Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough broke off its engagement with the Sudanese Commission for Social Safety, Solidarity, and Poverty Reduction on 7 March, according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing, leaving $360,000 on the table. The firm had signed a 12-month contract at the end of January to try to repair bilateral ties and “facilitate foreign aid and investments in Sudan” after the US suspended $700m in annual aid following Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s 25 October coup.
“I wasn’t comfortable being in any way supporting the government, because it just did not seem as though they were fully committed to a civilian controlled government,” says Nelson Mullins senior policy adviser Jim Moran, a former Democratic member of Congress from Virginia who signed the contract with Sudanese Commissioner General Ezzadean Elsafi.
Just last month, Moran told The Africa Report that he had agreed to work with Elsafi because he was a technocrat who seemed well positioned to help the Sudanese people.
“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 said at the time, “then I think that money should be made available.”
Moran said the breaking point came after Sudan abstained from condemning Russia’s invasion at the United Nations.
“Sudan was over in Russia when Russia was invading Ukraine,” he says now. “And so I told them: ‘Look, if you don’t vote in the United Nations to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine, because it’s clearly illegal, I can’t support you’.”
The firm is returning $90,000 it already received as its first quarterly payment.
The termination leaves Sudan without any Washington lobbying presence, although 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.
Moran’s change of heart comes as Africa has split over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting a diplomatic and public relations push by the Joe Biden administration to get the continent to stand up for the international order.
“The United States believes strongly that African voices matter in the international community, that your voices matter in the global conversation,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee said in a 3 March call with African reporters. “We believe that it is critical at this moment in time that the entire international community demonstrates unity and speaks with one voice against this aggression and in support of principles, timeless principles. These include sovereignty, territorial integrity, peaceful resolution of disputes, protection of civilians.”
Sudan was one of 26 out of 54 African countries that did not vote to denounce Russia at the UN General Assembly earlier this month. The vote came right after Deputy Chairman of the Sudan Sovereignty Council Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo returned from a trip to Moscow where he discussed plans for a Russian naval base in Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In a text message to Elsafi obtained by The Africa Report, Moran called the commissioner general a “good man” but lamented that he “can’t effectively represent the government of Sudan before the US government.”
“Sudan could be an exemplary model for the entire region of an enlightened fully representative democracy that shared its substantial natural resources and human talent for the mutual benefit of all its citizens,” Moran wrote to Elsafi. “But decisions have consequences and too many decisions of this government have defined its values and vision as those belonging to the wrong side of history.”
Decisions have consequences and too many decisions of this government have defined its values and vision as those belonging to the wrong side of history.
He said the Russia vote was the last straw.
“The current regime has chosen to align itself with the Russians … on an issue as central to the international rule of law as to whether any country has the right to invade and destroy a peaceful Democratic neighbor,” Moran wrote.
Moran went on to denounce Sudan’s growing ties to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel — all countries which have strained relations with Qatar, which Moran also represents.
“As Sudan becomes more dependent on these aforementioned countries, the chances of a representative democracy that prioritizes the long term best interests of the people of Sudan will become all the more distant,” he wrote. “The direction that the current government has chosen is a well worn path to the past rather than a more promising road to the future. The monarchies ruled by MbS (Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman) and MbZ (Emirati Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed), Gen. Sissi’s military dictatorship and Israel’s fear of any Arab democracy, are all unsustainable.”
Moran told The Africa Report that he received some backlash on social media and several identical letters urging him to drop Sudan after his contract became public last month, but paid them no mind. He said he hadn’t heard from the Biden administration or his former colleagues in Congress on the matter.
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.
“It’s a shame, because we’re talking 40 million people, we’re talking about a country that is very important in terms of the whole future of the African continent. It’s rich with natural resources and human resources. And it’s geostrategically important,” Moran says. “But if they’re going to align themselves with Russia and the Emiratis, particularly, I just can’t effectively help them. This is not where I am.”
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