US Lobbying: Sudan hires former US Congressman to repair coup damage

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa’s Top 10 lobbying operations in Washington, D.C

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Tuesday, 22 February 2022 22:11, updated on Friday, 4 March 2022 16:14

People attends a protest rally in Khartoum
Protesters march during rally against military rule following last month's coup in Khartoum,Sudan. January 24, 2022. Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The government of Sudan has hired a former member of Congress with a history of opposing former President Omar al-Bashir to help repair relations with Washington and unblock US assistance suspended after the 25 October coup.

A nominally independent technocrat has retained lobbying firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to help advance bilateral ties with the US and “facilitate foreign aid and investments in Sudan,” according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The lobbying work is being led by former Congressman Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat.

The contract is for $30,000 per month for one year. It became effective on 14 February, after the Sudanese government made an initial $90,000 payment.

Moran told The Africa Report that he’s not lobbying for the military junta led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Instead, the contract is with Commissioner General Ezzadean Elsafi, the head of the Commission for Social Safety, Solidarity, and Poverty Reduction.

“There are people within the government who are technocrats, who I think can spend that money responsibly,” Moran says.

“I understand the United States wants to have leverage to bring about … an inclusive, stable government that has the interests of its people foremost,” he says, but it would be a mistake to “wait until things are perfect.”

“If things are moving forward (toward a return to civilian-led rule) and the money can be spent on the people who need it,” Moran says, “then I think that money should be made available.”

Some Sudan watchers however reject the notion that anyone still in a position of authority is truly independent of the ruling junta. They argue that resuming US aid would weaken international unity against Burhan at a time when the financial blowback from the coup is already having an impact.

“A lot of people … in the pro-democracy movement have asked the international community not to fund this regime, knowing full well what the consequences are, particularly in terms of poverty,” says Kholood Khair, a managing partner at Insight Strategy Partners, which works on transitional policy priority areas in Khartoum. “Because they see in the long-run that not funding this de facto government will hasten its downfall.”

US aid on hold

The Joe Biden administration suspended $700m in annual aid last fall after Burhan ousted Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdouk. In all about $4bn in bilateral and multilateral assistance and $19bn worth of debt relief are on hold, along with international investment envisioned under the normalisation with Israel negotiated under former President Donald Trump.

In an appearance before the US Senate Foreign Relations on 1 February, US Agency for International Development (USAID) deputy administrator Isobel Coleman said the administration is revising plans for US assistance. The focus, she said, is on “ramping up support for Sudan’s democratic transition.”

Moran says he agrees with that objective. He pointed out that he was arrested when he was still in Congress back in 2012 along with actor George Clooney and other activists protesting the Bashir government’s policies at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.

“My views about Sudan have not changed,” Moran says. “I just, I feel terrible for 40 million people who have just suffered for so long, so badly. And if there’s anything I can do to relieve that suffering and contribute to some stability where the country could move forward and serve the interests of its people, then I’d like to be involved in a pragmatic way.”

Despite the aid freeze, the Biden administration continues to deepen US diplomatic engagement with Sudan following its removal from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism in December 2020.

Last month President Biden nominated John Godfrey, an Arabic speaker and acting counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department, as the first US ambassador to Khartoum since 1996. In the meantime former director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan Lucy Tamlyn is serving as Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim.

Moran’s purview includes possibly helping set up an embassy in the US for Sudan and accompanying Sudanese officials for meetings with Biden administration officials and Congress, according to the lobbying filing.

Lobbying assist

Interestingly, Nelson Mullins previously tried to pick up Sudan as a client back in 2009, when the country was under US sanctions and considered a state sponsor of terrorism. The special U.S. envoy to Sudan at the time, Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, opposed the firm’s application to the Treasury Department.

Separately, the law firm of White & Case has been registered to represent the Sudanese government since 2019 in a lawsuit filed by the families of 1998 East Africa embassy bombing victims. Sudan agreed to pay $335m to the victims in exchange for regaining its sovereign immunity in future lawsuits but billions of dollars in claims remain unresolved.

Finally, former Israeli-intelligence-officer-turned-Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe signed a $6m lobbying contract with Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo back in 2019. He told The Africa Report in October that the contract has since expired but that Dagalo’s office had been in touch for advice – and possibly a new contract.

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