Africa, Elections, Human rights, New in Lobbying

Ivory Coast election rivals launch US lobbying war

A bitter electoral dispute in the world’s cocoa capital has spread to Washington as the incumbent president and his main challenger launch dueling lobbying campaigns for US support.

The office of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has agreed to pay the Glover Park Group $300,000 for “government affairs and communications services and support … with regard to [the government’s] relations with the United States and other relevant Anglophone countries.” The newly disclosed three-month contract, which runs until Dec. 15, comes as Ouattara’s opponents are crying foul over his decision to run for a third five-year term in the Oct. 31 election.

As government critics take to the streets in the west African country formally known as the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Ouattara’s opponents are also mobilizing in the United States.

Herman Cohen, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President George H.W. Bush, first registered as a lobbyist for a group called Democracy Cote d’Ivoire last November. Cohen’s lobbying partner, George Denison, told Foreign Lobby Report that the group is made up of supporters in Ivory Coast and the United States of former President Henri Konan Bedie, Ouattara’s main rival in the election. Also running are former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Kouadio Konan Bertin.

A new lobbying filing shows Cohen began reaching out to Congress and the State Department in the third quarter of this year regarding “concern over fairness in upcoming presidential election.” Cohen and Denison have not disclosed any payments from the group to date.

Facing Cohen is another ex-diplomat: Phillip Carter III, an independent consultant who was US ambassador to Ivory Coast from 2010 to 2013 under President Barack Obama. Carter is registered on the Ivory Coast presidency account along with Glover Park Managing Director Brett O’Brien, Senior Vice President Tod Preston and Director Charles Schoenthaler.

Glover Park previously signed a year-long, $300,000 contract with JWI (Jefferson Waterman International) last November to represent the Ivorian government. JWI for its part has represented the government of Ivory Coast for the past decade for around $800,000 a year (Carter was executive vice-president at JWI from Jan. 2016 to June 2019).

“The proposed resolution would only inject the U.S. Congress into a complex situation that goes well beyond a simple ‘free and fair election’.”

Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen

The Ivory Coast is keen to avoid any fallout with the United States, which appropriated almost $150 million in foreign aid for the country in its FY 2020 budget. That assistance “will help to lay the groundwork for peaceful presidential elections in 2020,” according to the State Department, suggesting that continued aid funding comes with strings.

So far the Donald Trump administration has been largely silent about the political upheaval in the country. Congress is another matter.

Last week the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution sponsored by Africa subcommittee member Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) that says Ouattara “heightened tensions” with his decision to run for a third term despite the constitution’s two-term limit. The resolution calls for “free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections.”

“As the 2020 election in Cote d’Ivoire draws near, the country must choose whether to continue an era of relative peace or return to the ethnically charged violence that has stained its past,” Phillips said in a statement. “It is more important now than ever to call attention to this situation and urge early action in order to secure election legitimacy and transparency, as well as prevent violence and help save lives.” 

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Even though it is critical of the incumbent president, the resolution has failed to assuage his critics. While stopping short of calling for a boycott of the election, Bedie last month called for a “civil disobedience” campaign against Ouattara’s candidacy. Bedie is also demanding that two politicians in exile, former President Laurent Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, be allowed to run.

“I am sure that losing is not an option for Ouattara, and that he will corrupt the electoral commission to declare him the winner,” Cohen wrote in a memo to Congress obtained by Foreign Lobby Report. “The bottom line is that the proposed resolution would only inject the U.S. Congress into a complex situation that goes well beyond a simple ‘free and fair election’.”

The electoral dispute comes at an especially delicate time for the Ivory Coast.

Last year the country’s Cocoa and Coffee Council (Conseil Cafe Cacao) signed a $360,000 contract with JWI amid calls by some US lawmakers to ban cocoa imports amid reports of child labor. Meanwhile the Supreme Court is due to soon hear a case brought against Nestle and Cargill for allegedly abetting child slave labor in the country.