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Congo’s President-Elect—And His Rival—Get U.S. Lobbying Help

January 11, 2019 Megan R. Wilson
  • Two lobbying firms represent President-elect Felix Tshisekedi
  • Opponent says results have ‘nothing to do with the truth’

Amid accusations of vote-rigging, the winner of Congo’s presidential election and the second-place finisher are ready to deploy lobbyists to urge the U.S. to validate—or question—the results.

Felix Tshisekedi—the leader of the country’s largest opposition party—was declared the winner Thursday, succeeding President Joseph Kabila in what would be the mineral-rich country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power. In 2016, Kabila initially refused to step down at the end of his second term.

Tshisekedi defeated former oil executive Martin Fayulu, and Kabila’s hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Shadary in the elections held on Dec. 30. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court still must validate the result, and any challenges must be sent to the court within 10 days.

Congo’s President-Elect Strikes a Conciliatory Tone

For their influence campaigns in Washington, Tshisekedi has two firms working on his behalf and Fayulu recently hired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the No. 1 lobbying firm in Washington by revenue.

Representation in the U.S. will help all involved press their case amid accusations of vote rigging, fraud and backroom deal-making. Tshisekedi has denied making a power-sharing deal with the unpopular ruling party.

CAROLINE THIRION/AFP/Getty Images
Felix Tshisekedi after he was declared winner of the presidential election.

`Every single day’

For Tshisekedi’s critics, the Washington lobbying outreach has already begun.

On Friday, a lobbyist for Congolese opposition leaders critical of the election outcome will meet with Peter Pham, the U.S. special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, according to a source familiar with the plans.

The leaders of various opposition parties, known as the Group of Seven, include Moise Katumbi, who had been barred from being a presidential candidate. They’re represented by Ballard Partners, a bipartisan firm run by former Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard.

Katumbi, who lives in exile in Europe, has separately retained the services of Akin Gump, which has subcontracted with DCI Group.

Roger Murry, a senior policy adviser at Akin Gump who represents both Fayulu and Katumbi, told Bloomberg Government the firm intends to be “in touch with decision-makers every single day.”

“Congo looks like a confusing country, but the fundamentals are very simple. The regime wants to stay in power and they’re willing to do anything to do so. We want decision-makers to understand this dynamic and what they can do about it,” he said in a phone interview.

‘Influence Makers’

The Canadian firm Caroline Law Corp. represents Tshisekedi pro bono.

“Criticism of the outcome of the election by certain candidates, European governments and media outlets will have to be addressed,” Gary Caroline, the firm’s founder, said in an email. As the leader of the Congo’s largest opposition party, Caroline said, it is unsurprising that Tshisekedi won.

So far, the State Department or U.S. government officials have not said anything public about the results, though the department issued a statement on Jan. 3 urging the release of accurate vote results.

A Washington state-based company, PamojaUSA, also represents Tshisekedi.

PamojaUSA’s contract, a copy of which was filed to the Justice Department, says that it would help Tshisekedi’s campaign, in addition to seeking to “convince U.S. government and cultural popular ‘influence makers’ that a Tshisekedi government will mark a new beginning for The Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Defeated opposition candidate Fayulu told the BBC that the polling results have “nothing to do with the truth.”

In December, Fayulu signed a contract with Akin Gump, according to forms the firm provided to BGOV.

Kabila’s 18-year rule was marred by a violent crackdown on opposition supporters and allegations that he used his position to expand his family’s business interests.

Authoritarian Regimes Pay Millions to K Street Lobbyists

The Kabila-led government has its own influence network of 10 lobbying and consulting firms. It has spent about $4 million on advocacy in Washington during 2017-18, according to reports filed with the Justice Department.

While the votes were being counted, President Donald Trump notified Congress that he had sent about 80 troops to the region to be ready in case of violent protests.

About 10,000 voting machines caught fire prior to the Dec. 30 vote, and afterward internet and text messaging services were cut off.

The Catholic Church has said the official election results weren’t consistent with the conclusion reached by its 40,000 election monitors.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergtax.com

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Authoritarian Regimes Pay Millions to K Street Lobbyists