Mnangagwa keeps $90,000-a-month US lobbying contract after feud

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime has broken its contract with the lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs and hired Actum International UK, which was set up last month by a band of Mercury alumni led by Kirill Goncharenko.

Zimbabwe signed the US$90,000-a-month lobbying contract with Mercury in 2019, and it was renewed most recently for another year in June, signed by new foreign minister Frederick Shava.

Two dozen senior employees of Mercury including Goncharenko recently quit, taking with them at least 11 of the company’s long-term clients and triggering a lawsuit from parent company, Omnicom Group Inc.

Omnicom accused its former employees of “acting with oppression, fraud, and malice” and “intentionally and capriciously planning in secret… to set up a competing firm (Actum) and implementing a calculated scheme to harm and otherwise undermine Mercury’s business.”

Omnicom paid nearly US$30 million to acquire Mercury from Goncharenko and his partners in 2003. Goncharenko was retained as an employee, and according to the lawsuit last year he received an annual salary of US$500,000, plus a cash bonus of US$422,000, and a profit-sharing distribution of approximately US$1.7 million, totalling approximately US$2.6 million.

Lobbying contract … Zimbabwe signed an extension to its deal with Mercury only in June this year

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As part of its lobbying registration with United States authorities, Actum has made public contracts and clients it has taken over.

Among those clients is Zimbabwe’s government, which engaged Mercury for “services anticipated to include the coordination of government affairs work and strategic consulting for the benefit of the foreign principal.”

Actum has also taken over the accounts of the governments of Ethiopia (US$85,000-per-month), Libya (US$175,000-per-month) and the African Development Bank which is on the hook for US$297,000 for its six-month contract to boost the upcoming Africa Investment Forum.

Mnangagwa’s late foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo was the first to engage lobbyists in Washington, hoping to change perceptions of Zimbabwe’s government which is seen internationally as a human rights violator whose economic policies have deepened poverty.

MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said: “Instead of reforming, the Zimbabwean government invokes foreign lobbyists, fake opposition outfits and dirty schemes to sanitise its bad governance. They waste millions paying to mask their bad ways, instead of transforming and doing right by the people.”

The southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, added: “Zimbabwe’s government spends huge amounts paying PR companies in Washington DC in the hope that those companies will help with image issues, but the truth is simply that the Zimbabwe government must stop abuses and start respecting human rights.

“No-one in the international community will respect a country that allows abductions, torture and rampant rape of women.”

Source – zimlive