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USA: African Governments Spend Millions on Lobbying

by Jim LobeInter Press Service
May 20th, 2001

WASHINGTON -- African governments are paying millions of dollars to lobbyists in hopes of influencing Washington's policy, according to an examination of US government files.

Oil-producing nations -- especially, Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea -- are paying the biggest fees by far, but others, especially those with which Washington has difficult relations, are not holding back the cash.

Most prominent among the latter are the governments of Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, and Cote d'Ivoire.

Still others may be acting through private individuals or companies who contract with US lobbyists, according to disclosure statements which lobbyists are required to file under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Favoured lobbyists include former high-ranking State Department and other government officials, such as Herman Cohen, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under former President George Bush and whose partner, James Woods, held the equivalent position at the Pentagon.

Lobbyists also include former high-ranking members of the intelligence community. Milton Bearden, a senior Central Intelligence Agency officer who specialised in Muslim countries and served as station chief in Pakistan when Washington was backing the mujahideen in Afghanistan, has just been hired by a wealthy Sudanese businessman reported to be close to the Khartoum government.

For a 150,000 dollar ''mobilisation fee'' and 50,000 dollars a month, Bearden is supposed to work over two years to, among other things, help mediate negotiations to end the 18-year-old civil war in Sudan, lift US economic sanctions against Khartoum, and restore good relations between the two countries.

Lobbying became a fixture of Washington by the late 19th century as private companies and commercial associations felt it increasingly necessary to influence the federal government. Foreign governments, despite having fully staffed embassies here, have used lobbyists to press their points of view for several decades now.

African governments - aside from apartheid South Africa, whose lobbying activities began very early and were mainly covert - have been latecomers to the game. They began calling on hired guns in the 1980s, after the Angolan government and rebels spent millions of dollars on Washington firms considered influential with Republicans in the White House and Congress.

Under FARA, individuals who engage in lobbying on behalf of foreign entities are required to register with the US government and file semi-annual reports on their activities. All of these filings are public information and are kept in a small office at the Justice Department.

According to the records, oil-producers are the current big spenders.

The government of Nigeria, which was known for spreading a lot of cash around numerous high-priced lobbyists here during military rule, apparently has since decided on one major representative, GoodWorks International. The firm's chairman, Andrew Young, served as president Jimmy Carter's UN ambassador and later as mayor of Atlanta. Besides his position at GoodWorks, Young acts as president of the National Council of Churches.

''GoodWorks can work to reverse Nigeria's negative image through effective representation of Nigeria's interests in the US,'' reads the firm's contract, which was filed last August. It states that GoodWorks, which is based in Atlanta and has no Washington office, is to receive 500,000 dollars as an initial retainer and 60,000 as ''monthly retainers'' thereafter, ''not to exceed a total of 1,500,000 (dollars) for the first year of service only.''

Gabon, another oil producer, has gone through more than a half a dozen lobbying firms in recent years. Most of them, like Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, and Powell Tate, have been politically very well connected to both major parties. Costs have been well over a million dollars a year, or an average of about 250,000 dollars per agency.

Most recently, however, Gabon appears to have cut off some of its agents, settling instead for relationships with UK-based Shandwick Public Affairs, which last year bought out Powell Tate and Cassidy & Associates.

Gabon has also maintained a three-year-old relationship with Jacqueline Wilson, the ex-spouse of a senior US diplomat. According to her filings, Wilson receives tens of thousands of dollars for special projects and reports to President Omar Bongo's daughter, Pascaline Mferri Bongo.

In her latest filing, Wilson reported that she was paid 60,000 dollars between August and November 2000 to ''support action of president of Gabon to fight AIDS pandemic (and) develop a strategy.'' As to work performed, she reported sending ''letters to the office of National AIDS policy at the White House.''

Among the major African oil giants, Angola ranks right at the top and currently has seven firms working for it in Washington, several of which have been taken on within the last two months.

Angola already was spending some 930,000 dollars a year on C/R International, a firm headed by Robert Cabelly, a former diplomat who worked on Angola when he was at the State Department; and 400,000 dollars a year to Samuels International Associates, led by Michael Samuels, a former senior trade official under President Ronald Reagan.

In April, American Worldwide Inc., a new firm headed by John Moore, filed notice of an oral contract between him and the Angolan government for 955,000 dollars a year. The filings show that Angola/American Worldwide then has a three-year contract with Patton Boggs, one of the Washington heavyweight firms, for 250,000 dollars a year, and a second three-year contract with Daniel Edelman, a major public relations firm, for 400,000 dollars a year.

A few days later, Angola signed a new, one-year contract with C/R International for 620,000 dollars. Another firm, Cohen & Woods, filed a 500,000 dollar-per-year contract with Angola dated 26 March and covering an array of representational services in the United States and at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations.

The new contract with Angola, which came on top of a contract for 600,000 dollars a year with Zimbabwe, represents something of a comeback for Cohen & Woods. The firm lost potentially lucrative contracts with Liberia in late 1999 and with Cote d'Ivoire after the December 1999 coup d'etat and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) two months ago.

In addition to providing President Robert Mugabe's government with the sort of strategic and other advice it normally offers clients, the contract says Cohen & Woods will ''counter anti-Zimbabwe content in the international media'' and assist the government with its own channel ''in disseminating appropriate news and information about political and economic developments in Zimbabwe.''

Cohen & Woods has one other African client, Burkina Faso, which pays the firm some 200,000 dollars a year plus expenses.

In March, Cote d'Ivoire replaced Cohen & Woods with a new player in the lobbying industry, Valis Associates. This firm is headed by Wayne Valis, who is being paid a 35,000 dollar retainer to set up shop and 16,700 dollars a month to "restore good relations" between the US and Ivorian governments.

Ethiopia has also paid a great deal to lobbyists, particularly after the outbreak of war in May 1998. It hired Verner Liipfert for some 225,000 dollars a year and C/R International at 300,000 dollars a year.

Uganda, which is thought to have one of the most effective embassies in Washington, also hired a lobbyist, Foley, Hoag and Eliot, two months ago at 10,000 dollars a month retainer plus expenses to represent its interests with Congress and the executive branch.

Other players include AfricaGlobal Partners, a firm formed in 1999 by the former head of the Corporate Council on Africa, David Miller. Its clients include the oil-producing country of Equatorial Guinea (284,000 dollars per year), Swaziland (84,000 dollars per year), and Mozambique (150,000 dollars per year).

Another firm, Jefferson Waterman International, last year contracted with a private company, AmLib United Minerals, for 25,000 dollars a month to ''strengthen relations between Liberia and the US.''

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