US lobbying: Angola sells President Lourenço’s anti-corruption drive

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

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Thursday, 3 March 2022 10:23

Angola's President João Lourenço
Angola's President João Lourenço in 2019. Sharifulin/TASS/Sipa

In the final chapter of our Top 10 African lobbying campaigns to watch, we look at how the government of Angola is spending around $4m per year on lobbying – more than any other African government by far – to draw US support for President João Lourenço’s financial reforms.

After almost four decades of rule by former President José Eduardo dos Santos, Lourenço is seeking to drum up foreign direct investment in lieu of petrodollar diplomacy.

To that end, Secretary for Diplomatic Affairs for International Cooperation Victor Manuel Rita da Fonseca Lima hired Washington lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs back in June 2019 to bring Angola’s financial system up to international standards, increase US trade and investment, and enhance the country’s profile in the United States.

The contract is worth $3.75m for the 12 months until June 2022, down from $4.1 m in its first year. The account is led by Robert Kapla, the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group leader.

Focus on corruption

Much of Lourenço’s focus has been on fighting alleged corruption, particularly by officials from the previous administration.

Soon after taking office the new president dismissed Dos Santos’ children Isabel and José Filomeno from their roles as head of the Sonangol oil company and Angola’s sovereign wealth fund, respectively. Late last year, his lobbyists highlighted the Biden administration decision to mark International Anti-Corruption Day by imposing a visa ban on Isabel Dos Santos and sanctioning former government officials Leopoldo Fragoso do Nascimento and Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Junior (Isabel Dos Santos in turn has paid former Trump campaign adviser Robert Stryk and his Sonoran Policy Group more than $2.2m since December 2019 to represent her via Terra Peregrin, a Lisbon-based firm with connections to the dos Santos-owned offshore company Wise Intelligence).

Squire Patton Boggs is also playing a supporting role for Angola’s lawyers in the United States, where the country is fighting a massive lawsuit brought by Angolan energy company Aenergy over a $1.1bn contract for state-owned power plants that the Lourenço government steered to US company GE back in 2019. Angola scored a major victory in the case last May when a US judge in New York ruled that State Department reports of Angolan corruption were insufficient to justify moving the case to the United States.

“While Plaintiffs cherry-pick portions of these reports that discuss problems with Angolan courts,” Judge John Cronan wrote, “they ignore aspects that paint a somewhat brighter picture of the judiciary in Angola.”

In its bid to attract more US investment, Luanda is also looking to leverage the African diaspora by highlighting Angola’s historical status as the birthplace of the first Black slaves to arrive in the British colonies in 1619. Lourenço stopped by the National Museum of African American History and Culture during his visit, and last month the city of Atlanta hosted Ambassador Joaquim do Espirito Santo and declared 17 January as “Angola Day” in celebration of the “emerging partnership” between Atlanta and Angola.

The country is also touting its commitment to Biden’s green agenda and has invited special presidential envoy for climate change John Kerry to visit US company Sun Africa’s construction of the biggest solar facility in sub-Saharan Africa.

Improved reputation

Lourenço’s lobbying campaign has scored some early successes.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the Angolan leader for his “great work to make corruption a ghost of the past” during the US diplomat’s first trip to Africa in February 2020. And President Lourenço scored a meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on the sidelines of his attendance at the UN General Assembly last September, the first Washington visit of his presidency.
  • “Sullivan reaffirmed our support in resuming the US – Angola Strategic Dialogue as the centrepiece of our engagement,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting. “He also emphasised our commitment to working with Angola to advance our shared interests in economic ties, combatting the Covid-19 pandemic, and regional and maritime security for the benefit of the American and Angolan people.”
  • During his visit Lourenço also attended a roundtable with US and Angola officials hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce. Three months earlier, in June, the Chamber launched a new US-Angola Working Group to advance private-sector priorities for US-Angola engagement. The group is chaired by Mamadou Beye, the general manager of Corporate Affairs for the Middle East, Africa and South America at Chevron.

Meanwhile the anti-corruption lobby Transparency International in its latest annual report released this week finds that the country has improved “significantly” over the past decade, despite widespread public sentiment “that the president was using the fight against corruption as a tool against political rivals.” And earlier this month, US credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s upgraded Angola’s debt rating to B-, removing its last rating out of the more risky C bucket.

The Angolan Embassy in Washington noted the Transparency International ranking with pride on its Twitter account.

Despite progress, the country still ranks 136th out of 180 countries in the group’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021.

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