Sunday, November 30, 2014

Buying Influence

Alastair Campbell raised eyebrows when he popped up in South Africa and got onto the TV and radio talk show circuits as a know-it-all "ANC adviser" in last election. Turns out that's just the tip of the iceberg. Lobbyists fan out across Africa.

Nigeria is, just ahead of Egypt and Morocco, Africa's biggest spender on image-making. Each year it spends tens of millions of dollars on registered lobbyists, law firms and public relations companies to get its case across to foreign governments and media. Egypt and Morocco hire lobbyists in Washington DC with specific goals: Cairo wants to protect its billions of dollars of US military aid, and Rabat wants to build US support for its claims on Western Sahara. In the past seven years, Morocco has discreetly spent some $20m lobbying Congress and the State Department, and trying to influence the media through two related entities, The Gabriel Company and the Moroccan American Center for Policy. That translates into policy and access. In 2013 when the US proposed adding a human rights mandate to the UN peacekeeping force based in Western Sahara, the sovereignty of which is disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Rabat mobilised support and opposed the plan. The US quickly dropped it. In November 2013, President Obama welcomed King Mohammed VI to the White House for a convivial meeting. In South Africa, like so many other African countries, political parties bring in foreign advisers while state and private companies are spending millions on promotion overseas. Those businesses are booming more than ever and changing Africa's image in the process.

Beyond state spending, Africa's political parties and companies are fuelling a massive expansion in the communications business, in and about the continent. Foreign campaign advisers are a feature of almost every African election, from Angola to Zimbabwe. African companies are raising capital and their profiles across the world, and hiring image-makers to help them. This is by far the biggest growth sector.

Foreigners have a clearly defined role "on polling, strategy and messaging", according to Lehrle, who has worked in Zambia, Kenya and Madagascar. He added that independent and professional polling is critical: "One company produced a poll in Zambia which claimed to be accurate within a range of plus or minus 10%. That means it could be 20% off the mark, so effectively useless."

Tony Blair Associates, which has earned more than $70m since he left power in 2007. This work finances all his pro bono activities, such as the African Governance Initiative, which operates in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi. Other pro bono work includes a religious faith foundation and a sports charity. But there are grey areas. Does his pro bono work in Guinea, for example, give him influence to push through deals in the interests of his commercial associates, such as the bank JPMorgan Chase or Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska?

"The action is on the continent, it's a move away from traditional advocacy. It's about business, the dynamic of the conversation has changed," Levinson explains to The Africa Report. K. Riva Levinson is a long-standing lobbyist the steely lobbyist for Jonas Savimbi's União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola rebels in the 1980s, or more recently as the corporate hitwoman backing US oil company Kosmos in its dispute with the Ghana government.

That is a message that Aubrey Hruby, a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, amplifies: "It's the commercial mandate, working with African and foreign companies, finding out what they need." Hruby is setting up a new outfit called the Africa Experts Network, which will aim to use its extensive commercial contacts across Africa to respond to demands for detailed information about market size and conditions.

Marcus Courage, the chief executive of Africa Practice – which has six offices on the continent – says the traffic is now two-way and mostly in Africa: "Big foundations and institutions want to know how to communicate with Africa. Its business leaders are promoting their companies, sometimes themselves. African markets have gone global, they are no longer just dependent on investment from the US and Europe."

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