in a place where tragedy is the alternative.”
Affleck's group released a report in November urging a strengthening of U.S. foreign policy in the Congo. Affleck argued that the United States should take a number of steps to promote progress there, such as doing more to protect civilians from the onslaught of violence in the Eastern Congo, and supporting the November elections.