Africa, Elections, New in Lobbying

Congolese millionaire drops lobbying for opposition after returning from exile

A Congolese millionaire who bankrolled US lobbying efforts against President Joseph Kabila‘s successor has put an end to his influence campaign as he gears up for his own political run following his return from exile.

Millionaire businessman and former provincial governor Moise Katumbi first retained Akin Gump for $30,000 per month in April 2016 to advocate for “free and fair elections” that were initially scheduled for November of that year. Katumbi fled the country the following month after being accused of hiring foreign mercenaries.

When the elections were rescheduled in 2018 Katumbi was barred from running. He ended up backing Martin Fayulu and lobbied on his behalf. Fayulu lost to Felix Tshisekedi in December 2018 but Katumbi and his lobbyists challenged the results until the State Department endorsed the election in late January 2019.

After multiple renewals, his lobbying contract with Akin Gump was finally terminated on March 31, 2020, according to the firm’s latest filing with the Department of Justice. Akin Gump partner Smith Davis and policy adviser Roger Murry were the only ones registered on the account.

At one point, Katumbi was involved in no fewer than three lobbying campaigns simultaneously.

In addition to his own lobbying, Katumbi also bankrolled a separate Akin Gump agreement with Fayulu himself. That contract lasted from December 2018 until February 2019. Akin Gump briefly retained the Washington public affairs firm the DCI Group as a subcontractor on both the Katumbi and Fayulu accounts.

Separately, the so-called Group of Seven, a political coalition of former Kabila allies who broke with him in 2015, retained Ballard Partners from September 2017 to May 2019 for $50,000 per month. Katumbi was also part of that group.

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Meanwhile Tshisekedi retained his own lobbyists to defend his legitimacy in Washington. Although he ran against Kabila’s chosen candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, some critics accused him of cutting a deal with Kabila to gain power.

The Canadian Caroline Law Corp. represented him pro bono from March 2018 to April 2019. In January 2019, soon after his election, Tshisekedi signed a one-month, $90,000 contract with Avenue Strategies Global to help organize a trip to Washington. That March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed him at the State Department and expressed support for his “change agenda” to tackle corruption and insecurity. Only one firm, Pamoja USA, is still registered as a part-time pro-bono lobbyist for Tshisekedi.

Katumbi’s lobbying campaign suffered a major blow soon after the election when the State Department endorsed the election in a Jan. 23 statement. The final statement removed language from an earlier draft that called the election “deeply flawed and troubling” and caught some policymakers by surprise, Foreign Policy reported at the time.

“A U.S. official told me last week that ‘the Congo is not Venezuela’,” Akin Gump’s Murry said in a February 2019 message shared with the Justice Department. “The official is wrong at the most basic level the regimes of both countries have rejected the clear, sovereign and democratic will of their people — but correct in the only way that matters — for many reasons, the United States chose to forcefully demand respect for democracy in one country, but not the other. I hope to work with you to alter that calculus before the next Congolese political crisis occurs.”

Following Katumbi’s return to his country, the former governor has relaunched his own political movement, Together for the Republic. He is now looking toward the 2023 election rather than revisiting the one from 2018.

“I am hopeful that President Tshisekedi’s efforts to open the political space to opposition exiles such as myself will be respected by others such as the former President, Joseph Kabila, and that my return will be without event and that I will be secure and safe during my visit,” he wrote to US Ambassador Michael Hammer, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), then-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) in May 2019 letters thanking them for their support. “Regardless, I must return and help lead my people in their constitutional efforts to make our country become the beacon of democracy and prosperity that I know it can be.”