Senegal’s President Sall launches global lobbying push

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Friday, 8 July 2022 10:36, updated on Saturday, 9 July 2022 17:11

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Senegal's President Macky Sall at the G7 in Schloss Elmau, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Senegal's President Macky Sall at the G7 in Schloss Elmau, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Senegal has acquired the services of a US lobbying firm for the first time in years amid a global campaign to burnish President Macky Sall’s reputation.

New York-based Mercury Public Affairs is to be paid $15,000 per month to provide “strategic consulting, government relations, lobbying and public relations services” for the benefit of the office of the presidency, according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing.

The three-month contract runs from 25 June through the end of September. It is the first time Senegal has had outside representation in Washington since 2017.

European connection

Mercury is not working directly for President Sall’s office, but rather as a subcontractor to Kirjas Global, a Bulgarian company that specialises in providing “geopolitical and strategic advice to heads of states and government and political leaders in bilateral and multilateral context[s]”.

The firm was founded by Emil Kirjas, a former junior minister of foreign affairs for Macedonia from 2004 to 2006, who is now based in London.

Mercury’s US filing reveals that Kirjas signed a two-year contract with Sall’s office effective 1 January to “fortify diplomatic and international efforts” to promote “Senegal, President Macky Sall’s exceptional efforts and the government’s ambitious program.” The contract’s financial terms have not been made public.

The outreach comes as Sall, in power since 2012, is using his year-long chairmanship of the African Union (AU) to build up his international standing. The opposition has been coalescing to block any attempt to run for a third term in 2024, with legislative elections at the end of the month seen as a crucial test in a country that has long been held up as a democratic model in West Africa.

Senegal’s increased outreach appears to be paying off.

Kirjas did not respond to a request for comment before this article was published but later reached out on social media to say that the contract has “absolutely nothing to do with the political agenda in Senegal years from now, but everything to do with protection and promotion of the interests of the Senegalese people – the agenda for emergence and prosperity of the Senegalese nation.”

“Mercury’s work,” he said, “is to facilitate the organization of events related to the energy transition, which is key priority for Senegal on the road to development, and for the green wall and climate justice, which touches the essence of Senegal’s future – all during the (UN) general assembly” in September.

Kirjas Global is notably tasked with boosting international support for President Sall’s nine-year-old Plan Sénégal Emergent (PSE), which aims to transform Senegal into an emerging-market economy by 2035 by making it a hub for West Africa.

This includes bringing foreign government officials and representatives of international institutions to Senegal for face-to-face meetings.

The firm is also asked to boost diplomatic outreach on the margins of international summits, including the AU, G20, United Nations General Assembly and this year’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Finally, Kirjas has been asked to “globalise” the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, which Senegal and France jointly launched at the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa in December 2013.

Sall on a roll

Senegal’s increased outreach appears to be paying off. Last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made Senegal one of his three destinations — along with the much larger, English-speaking Kenya and Nigeria — during his first official trip to Africa.

US President Joe Biden met with Sall last week on the margins of the G7 summit in Schloss Elmau. Germany, in its capacity as the host country, invited Senegal alongside Argentina, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

According to a White House readout of their meeting, the two leaders discussed “the impact of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war against Ukraine on food security in Africa” and the G7’s pledge to contribute more than $4.5bn to address global food security, with $2.76bn coming from the US. Also on the agenda was the G7’s $600bn infrastructure plan, which includes the construction of a new industrial-scale vaccine manufacturing facility in Senegal.

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