Ben Affleck's Good Will for the Congo

Ben Affleck has established himself as an actor, writer, director and the father of two little girls. On Tuesday in Washington, Affleck proved, unlike many other celebrities that try to foray into pubic affairs, that he can also at least sound like an expert on the Eastern Congo to his list of titles.

Appearing on a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to discuss how America can strengthen U.S. foreign policy in the Eastern Congo, Affleck rattled off statistics and offered well-grounded suggestions about the country's internal conflict. But he admitted that his initial lack of knowledge on the issue is what got him involved.

In an interview with CBS News' Christine Delargy after the event, Affleck said, "I didn't want to be one of those guys who just wants to take a picture with a kid in a hospital so I would look better."

"What got me into it was at one point in my life I came across while reading about Sudan, a kind of offhand mention about the scale and scope of what was going on in Congo," Affleck said on the panel, explaining what got him to throw his support behind the issue. "I was stunned that, not only was it so tragic, but that I had no idea that it had happened."

Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative in March and told CBS News he's "overly self-conscious" about being a legitimate advocate for the Congo region. "This wasn't something that people came to me and said will you be our guy and here's your script. This is something that I researched and started."

Much of the CSIS panel discussion--also featuring Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson--looked ahead at what needed to be done before the Congolese head to the ballot box in November of 2011.

"I really do feel like time is running out, we have this window of opportunity... Congo is on this tipping point where they could easily fall back into chaos," the actor said, suggesting the United States play a greater leadership role by setting an example to the rest of the world.

Part of those from both parties doing just that in Congress include the Democratic senator from Afffleck's home state of Massachusetts, John Kerry and Sen.-elect John Boozman (R-Ark.) (whom Affleck wished "good luck" following the reception). The two arrived late to the panel, something that had led Affleck to lighten the mood with a joke.

"You have a Republican and a Democrat who aren't here. Now that's bipartisanship," Affleck said. The crowd laughed and "ohh'd" which prompted him to add, "Just a joke... I know, I know, it's worse than Hollywood."

Kerry did finally arrive, explaining he was late due to attending the farewell speech of his colleague Sen. Chris Dodd. Kerry said Dodd's speech was one of "most important senate speeches in a long, long time" for his analysis of the senate's dysfunction.

"Washington Unplugged" airs live daily at 12:30 p.m. ET on CBSNews.com.

Kiki Ryan is a freelance reporter for Politico and regularly appears on "Washington Unplugged" in the webcast's weekly series "Plugged In" on entertainment headlines in DC.


Christine Delargy is an associate producer for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. For more of Washington Unplugged, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Kiki Ryan

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