The Ethiopian government has hired Mercury Public Affairs to beef up its Washington lobbying presence amid growing pressure from Congress and the Joe Biden administration over the violence in Tigray.
The firm is expected to provide “government relations and media relations consulting and management services” for Addis Ababa, according to a new lobbying filing. As with most of its contracts with foreign sovereigns, Mercury is registering as a subcontractor to its London affiliate Mercury International UK, shielding key information including the contract amount from disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The contract with the London office runs from Aug. 23 until Nov. 22. Ashley Bauman, a former communications director for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor who joined the firm in July, is the only registered foreign agent on the account to date.
Ethiopia joins a growing list of controversial African clients represented by Mercury. The firm notably lobbies for the governments of Uganda and Zimbabwe as well as the interim Government of National Unity in Libya.
Just this summer, the firm also registered for a new US Ethiopian diaspora group, the American Ethiopia Public Affairs Committee (AEPAC), which supports Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and its allies. The registered lobbyists on that account include former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), suggesting the firm might eventually beef up its lobbying team for the Ethiopian government.
The new lobbying disclosure comes as the Biden administration and Congress have urged the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels to lay down their arms, allow unhindered humanitarian aid access across the country and investigate accusations of human rights abuses. After visiting the country last month US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power warned that US assistance to the country, which amounts to around $1 billion a year, could be endangered if the situation doesn’t improve.
Mercury did not respond to a request for comment.
Also lobbying for the Ethiopian government is Holland & Knight, which signed a $45,000-a-month contract with the country’s Ministry of Peace back in March.
Meanwhile US diaspora groups including the Tigray Center for Information and Communication, the Amhara Association of America and the Oromo Legacy Leadership And Advocacy Association have been pressing Congress and the Biden administration to step up the pressure on Ethiopia, notably through pending House legislation and the threat of sanctions and the loss of trade benefits.