Political Handlers With Trump Ties Take Their Election Playbooks to Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria — When a Nigerian presidential candidate landed in the USA in January after years of being topic to a visa ban due to corruption allegations, he had a crew of Western consultants and lobbyists to thank for the nice and cozy American welcome.

A kind of who helped was Riva Levinson, who was mentored within the artwork of political consulting by Paul Manafort, the previous chairman of President Trump’s presidential marketing campaign, sentenced this month to greater than seven years in jail for a bunch of crimes.

Ms. Levinson, who now has her personal agency, KRL Worldwide, is among the many many American political consultants with ties to President Trump who’ve develop into common fixtures in African political campaigns, seizing on the area’s flip towards democracy.

For many years, international locations in sub-Saharan Africa modified governments by way of coups that left army juntas in cost. However more and more, in locations like Nigeria, elections are supposed to find out the need of the folks, although typically they don’t seem to be totally free and truthful.

But as elections develop into extra frequent and aggressive — full with polling and social media campaigns — African candidates are hiring Western corporations to sway voters and affect the media protection of their candidacies.

Consultants with perceived ties to Mr. Trump are particularly valued by their political purchasers, even in international locations that he disparaged with a vulgar phrase, and that are largely off his administration’s overseas coverage radar.

From the sidelines at a latest election occasion in Nigeria, Ms. Levinson reminisced in regards to the outdated days when Mr. Manafort would dispatch her throughout the globe to enlist unsavory leaders and assist them clear up their worldwide reputations, for a hefty price.

“Paul was a grasp strategist. He might hover above at 30,000 toes and see how the entire shifting elements match collectively, after which transfer each with precision,” she recalled. “I realized that from him, and he gave me a front-row seat to observe historical past. I’m grateful to him for this.”

Ms. Levinson was in Nigeria to assist the opposition get together within the nation’s latest election. The get together’s presidential candidate was Atiku Abubakar, and her shopper was a robust Nigerian senator who was managing Mr. Abubakar’s marketing campaign.

Mr. Abubakar misplaced. However in the course of the marketing campaign, Ms. Levinson and a crew of different American lobbyists and consultants with ties to Mr. Trump helped their shopper safe conferences with legislators and with highly effective American lobbying teams. He stayed on the Trump Worldwide Lodge, a five-star resort close to the White Home.

These small victories, wherein Mr. Abubakar gained entry to Washington energy facilities, have been spectacular for a candidate who was named as a chief instance of abroad corruption by a United States Senate subcommittee in 2010. Its report stated that he had funneled tens of tens of millions of value of Nigerian oil revenues into overseas shell accounts. Mr. Abubakar has by no means been prosecuted, however for years he was prevented from touring to the USA.

“These corporations assist candidates launder their picture in Washington, London and New York, shifting outdoors consideration away from the bare-knuckle actuality of their election campaigns,” stated Matthew T. Web page, a former State Division official who’s now a now an affiliate fellow within the Africa program of Chatham Home, a British analysis group.

“Additionally they search to govern the election narrative by planting press tales or neutralizing detrimental narratives on social media,” Mr. Web page stated.

In Nigeria, the opposition get together additionally tapped one other consulting agency, Ballard Companions, to assist facilitate conferences for Mr. Abubakar on Capitol Hill as a part of a $90,000 a month contract. Brian D. Ballard, the agency’s proprietor, was a high fund-raiser within the Trump marketing campaign.

Ms. Levinson accompanied Mr. Abubakar to a lot of his conferences in Washington, and Holland & Knight, an American regulation agency, lobbied the State Division to safe his visa. Scott D. Mason, a former help to Mr. Trump, led the regulation agency’s effort, in keeping with filings.

Some Western corporations are attempting to use the Trump administration’s issues that China is surpassing America’s affect on the continent, and are advertising their African purchasers as options.

Mr. Ballard’s agency says it’s including consultants with ties to Africa, betting that it’s going to win extra purchasers because the Trump administration tries to counteract China, which has supplied billions of in infrastructure items and loans to governments throughout the mineral-rich continent to achieve a foothold.

“It’s undeniably in America’s curiosity to fight China’s rising geopolitical affect in Africa,” stated James Rubin, who’s in command of worldwide affairs at Ballard Companions and was an assistant secretary of state within the Clinton administration.

This month the federal government of Zimbabwe employed Ballard Companions on a contract value $500,000 to enhance relations with the USA, in keeping with authorities filings.

Longtime African election observers say that within the area, alternatives abound for Western corporations to reap the benefits of editorial requirements at native newspapers that may be much less rigorous than in different elements of the world. Additionally they can manipulate social media in methods examined and refined in latest elections within the West.

The method of representing governments overseas can get messy. No matter corporations’ ties to the White Home, costs of fraud and violence round election time have forged a pall on the work of some consultants, jeopardizing their very own picture.

In 2016, the federal government of President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon employed Ogilvy, a worldwide public relations agency, to deliver worldwide reporters to Gabon’s capital, Libreville, for one-on-one interviews with the president at his seaside palace. Mr. Bongo gained re-election that 12 months, although the opposition criticized the equity of the vote and violence broke out.

Final 12 months, Mercury Public Affairs introduced it was working for the federal government of Cameroon forward of its presidential election. However it rapidly rescinded the deal amid costs of human rights violations by Cameroon’s army.

Not lengthy after, Glover Park Group, an American agency, picked up a contract working for the Cameroonian Embassy in Washington. The agency’s representatives ship common dispatches to reporters with government-friendly spins on occasions in Cameroon, which is teetering getting ready to a civil warfare with separatists.

Vanguard Africa, a nonprofit consultancy, constructed a shopper base by working for the opposition without spending a dime in Gambia, the place one of many area’s most brutal and longest-serving presidents was ousted in 2016.

For international locations in sub-Saharan Africa, the opinions of officers on the opposite aspect of the globe matter. Western governments can provide tens of millions of in help to alleviate excessive poverty, and army coaching and weaponry to struggle Islamist insurgencies.

Native opinions clearly matter, too. Within the Nigerian marketing campaign, Mr. Abubakar’s crew of Western and native consultants helped store articles to native newspapers that mirrored poorly on the incumbent president and eventual winner, Muhammadu Buhari.

Whereas working for Mr. Manafort for 10 years beginning in 1985, Ms. Levinson had a roster of purchasers in want of cleansing up their reputations. He despatched her to reel in Mohamed Siad Barre, a Somali dictator, however he didn’t make use of the agency.

Ultimately, administrators at Mr. Manafort’s agency went their very own means, and so did Ms. Levinson.

“I knew Paul Manafort unbound by construction and oversight could be harmful,” she stated. “I needed no a part of that.”

She went on to assist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf rise to energy in Liberia, the place she was president from 2006 to 2018. Ms. Levinson’s purchasers now embrace ministries in Liberia and in Ghana.

A part of her mission in Nigeria, she stated, was “to maintain worldwide and U.S. consideration on Nigeria’s elections, to be free and truthful.”

Ms. Levinson’s public feedback point out blended emotions about her outdated boss. In an editorial final 12 months after Mr. Manafort’s authorized troubles started, she known as him a rule-bender who had little regard for lives misplaced and broken by his actions, and was “all in regards to the cash.”

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