According to newly released documents, the Somalia government reportedly has signed a 30-day agreement with Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm Podesta Group (PG) worth $120,000, representing only .89% of PG’s total lobbying income stated so far for 2013.
Podesta Group describes itself on its Facebook page as “named one of Washington’s “Biggest Players” by the New York Times and voted the top Washington Lobbying Group by Legal Times readers in 2011.”
In signing with PG, the Somali government briefly locks step with breakaway Somaliland, which signed a $22,500/month lobbying contract with Glover Park Group (GPG) toward its independence cause in March 2013. Interestingly, GPG’s offices are located only one block away from Podesta Group.
Documents from the Podesta Group’s required lobbying registration with the U.S. Department of Justice indicate the Central Bank of Somalia as the representative agency under the auspices of outgoing Central Bank Governor Abdusalam Omer.
In scrubbed pages at the end of the document, Omer appears to have made one of his last signings as bank chief. The Podesta Group’s CEO Kimberly Fritts signed the document on behalf of the lobbying firm.
Per the description in the registration, PG is to:
…provide strategic counsel to the principal on strengthening the principal’s ties to the United States government and institutions. Registrant will also assist in communicating priority issues in the United States-Somalia bilateral relationship to relevant U.S. audiences, including the U.S. Congress, executive branch, media, and policy community.
The biggest question for the contract is what the Somalia government and its constituents stand to gain from the political weight Podesta Group says it can leverage in only 30 days of service. This will need to be closely monitored.
After Somalia received U.S. recognition of its first permanent government in decades, perhaps PG can help Somalia receive much needed debt relief to re-start loans from international financial institutions in which the U.S. has a strong influence.
However, considering mixed results in the past, it remains a debated question whether Somalia should pursue a relationship with the IMF or similar organizations as a partner for economic reconstruction.
The use of lobbyists by Somali officials (and other governments) is not new. As previous reports point out:
Puntland hired the Moffett Group – a Washington firm run by former Connecticut Congressman Toby Moffett – to help get ConocoPhillips to reinvest in its oil exploration leases.
Nevertheless, the Somali government’s hiring of PG highlight its ongoing attempts to improve its reputation and drive its messages to key audiences abroad.
After a scathing and controversial United Nations report implicated Omer and other officials on charges of corruption, the Somali government claimed it cleared some of its officials of graft while admitting to room for improvement in a funded response prepared by Shulman Rogers and FTI Consulting.
(Note: FTI Consulting is arguably in a conflict of interest as it is advising the government-contracted energy explorer Soma Oil and Gas.)
Omer’s soon to be replacement is the country’s first female Central Bank chief in Yussur Abrar.
His sacking indicates the lengths that the Somali government believes it has to go to in order appease the international community–even as it has made its own position clear.
It should not be forgotten that senior Somali officials are logging heavy hours in the air to meet with international donors for much needed cash to run its affairs; international credibility is a top priority.
Enter Podesta–The Fixer
In a marketing video, Podesta Group describes its company’s strength through a case in which it helped an “African businessman lower the noise level on [negative “African press”] and raise the level about the good stuff he was doing.”
And so Podesta Group goes on to narrate that it “went to Africa to show the story as much as tell it.” In the video, “Africa” can be translated as the Nshili Kivu Tea Factory in Kigali, Rwanda.
This particular contract may have been intended to reduce the negative press from claims by a labor inspector that the factory was hiring child laborers (though the factory was allegedly working to reduce them in number.)
Rwandan tea was blacklisted by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) in 2010 and 2011 due to the prevalence of child laborers but it does not appear on the most recent list.
One can be sure Rwandan tea plantation owners are working every opportunity–including lobbying–to keep Rwandan tea from being blacklisted again.
The rest of Podesto’s video employs cinematographic flairs not quite reminiscent of the infamous Kony 2012 video. Rather, PG shows how the company applies its skills and expertise to clients’ problems.
Politicians–and especially lobbyists–are keen on ensuring their brand receives at least some good press to go with the bad, and it is difficult to find a more frequent target of negative coverage than Somalia.
However, if the Somali government’s hiring of Podesta Group is indeed an offensive press to impress those abroad, its best defense is to perform diligently for the home crowd.
Another group in Somalia–known as al-Shabaab–is all to familiar with image repair.
While there are plenty of pro-Shabaab media sites and radio stations promoting the group’s messages, al-Shabaab recognizes that after well-publicized vicious infighting or a gruesome attack on innocent civilians, one of the best things it can do is go out and build something.