Kenya has hired a pair of veterans of the Bill Clinton White House as it presses its case for a free trade deal with the Joe Biden administration and the Democratic Congress.
Washington lobbying and public relations firm Rational 360 will provide “relationship building with government and non-governmental officials, and communications counsel and management” for the Kenyan Embassy in Washington. The $600,000 contract is for one year starting April 12.
The firm’s CEO, former White House communications director Patrick Dorton, is registered on the account along with Joseph Lockhart, a former Clinton press secretary who joined the firm last year. Rounding out the team is senior director Nicholas Fitzgerald.
The contract comes as the embassy has been represented since June 2017 by a Republican firm, the Sonoran Policy Group. Sonoran, since renamed Stryk Global Diplomacy, is led by Robert Stryk, a west coast adviser for Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign who grew rich representing a slew of foreign clients during the Trump era.
Sonoran has been helping Rational bring on foreign clients ever since Biden began opening a lead in last year’s presidential election, The New York Times reported last fall. In October, Rational signed its first-ever sovereign lobbying contract with another Sonoran client, the government of El Salvador, for $65,000 per month.
Dorton and Stryk did not respond to requests for comment about the extent of their cooperation, if any, on the Kenyan contract. Sonoran for its part last signed a $1.2 million-a-year contract extension with the embassy in March 2019 and continued to represent the Kenyan government as recently as Jan. 31, according to its lobbying filings.
According to disclosure forms filed with the Department of Justice, Sonoran’s work for the embassy focused largely on the issues of tourism, trade, investment and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a preferential trade agreement with Kenya and other select sub-Saharan countries that Congress reauthorized in 2015. The firm hasn’t reported any lobbying activity for Kenya since April 2019, when it helped introduce the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, David Gacheru, to Joe Weir, who was then the director for foreign military sales at the National Security Council.
President Uhuru Kenyatta twice visited the White House during the Trump years, notably to press for a free trade agreement between the United States and East Africa’s commercial hub. The two countries formally launched trade negotiations last July, but the changing of the guard in Washington and Biden’s stated preference for multilateralism has prompted concerns in Kenya.
“We appreciate what has been achieved through Agoa, but it is time we moved to much closer trade arrangements that are mutually beneficial,” Kenyatta told outgoing US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter in January as he wrapped up his stint in the country. “We will not lose focus on concluding the FTA.”
Kenya notably has the support of the US Chamber of Commerce, which highlighted the FTA in a list of recommendations to the Biden administration released on Feb. 25.
“The Chamber strongly encourages the Biden-Harris administration to complete a high standard, comprehensive trade deal with Kenya, serving as a model template for FTAs with other developing countries,” the Chamber wrote. “The U.S. private sector views the trade deal as an opportunity to lay the necessary groundwork for strengthening and deepening U.S. relationships with economies across the continent by providing critical legal protections and enduring,