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Booker Raises Concerns Over Potential Conflicts of Interest by Key US Diplomat for Africa

Demands answers from Secretary of State over diplomat’s continued employment at think tank while serving as Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa

January 18, 2019

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raising concerns over potential ethical conflicts of interest by Dr. J. Peter Pham, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa (SEGL). Booker’s concerns stem from Pham’s continued employment at the Atlantic Council, a think tank where Pham serves as Vice President for Research and Regional Initiatives and Director of the Africa Center. The Atlantic Council accepts contributions from a range of donors, including foreign governments, corporations, and individuals.

Disturbingly, ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-awaited elections last month, Dr. Pham was not in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital, or in regional capitals, or consulting with our European allies on the appropriate response to electoral developments – instead, he was in Morocco for the Atlantic Dialogues, which were sponsored by the Moroccan government and the OCP Policy Center, which is funded almost entirely by the Moroccan government. Dr. Pham’s participation in the Atlantic Dialogues at an important moment for the Great Lakes region raises serious concerns regarding how he is prioritizing his concurrent roles.

Booker’s letter requests information on Dr. Pham’s hiring, financial disclosures and ethics agreement, and any ethics guidance the State Department has provided to him regarding the need to recuse from certain matters related to his employment by the Atlantic Council.

“The American people deserve to know if their diplomats are serving U.S. interests—not the interest of foreign governments or corporations,” the letter states.

“The Great Lakes region is a crucial and strategic area of the African continent and it deserves the attention of a seasoned diplomat that is dedicated to actively supporting its long term peace and stability. Furthermore, in conducting rigorous oversight of private resources in diplomacy, we believe that pay-to-play practices like those raised by Dr. Pham’s concurrent employment have no place in U.S. foreign policy.”

The full text of the letter is available here.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Booker has been an outspoken voice for addressing the turmoil in the Great Lakes. Last month, Booker and Senator Coons released a statement on the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In July, the Senate unanimously passed his bipartisan resolution urging the DRC to hold credible elections. That resolution followed a bipartisan letter he led to DRC President Joseph Kabila urging him to hold free and fair elections.

In 2017, Booker led a letter to President Trump urging him to address the crises in the region and, following the suspicious deaths of two United Nations investigators in the DRC, he led a bipartisan letter to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley urging her to pursue an independent special investigation into the killings. In April 2017, he led a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) pushing the agency to keep in place key parts of the bipartisan Conflict Minerals Rule, which addresses the illicit mineral extraction that has helped fund armed groups in the DRC.

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