U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware

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  • What We’re Reading: In Africa, all conservation is local

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    The New York Times published an op-ed by Kenyan journalist Murithi Mutiga on Wednesday about the importance of engaging local communities in efforts to combat poaching. Community stakeholders, Murithi argues, could be conservationists’ greatest allies in the fight against wildlife-trafficking syndicates.

    Wild animals may hold a special place in our global heritage, but all too often they threaten the livelihood of the farmers and herders who live near nature reserves and game parks. Elephants routinely trample precious crops, and carnivores sometimes ravage whole herds of livestock.

    Poachers have astutely tapped into this reserve of local grievances — made worse by high rates of poverty and unemployment — and struck up partnerships with people in communities around game parks.

    ……

    Most Kenyans support conservation efforts. But in a country where arable land is exceedingly scarce and about a tenth of the land area is reserved for national parks and reserves, the authorities should take a more sophisticated approach in winning local support for conservation initiatives.

    African countries, the author notes, could learn from Nepal, which gives special rights to communities living around major national parks – including royalties of 30 - 50 percent of the proceeds from park entry fees. The result is a local community invested in protecting the park and a massive decline in poaching.

    Namibia has also had success with the community-based conservation model. The country's world-renowned conservancy program has empowered communities to create their own conservancies to manage and sustainably benefit from wildlife on communal land, including through tourism. 

    Senator Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, has been a leading voice in the Senate for wildlife conservation and efforts to combat poaching in Africa. His third annual Opportunity: Africa conference, held earlier this month in Wilmington, featured a workshop on ending poaching and protecting Africa’s wildlife led by conservation experts from the State Department and World Wildlife Fund, as well as John Kasaona, a Namibian pioneer of community-based conservation. John was also a featured speaker at a Senate briefing on wildlife trafficking hosted by Senator Coons earlier this month.

    Click here to read the full article on the New York Times’ website.

  • Chairman Coons, Africa Subcommittee will examine President’s Power Africa initiative

    Energy poverty is one of the most significant challenges facing Africa today. Seventy percent of Sub-Saharan Africans ­ – and 85 percent of those living rural areas – ­ are currently living without access to electricity.

    Pervasive energy poverty undermines economic growth and development goals in health, education, and institution-building across the continent. Businesses have repeatedly cited the lack of reliable energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa as a more significant impediment to doing business than corruption, access to capital, and other challenges. More than 90 million schoolchildren across the continent lack access to this basic educational resource and 30 percent of health facilities are without electricity. Toxic fumes from kerosene ­– the chemical used to light homes – lead to more than 3 million deaths per year, more than HIV/AIDs and malaria combined.

    The Power Africa initiative, launched by President Obama in June 2013, seeks to double the number of individuals with access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa by producing at least 10,000 megawatts of more efficient, cost effective, and sustainable electricity generation capacity on the continent.  By 2020, it aims to increase electricity access for at least 20 million new households and commercial entities, enhance the energy resource management capabilities of partner countries, and increase regional cross-border energy trade.

    To achieve these goals, the U.S. government and private sector have made approximately $20 billion in commitments to expanding energy access and generation across Sub-Saharan Africa in the next five years, especially in the six Power Africa focus countries – Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

    Senator Coons, chair of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, will chair a hearing on Thursday to examine questions surrounding Power Africa’s scope, implementation and sustainability. The hearing will feature testimony from witnesses leading Power Africa’s implementation, including USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast, OPIC Executive Vice President Mimi Alemayehou, and Ex-Im Africa Director Rick Angiuoni. Additional witnesses include Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings and Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation; Paul Hinks, CEO of Symbion Power; Del Renigar, Senior Council for Global Government Affairs Policy for General Electric; and Tom Hart, U.S. Executive Director of the ONE Campaign. Their testimony will help to inform the Foreign Relations Committee’s future consideration of legislation to provide congressional authorization for Power Africa.

    The hearing will be held Thursday, March 27 at 10:30 a.m. in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building. Click here to view a live webcast of the hearing.

    Senator Coons questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about funding for the Power Africa initiative at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations earlier this month. Click here to watch their exchange.

  • What We're Reading: Making the AIDS crisis worse

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    The Washington Post published an article Thursday on the public health consequences of recently enacted anti-homosexuality laws in Nigeria, Uganda, and elsewhere – specifically citing their negative impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

    It is the job of public health officials to account for the reality of human behavior in pursuit of the public good. Anti-gay laws complicate that task in practical ways. MSM who are afraid of prosecution and violence are less likely to attend meetings where they are given education, condoms and lubricants. Less likely to be honest with their physicians about their sexual histories. Less likely to be tested for AIDS and receive treatment and care. And more likely to inadvertently infect others.

    When Western governments lecture African countries about their retrograde views, it can feed a populist, anti-colonial backlash. When donors threaten to cut off aid, it can cause lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists to cringe — fearing they will be scapegoated for the punishment of their whole country.

    What might be more effective is a forceful health-related message. This is an area in which civil rights — starting out with a simple zone of personal privacy — is a requirement of public health. Nations such as Nigeria and Uganda are committed to ambitious objectives in fighting AIDS. Those goals are unachievable while any group is targeted for discrimination and excluded from effective outreach. 

    Senator Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, spoke out against the enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in February calling the law “a setback for human rights around the world” and appeared on MSNBC earlier this month to discuss steps the U.S. can take to combat the law and stand up for Uganda’s LGBT community.

    Click here to read the full article on the Washington Post’s website.

  • Video: Senator Coons questions Secretary Kerry on Africa priorities

    Senator Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, questioned Secretary of State John Kerry about funding for the President’s Power Africa initiative, the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, humanitarian challenges in Sudan and South Sudan, wildlife trafficking, and other Africa priorities in the State Department budget at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations on Thursday. Watch the full exchange below. Secretary Kerry's remarks begin at 4:13.

  • Video: Senator Coons talks foreign policy in Ukraine, Uganda on MSNBC

    Senator Coons, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee, joined MSNBC's Steve Kornacki Sunday morning to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine and actions the U.S. can take to combat Uganda's unacceptable anti-LGBT law, including scaling back assistance related to police training, opening up avenues for asylum for those fleeing oppression, and considering sanctions and/or visa denials for those who incite violence against the LGBT community. “We need to make sure that our rhetoric is matched by our actions,” Chris said. Watch the full interview below.

    Tags:
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    Foreign Policy
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    Uganda
    Ukraine
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  • Video: Reflecting on President Mandela's life and legacy

    Senator Coons appeared on MSNBC's Daily Rundown on Friday to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, and to talk about his own experience fighting apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. After graduating college, Chris went to work for the Investor Responsibility Research Center and actually wrote a book encouraging colleges and universities to divest from South Africa.

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    Nelson Mandela
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  • Senator Coons supports calls for international engagement in Central African Republic

    The Central African Republic (CAR), long a fragile state, has spiraled downward since March, when the president was ousted by a diffuse group of rebels called Seleka.  The humanitarian situation is dire and getting worse.  More than 460,000 Central Africans have been displaced and, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, half of the population of 4.6 million needs humanitarian assistance and about a quarter are seriously food insecure. Without strong, high level international engagement, the CAR risks descending into chronic violence and lawlessness guaranteed to cause even more human suffering. 

    Secretary Kerry’s statement on November 20 condemning the ongoing abuses and announcing that the U.S. Government will provide $40 million to support the African Union Peacekeeping Mission (MISCA) in CAR is a step in the right direction.  Now, the United States must urgently deliver the promised support to MISCA, work with the international community to accelerate humanitarian relief, and engage with community-based and national efforts to advance reconciliation and political transition.  Several respected international rights groups issued a statement to that effect on November 19, outlining recommendations for a comprehensive U.S. Government strategy that merit serious consideration. 

    As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Senator Coons is closely following the ongoing situation in the CAR and is committed to working to support peacekeeping, humanitarian, and democracy efforts in the country.

  • What We're Reading: NGOs speak out on suffering in the Central African Republic

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    Since a March coup ousted the nation’s president, inter-communal and sectarian violence in  the Central African Republic (CAR) has resulted in widespread  chaos and lawlessness. Despite a rapidly deteriorating situation, the mass violence and suffering of civilians has been met with far too little international outrage or assistance. The recent decisions by the African Union (AU) to expand its stabilization force and the United Nations to strengthen the Peacebuilding Office are welcome moves that could lay the groundwork for expanded protection for civilians and accelerated progress toward greater stability. The U.S. administration should step up with assistance to help ensure that AU forces can carry out their mission effectively and support UN and AU efforts to promote reconciliation and democracy in this troubled country.

    An October 31 press release by a number of respected international NGOs starkly describes the situation in the CAR and issues a strong call for greater international focus on the country. 

    As advocates and organizations dedicated to the prevention of violent conflict and mass atrocities, we are deeply disturbed by the violence that is plaguing CAR. The most recent wave is tipping the situation beyond control and is taking a trajectory towards large-scale interreligious and intercommunal violence.

    We urge the international community to act swiftly to prevent atrocities and ensure civilian protection. The international community must rapidly expand its presence in the country, extend protection beyond a few selected sites, and allocate the resources necessary to address the complex and protracted nature of humanitarian needs.

    As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Senator Coons is deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in the CAR, and is committed to working within the committee and with the administration and non-governmental partners to support peacekeeping, humanitarian, and democracy efforts in the country.   

    Click here to read the joint press release

  • International Criminal Court at risk as Kenyan trials get underway

    As the International Criminal Court (ICC) trials of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and former radio executive Joshua Sang begin at the Hague, the Court’s future credibility and effectiveness in delivering justice for victims of state-sponsored atrocities is in jeopardy. Ruto and Sang – as well as current President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose trial will begin in November – are accused of committing crimes against humanity during the widespread, ethnically-tinged violence that followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 presidential election. In Kenya, the prosecution of high-level officials by the ICC has prompted a motion by the Kenyan Parliament calling for withdrawal from the ICC and cessation of cooperation with the Court. Kenya has been an ICC member state since 2005.

    Though the current trials will move forward regardless of Kenya’s decision, the Kenyan government’s energetic campaign to discredit the ICC among its African peers has successfully damaged the ICC’s standing in Africa. The campaign paints the ICC as a “foreign” institution that targets Africans while ignoring the transgressions of Europeans and others guilty of heinous crimes. The African Union has openly supported the efforts of Kenya, Sudan, and others to undermine the ICC’s credibility and effectiveness. 

    It’s important to remember, however, that the ICC began investigating the Kenyan cases only after the Kenyan government failed to meet the commitments made by its own president to either investigate and prosecute those responsible for the post-election violence or refer the cases to the ICC. The ICC represented the only avenue for justice for more than 1,100 Kenyans killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by the post-election conflict; just as it was the only entity capable of prosecuting President Bashir of Sudan for the genocide that left several hundred thousand dead in Darfur.

    The ICC is not a panacea nor should it be seen as a first resort. However, the participation of Kenya and the majority of African states in the ICC has demonstrated, in the words of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a dedication “to tipping the balance in favor of justice and away from impunity.”

    Unfortunately, that commitment is waning.  African Union snubs and active campaigns by indictees to intimidate witnesses have already weakened the ICC’s ability to effectively prosecute cases. If Kenya withdraws, other states may follow, leaving millions of victims of atrocities with limited hope of recourse when their national institutions fail them. That would indeed be a tragedy.  As President Obama so eloquently stated in 2010, “In Kenya and beyond, justice is a critical ingredient for lasting peace.” 

    Tags:
    Africa
    International Criminal Court
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    Kenya
  • Senator Coons applauds White House plan to combat wildlife trafficking

    President Obama speaks at a press conference in Tanzania (AP Photo)

    Today, from Tanzania, the White House announced new and improved U.S. efforts to combat poaching and wildlife trafficking. Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar illegal business that is a threat to populations of targeted species including elephants and rhinos, to tourism and economic development, and to our national security and the security and stability of the nations where this violence is occurring. As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, Senator Coons is very concerned about the recent rise in wildlife poaching, particularly in Africa, and applauds President Obama’s renewed and enhanced commitment to addressing this serious issue. 

    The President signed an executive order to establish a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, which will develop a national strategy to address the issue. The order will also establish an Advisory Council made up of non-governmental experts on the issue to make recommendations to the Task Force. These efforts will help enhance coordination among existing U.S. programs and policies to combat wildlife trafficking and assist other nations to do the same.

    The initiative includes $10 million in funding from the State Department dedicated to combatting wildlife trafficking in Africa. This funding will strengthen the ability of nations to address the issue through laws and penalties, enhance investigations, law enforcement, and criminal prosecutions, and support regional cooperation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also station an official at our embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which is a major export point for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products. This official will help the Government of Tanzania with a wildlife protection and security plan.

    The President also announced plans to leverage new authority granted under the new Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, which was signed into law this January. Senator Coons cosponsored this legislation, which allows the Secretary of State to offer rewards for information on members of transnational criminal organizations, including wildlife trafficking. The President will also enhance existing authorities under the Endangered Species Act, African Elephant Conservation Act, and the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act to address the issue. Senator Coons voted to reauthorize funding for these conservation programs and others incorporated in the Multinational Species Conservation Fund during the last Congress.

    Last May, Senator Coons participated in a full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled, “Ivory and Insecurity: The Global Implications of Poaching in Africa,” the first full committee hearing addressing this issue. He also recently hosted two screenings of the National Geographic film, “Battle for the Elephants” in Washington, D.C. and Wilmington to inform Delawareans about this ongoing challenge.

    This issue is incredibly complex and growing in intensity. Senator Coons believes it will take the involvement of a number of U.S. agencies, working in coordination with other nations, non-profit organizations, and private entities to successfully combat it. The President’s announcement today builds on the significant steps Secretary Clinton, and now Secretary Kerry have taken to address the poaching crisis. Senator Coons looks forward to working with his colleagues to support implementation of this important new initiative. 

    Tags:
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    President Obama
    Subcommittee on African Affairs
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