Many African governments and prominent political figures hire Trump-linked lobby groups in the US to ease sanctions against them.
Former senior US diplomats have taken up the task of lobbying for South Sudan and discouraging the Trump administration from setting up an independent tribunal to investigate alleged war crimes in the country, as well as reversing the Washington-imposed sanctions.
According to public disclosure filings from the US Department of Justice, Gainful Solutions Inc has signed a contract worth $3.7 million with the South Sudanese government to serve and further the interests of the country.
As part of the contract, the lobbying company agreed to persuade the Trump administration to “reverse sanctions and prevent further sanctions” and to mobilise American investment in South Sudan’s petroleum industry.
The lobbying company is run by Michael Ranneberger, a former US ambassador to Kenya from 2006 to 2011 and the lobbyist Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou.
More importantly, the contract states that Gainful Solutions must “delay and ultimately block the establishment of the hybrid court” under a 2018 peace deal between South Sudan’s government, led by President Salva Kiir, and his longtime rival opposition leader Riek Machar.
The rivalry between the two prominent political figures in the world’s youngest nation culminated in a devastating war in 2013, just two years after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011.
The war left around 380,000 people dead, forcing more than four million South Sudanese - almost a third of the population - to flee their homes.
During the peace transition, the warring sides agreed on forming a hybrid court to investigate alleged war crimes on both sides.
“Both the United Nations and African Union see this body [court] as an important part of remaking South Sudan on new foundations of respect for human rights and accountability,” said Godfrey Musila, a former member of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
Another expert, Sarah Jackson, Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and The Great Lakes at Amnesty International, said that the hybrid court would "try those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes".
"Its establishment is essential for South Sudan to see sustainable peace. It is disgraceful and unacceptable that the government is willing to pay millions to avoid justice," Jackson said.
Many African governments and political figures have begun taking advantage of America’s open political system, in which the US government's perceptions about their respective countries can be changed and aligned with their own political interests.
In late 2018, the New York Times revealed that the Democratic Republic of Congo paid $8 million to an Israeli security firm Mer Security and Communication Systems Ltd. The firm has been a key link between Trump-linked lobbyists and the Congolese government to avoid additional US sanctions being issued against DR Congo.
The then-Congolese government has been accused of widespread corruption and human rights violations under the former president Joseph Kabila, who pushed the country into a political crisis in 2016 when he refused to step down despite the constitutional two-term limit. In the protests, during which the opposition demanded him to leave power, many demonstrators were killed by the Congolese police.
Zimbabwe, having been ignored by the international community during the years it was ruled by the socialist leader Robert Mugabe, decided to cover up its wounds after Mugabe was ousted in 2017. The new government hired a lobbying firm to rebuild the country’s reputation in Washington and seek American support.
Sanctions by the US and European Union are seen as a major obstacle to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is trying to revive the national economy which was destroyed by shortages of fuel and bread as well as high inflation rates.
The Zimbabwean governmentsigned a contract worth $500,000 a year with Brian Ballard, who has strong ties with US President Donald Trump.
Ballard’s interest in African politics indeed is not limited to the Zimbabwean president.
Atiku Abubakar, who was the main opposition candidate in Nigeria’s last February general election, signed up Ballard in exchange of $1.1 million per year to expand his interests in Washington.
The prominent Nigerian politician was unwelcome in the US for years due to his connections with multiple corruption investigations.
But then just a month before the elections, the cloud lifted and Abubakar held meetings with US officials at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
His public tour was one of the biggest PR victories back in Nigeria. The visit silenced his opponents who questioned Abubakar's ability to rule the country, citing his stained reputation in the US.
The US’s patience has worn thin with South Sudan, however. After countless failed peace efforts, ties between Juba and its main international donor Washington are under a severe strain. The coming days will determine whether the efforts of lobbying group Gainful Solutions can translate into a warming of relations between the two countries.