In the last few years some of Africa’s most notorious regimes have splashed millions on public relations firms better known as lobbyists in pursuit of favours in the eyes of the United States.
“This is a reflection of the changed political realities in Washington where the dynamics within the Trump administration are fundamentally different in terms of influence peddling,” Mr Page, who is now an associate fellow at Chatham House, a UK think-tank, said.
“African governments have always had these types of lobbying firms helping them out but in the Trump era these firms can be more effective.”
In March, the estranged Zimbabwean government hired Ballard Partners to help them with their foreign policy. This caused anger in a country battling with a number of political and economic challenges and on the brink of a food emergency.
The main objective of the contract was summarised as “to encourage a re-examination of Zimbabwe by the State Department with a view to establishing the best possible bilateral relationship with the United States and facilitating the restoration of Zimbabwe’s membership in good standing in the community of nations.”
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It is definitely an easy sell for a country that has been isolated for years and sees most of its problems as external rather than internal. There is so much desperation for engagement within the Mnangagwa government. A contract worth US$500 thousand is definitely peanuts for a despot that spends millions hiring private jets.
This is not the first time that Zimbabwe has splashed money on lobbyists. At the height of its land reform programme, the government was spending US$600 thousand a year on public relations another drive with lobbyists.
This promise of the lobbyists was to ”counter anti-Zimbabwe content in the international media” and assist the government with its own channel ”in disseminating appropriate news and information about political and economic developments in Zimbabwe.”
Washington lobbyists have found a ready market in Africa. Opposing sides in countries that are going through conflict are desperate to shape the narrative that reaches the U.S. Congress and relevant policymakers.
In Nigeria, for instance, lobbying dollars are coming from both sides of the aisle. On one end, as Open Secrets reports, there is an opposition leader who is desperate to be recognised as the “authentic president” after an electoral loss. On the other hand, there is a government that wants the narrative twisted towards the gains they have made in containing the Boko Haram insurgency.
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In South Sudan, the game is a bit darker and may prevent justice from being delivered. It was announced recently that the government had hired U.S.-based lobbyists to stop the creation of the so-called African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court. The court was proposed by the UN to the African Union as a special vehicle for investigation and prosecution of war crimes.
We know the U.S. would care little for justice. They have waged numerous wars in the Middle East. They are supporting a rogue general who is fighting a U.N. recognised government in Libya. It will not be surprising if the US$3.7 million paid by the government of South Sudan achieves its objectives.
“Pocketing millions of dollars from, and representing the selfish interests of, ruthless dictators has become a lucrative business,” said Jeffrey Smith, the founding director of Vanguard Africa, a Washington based non-profit organisation that says it supports ethical leadership in Africa.
“It’s an upside-down world in which priorities are misplaced, the people suffer, and abusive leaders inevitably grow stronger and more emboldened.”
What the governments are essentially paying for is that the world looks away as they continue with their atrocities. They even go as far as making sure that the news coverage that the country receives is controlled and manipulated in their favour.
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For instance, Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis continues to heat up yet there has never been much attention that has been paid to it. Ever wondered why the crisis has not been getting much media attention?
Earlier this year, the government of Cameroon hired lobbyists to promote a “positive and favourable image” of Cameroon’s government through digital ads and “by placing targeted op-eds in conservative-oriented outlets in order to foster a robust and growing partnership narrative into the future,” according to a contract filed with the U.S. Justice Department.
In a capitalist society, money often takes precedence over human values. It is why you never see Saudi Arabia attacked for its human rights record. As far as it stands, as long as American lobbyists continue to sell the story of cheap mineral resources to the world economies, then their missions will be a success.
Aligned financial interests as the shameful drama that has unfolded in Libya has shown, is all the Trump administration needs to hear to tango with despots.
Maybe for the right amount they could lobby for Melania to have her next holiday in your country.
However, lipstick on a crocodile will never change its nature. It remains true to its colours. In the world of the social network, it is increasingly difficult to control the dissemination of information and shape reality to suit a dictator’s agenda. No amount of dollars can sustain shameful lies.