Chad, Congo, Niger: US-Africa summit sparks lobbying race

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Monday, 26 December 2022 16:44

US President Joe Biden participates in a family photo with the leaders of the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2022. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

With 49 African leaders vying for the attention of US officials and the media at this month’s US-Africa Leaders Summit, several countries turned to a tried-and-true Washington tradition to try to cut through the noise.

A review of new lobbying filings by The Africa Report indicate that at least three countries sought outside help to make their mark during the summit that ran from 13 December to 15 December. The governments of Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and Niger all hired or considered hiring influence firms to make their case, with varying levels of success.

The firms are required to publicly register with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The law requires lobbying and public relations firms to register within 10 days of having agreed to represent a foreign government.

Meet and greet

Of all three countries, Niger appears to have had the most success with its engagement.

The Nigerien Embassy paid Florida-based strategic communications firm Red Banyan $25,000 to “provide public and government relations services” to the embassy in preparation for the Leaders Summit and “arrange meetings” between key members of Congress and recently elected President Mohamed Bazoum. The 45-day contract started on 1 November and marks the firm’s first FARA registration.

“Red Banyan has been honoured to represent Niger and is extremely proud of our work strengthening Niger’s relationship with the United States,” firm founder Evan Nierman told The Africa Report. President Bazoum’s election in 2021 was an historic event that has paved the path to increased collaboration between the two nations for their mutual benefit.”

Nierman said he looked forward to “continuing our work deepening the US-Niger relationship.” This is the first time Niger has a firm registered under FARA since 2003.

Nierman said Bazoum met with “key congressional leaders in the House and Senate” during the summit and “clearly articulated a bold vision for the future of this free and democratic country” in interviews with journalists from top outlets. The president notably met with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.

I personally had meeting with the senior staff of (the) Foreign Relations Committee, without any involvement of Red Banyan or any company or person other than my own staff.

“Glad to host President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum in the Capitol,” Menendez tweeted on 16 December. “Expressed my support for his commitment to democracy, rule of law, girls’ education, and development in Niger throughout the Sahel in addition to regional security.”

In an email to The Africa Report, Nigerien Ambassador to the US Kiari Liman-Tinguiri acknowledged the firm’s PR and communications work but took credit for the Senate meeting.

“When it comes to specific meeting with Senator Menendez, this is something requested by the embassy directly with the Senate,” the ambassador said in an email. “I personally had meeting with the senior staff of (the) Foreign Relations Committee, without any involvement of Red Banyan or any company or person other than my own staff.”

Tough sell

Meanwhile lobbying by Chadian authorities spurred a flurry of speculation after the president’s half-brother, Abdelkerim Idriss Déby Into, reached out to Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to request meetings at the tail end of the summit.

Having been replaced as the head of his brother’s Cabinet in July, Déby’s outreach fuelled rumours that he might be lobbying against the government. But The Africa Report was able to confirm that he was in fact working for the government to emphasise Chad’s important role in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.

The contract with Yorktown Solutions was signed by Ambassador-at-Large Kitoko Gata Ngoulou. Firm founder Daniel Vajdich, a former adviser to Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz, and former Democratic staffer Brittany Beaulieu are registered on the account,

The outreach, which does not appear to have borne fruit, comes as President Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno has come under fire in Washington for delaying elections for two years and for the killing of more than 100 protesters in October, including several who were gunned down in front of the US Embassy in N’Djamena. Abdelkerim Déby, a graduate of the West Point military academy and the head of the National Agency for Investments and Exports, was seen as a possible conduit to the US.

This is Yorktown’s first contract with a client from sub-Saharan Africa, although the firm does represent the Moroccan Embassy in Washington. Vajdich said he was approached by five or six potential African clients during the summit, but only took on Chad “because of the potential that exists on the governance side.”

“The African space is an area that we want to continue to explore,” Vajdich told The Africa Report, adding that it can be a challenge for lobbying firms to find clients that don’t carry reputational risk.

Latecomer

At $235,000, the Republic of Congo’s Ministry of International Cooperation’s proposed deal with Paris-based influence firm 35°Nord to organise a “Congo Roadshow” during the summit would have stood out as the most lucrative contract – had it gone through.

This was the first time 35°Nord has registered in the United States. The firm has emerged as a major influence player in Africa, as revealed in a new investigative series by The Africa Report’s sister publication, Jeune Afrique. Managing Partner Romain Grandjean signed the filing and is registered as a foreign agent on the account.

In its FARA filing, the firm said it been approached to organise an event on 15 December as part of a series of roadshows that have been held around the world in 2021 and 2022, including in Abu Dhabi, London and Singapore, “with the aim of communicating investment opportunities in the Republic of Congo through the model of public-private partnerships.” The filing however reveals that the firm had yet to identify a hotel – let alone finalise the roadshow program – as late as 22 November.

In the end, no contract was signed and the roadshow didn’t happen, the Congolese ministry’s communications adviser Vérone Mankou told The Africa Report.

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