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DR Congo legislature hires lobbyist amid tensions with US-backed president

The president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s National Assembly has hired a Washington lobby firm to press for the legislature’s priorities amid growing tensions with the country’s US-backed president.

Lawyer Jeanine Mabunda, the first woman to ever lead the chamber, has retained the services of Greystone Global Strategies, a Washington political consulting firm that has long worked with African nations in political transition. The $7,500-per-month per month contract runs from Aug. 1 through the end of the year. Greystone already received a $7,500 consulting fee on June 3.

Mabunda is a long-time politician close to former President Joseph Kabila, whose Common Front for Congo dominates the chamber, having won 341 out of 500 seats in the December 2018 elections. She was elected president of the body in April 2019 after being nominated by Kabila.

The firm will “design and implement a government relations and communications program for the purposes of educating key stakeholders in the United States regarding the constitutional role and policy priorities of the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the contract states. “Greystone Global Strategies will also seek to identify new areas of partnership and collaboration with US institutions to support the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the implementation of global best practices.”

Greystone CEO Chris Beatty is the only registered foreign agent on the account. He previously worked with the political campaigns and the administrations of presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana.

The lobbying push comes as the Congolese parliament has been clashing with President Felix Tshisekedi‘s administration on issues ranging from elections to judiciary reforms.

In June, Kabila allies in the National Assembly put forward a trio of judicial reforms giving the justice ministry more control over criminal prosecutions, including corruption cases against former government officials. The US and other western embassies expressed “concern” at the time about legislation that “could be used to undermine an independent judiciary.” Justice Minister Celestin Tunda, a Kabila ally, resigned last month after a dispute with President Tshisekedi over the reforms.

And last month, the legislature made more waves when it voted on the recommendation from a panel of religious organizations to appoint Ronsard Malonda, a man accused of helping rig past elections in favor of Kabila, as chairman of the independent national electoral commission, CENI. The move, which has yet to be approved by the president, sparked mass protests in which dozens were arrested.

Check out Foreign Lobby Report editor Julian Pecquet’s Aug. 9 interview (in French) with Congolese journalist Marius Muhunga:

Fred Bauma, a Congolese activist with the Congo Research Group at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said Mabunda may be seeking to build US alliances amid an anti-corruption push that poses a particular threat to Kabila and his allies. The State Department has been seen as close to Tshisekedi since endorsing his election in January 2019 despite allegations of electoral fraud.

“The US is playing a very interesting role now in Congo,” Bauma told Foreign Lobby Report. Hiring a lobbyist could be a “way to try to balance the influence of the embassy in Kinshasa by leveraging some influences in DC.”

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Mabunda is no stranger to the Washington influence industry.

As minister for state-owned companies a decade ago, she signed a $290,000 contract with Crescent Consultants to train Congolese surrogates to “discuss the positive developments undertaken in the DRC” in the country’s English-language media (the firm never disclosed any payments).

More recently, as Kabila’s top official in the fight against sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers she signed a three-month agreement with KRL International in September 2017 to highlight the country’s progress on these issues. The United Nations removed the DRC from its list of armed groups that recruit and use child soldiers in October 2017. The firm reported $40,000 in payments at the time.

Updated: This story was updated at 5:50 a.m. on Aug. 6 with links to the Greystone contract.