• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
businessday logo


Sudan militia chief hires Canadian lobbying group for $6m

Sudan militia chief hires Canadian lobbying group for $6m

A feared militia commander in Sudan has hired a Canadian lobbying group he hopes will secure a public meeting with US president Donald Trump, support from Libya’s military leader and free wheat from Russia in return for an upfront fee of $6m.

The consultancy agreement, signed in May by Montreal-based Dickens & Madson and Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo of Sudan’s ruling military council, was published on June 17 by the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It is the latest in a series of eye-catching lobbying contracts between North American companies and authoritarian African governments.

For decades, lobbying outfits have served the interests of US businesses and foreign governments willing to pay for introductions and influence. Those companies are expanding their services, promising not only access in Washington but also mediation and deal making with third-party governments all over the world.

Matthew Page, a former Department of State official, said lobbying contracts between Washington groups and African states were proliferating because there was a belief that the Trump White House was more susceptible to external influence than previous administrations.

“This is a reflection of the changed political realities in Washington where the dynamics within the Trump administration are fundamentally different in terms of influence peddling,” Mr Page, who is now an associate fellow at Chatham House, a UK think-tank, said. “African governments have always had these types of lobbying firms helping them out but in the Trump era these firms can be more effective.”

Foreign governments, individuals and companies spent almost $1bn on US lobbyists in 2017, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based website Open Secrets.org, a non-profit organisation which tracks money in US politics.

Services rendered have included securing press coverage for Cameroon’s 82-year-old autocrat Paul Biya, defending officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo from targeted sanctions or blocking the investigation of war crimes in South Sudan.

In Sudan, Dickens & Madson said they would attempt to influence US policy in favour of the transitional military council and help secure funding and equipment for the Sudanese army.

Lt Gen Hamdan and his fellow military officers seized power in April, toppling Omar al-Bashir, a long-term US enemy, following months of government protests. After promising to hand power to civilian rulers, the generals have demurred and in June turned their guns on the people, killing more than 100 civilians in a night-time raid on a pro-democracy sit-in.

The lobbying contract was signed on May 7, before the raid. But even then, Dickens & Madson faced an uphill battle to build US confidence in Lt-Gen Hamdan. Better known as Hemeti, the soldier who is second-in-command in the transitional military council and Sudan’s de facto leader, rose to national prominence as the head of a feared paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces.

Members of the RSF have been accused of widespread human rights abuses in Darfur, western Sudan.

The lobbying group’s contract extends further than Washington. It will also push the interests of the Sudanese transitional military council in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UN, the African Union and “any other mutually agreed upon country or countries,” according to the filings.

In Russia, the company aims to arrange “private meetings . . . with senior Russian and other political figures” and to secure aid shipments of wheat, diesel and animal feed.

In Libya, the goal is to win funding for the transitional council from military leader General Khalifa Haftar — another Dickens & Madson client — in return for Sudanese military support for the Libyan National Army.

Other objectives include meetings with Middle Eastern heads of state, US investment in Sudan’s oil industry and even the negotiation of an economic union between Sudan and neighbouring South Sudan, which seceded in 2011.

When contacted by the Financial Times, a spokesperson for Dickens & Madson said the company’s president who signed the agreement, former Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe, was travelling and could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires companies that lobby the US government on behalf of foreign entities to disclose their relationships and publishes those statements online, provides an insight into a booming industry.

In South Sudan, former US diplomats are working with the government to block the establishment of a court to investigate war crimes, according to filings.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, then president Joseph Kabila hired in 2016 Tel-Aviv based MER Security and Communication Systems Ltd to improve its relations with the Trump White House. MER was paid $9.5m by the Congolese government between December 2016 and January 2019, of which at least $4m was passed to US companies, filings show. A spokesperson for MER was not immediately available for comment.

The agreements are legal and lobby companies say their work provides professional services to legitimate leaders, but the industry has drawn criticism from non-governmental organisations.

“Pocketing millions of dollars from, and representing the selfish interests of, ruthless dictators has become a lucrative business,” said Jeffrey Smith, the founding director of Vanguard Africa, a Washington based non-profit organisation that says it supports ethical leadership in Africa. “It’s an upside-down world in which priorities are misplaced, the people suffer, and abusive leaders inevitably grow stronger and more emboldened.”