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DRC spends US$5.6m on US lobbyists

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is spending millions on a coordinated lobbying campaign aimed at the United States amid rising tensions over the future of its leader, Joseph Kabila.

The country signed a $5.6 million contract with Mer Security and Communication Systems, an Israel-based security consulting firm, according to new disclosure forms released by the Justice Department. The contract is large even by the standards of foreign lobbying, which is a lucrative niche.

While the contract appears to cover mostly advisory services — in addition to organizing a trip to Washington for the country’s special envoy to the United States — forms say that Mer Security ‘will hire/has hired US entities to set up meetings with senior US administration officials and key policy makers in various Congressional committees’.

The firm did not immediately respond to questions from The Hill, including which other firms it had hired. There are no other new registrations with the Justice Department for the work.

Kabila, the president of the DRC, refused to step down from power after his second five-year term ended in December.

The country’s constitution does not allow presidents to serve for more than two terms, but a high court determined that he could stay in office until a new president was elected.

The government, however, has repeatedly pushed back elections, citing incomplete voter rolls and high costs. Last year, Kabila allies and opposition forces signed an agreement that elections must be held by the end of 2017, but that pact appears fragile.

Protests against Kabila have ended with dozens dead, and new rules ban any groups larger than 10 people from congregating in one place. The ongoing conflicts have turned Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa, into a “ghost town,” NPR reported.

Mer Security and Communication Systems will be advising DR Congo’s government on ‘political concerns regarding African security issues’ and the policy issues surrounding ‘the appointment of a special envoy from the DRC to the United States’, according to disclosure forms signed by the firm’s chief executive, Omer Laviv, dated April 26.

The contract is with Raymond Tshibanda, the former minister of foreign affairs of DRC, and documents list him as the special envoy to the United States.

During lobbying meetings set up by other firms, Mer will “provide briefings to meeting participants, based on its discussions with the DRC government,” the documents say.

While Kabila has installed a member of the opposition party to serve as prime minister, the move was decried by critics who say the unilateral appointment choice, Bruno Tshibala, is no longer a member of the opposition alliance and does not represent their views.

The stakes are high for DR Congo, as there has not been a peaceful transition of power in the country since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

The Obama administration passed several waves of targeted sanctions on the country, and the Trump administration appears to be taking a tough stance as well.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, is calling for cuts to its peacekeeping budget due to Kabila’s actions.

“The UN peacekeeping mission is mandated to partner with the government,” she told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “In other words, the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”

Haley’s speech, at the end of March, came the day after the U.N. confirmed that two U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo had been found dead in shallow graves. One was American, the other from Sweden.

“Obviously, all U.N. peacekeepers, everywhere they go, work with authorities on the ground. That does not mean that we support those figures or those parties,”  said a U.N. spokeswoman.

The Democratic Republic of Congo had most recently been represented by BGR Group, a primarily Republican firm. The contract, which lasted from September 2016 through January 2017, was worth $875,000.


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