UPDATE May 8: Reuters reports that an amended version of the “Beneficial Solutions” lobbying agreement has been filed.
“I’m doubtful the revised contract means a substantive change to the lobbying deal,” Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the UN Security Council Panel of Experts for South Sudan, told Reuters.
“The rewording seems to be a response to the negative publicity that both the South Sudanese government and those associated with Gainful Solutions received, but not a rejection of the lobbying efforts.”
Rights groups accused the government of paying to avoid justice. The new contract was “a slap in the face to victims of the horrific crimes that have been committed in South Sudan,” said Elise Keppler, associate director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
The government did not respond to requests for comment on the old contract or the new one.
Former Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger and a partner, Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou, have formed a firm called “Gainful Solutions” and executed a contract with the Salva Kiir administration for seemingly exclusive representation for inbound private investment from the West and for lobbying with the Trump Administration, seeking military aid, sanctions relief, and to suspend and eliminate the African Union-South Sudan “hybrid court” for war crimes agreed in negotiations to end the South Sudanese civil war. The contract involves an unusual combination of “investment agent” services with ambiguous and open ended compensation and an extraordinary “flat fee” two year lobby deal for $3.7M with $1.2M cash up front.
Adding to a firestorm of criticism since the related Foreign Agent Registration Act filings from April 18 hit the press last week, a coalition of South Sudanese civil society groups has demanded that the contract be cancelled. Susan D. Page, the inaugural U.S. Ambassador to independent South Sudan called the contract “very disturbing and disappointing” on Twitter and former Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard called it “disgusting”. Our current Ambassador is quoted below explaining why he is disturbed.
Ranneberger, Nazari-Kangarlou and Constance Berry Newman are the firm’s three employees with the title of “Consultant” per the Registration.
6. List all employees who render services to the registrant directly in furtherance of the interests of any of the foreign principals in other than a clerical, secretarial, or in a related or similar capacity
Here are some links for a flavor of what seems to be as controversial a Foreign Agent Registration Act filing as I have seen:
Former U.S. Diplomats Lobby to Stop South Sudan War Crimes Court, Foreign Policy, U.S. April 29:
. . . .
The U.S. government, which backs the peace agreement, provided $4.8 million in 2016 through the African Union to set up the court, a State Department spokesman confirmed to Foreign Policy in email. “The project is ongoing,” the spokesman said.
The lobbying contract provides an unusually candid glimpse into the South Sudanese government’s aims to undercut a peace deal it has committed to. Some current and former U.S. officials are outraged at the former diplomats involved in the contract for accepting millions of dollars from Kiir, whose government is accused of widespread human rights violations during the country’s five-year-long civil war.
Ranneberger lands deal to clean image of Salva Kiir, The Star, Kenya, April 30.
S.Sudan hires U.S. lobby group to block war crimes court, AFP, April 30.
. . . .
US Ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek, described the contract with the lobby group as disturbing.
“This, to me, is very disturbing because this is a commitment made in the peace agreement. The hybrid court is part and parcel of chapter five of the peace agreement,” Hushek said, according to Eye Radio in Juba.
South Sudan hires U.S. lobby group to block war crimes court, Daily Monitor, Uganda, April 30.
Blocking hybrid court confirms atrocities were committed–FoDAG, Eye Radio, Juba
South Sudan hires U.S. lobby group to avoid war crime charges, TRTWorld, Turkey
Gainful Solutions, Inc. and the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, Thoughts on the Sudans, Aly Verjee:
. . . .
Beyond the outrage that has focused on the moral wrongs of any effort to block the hybrid court, the contract may expose its parties to legal peril in two distinct areas.
First, the contract’s clear intent to obstruct the formation of a key institution required by the peace agreement, the hybrid court, raises the prospect of sanctions pursuant to presidential Executive Order 13664, which permits sanctions against:
any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State…to be responsible for…(B) actions or policies that threaten transitional agreements or undermine democratic processes or institutions in South Sudan; (C) actions or policies that have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan or obstructing reconciliation or peace talks or processes.
Executive Order 13664 allows for the freezing of the property of any person so designated under the order. It may be applied to both U.S. and non-U.S. persons, whether within the United States or abroad.
The second area of legal jeopardy concerns three potential areas of non-compliance with the FARA: [issues of completeness and accuracy of disclosure in the filings and of late filing].
Amb. Ranneberger and Connie Newman at polling place in Nairobi, during Dec. 27, 2007 Kenyan election
Ranneberger’s “great friend and mentor” Connie Newman–his choice as lead delegate for IRI to observe Kenya’s ill-fated 2007 election–is separately registered as a “consultant” on the South Sudan deal [“As an advisor to Gainful Solutions, I will travel to South Sudan with the partners of Gainful Solutions for a meeting with President Kir, The meeting will discuss how to improve the relationship between the U.S. and South Sudan and thus promote peace and stability. Other work or meetings on my behalf with Gainful Solutions will be determined on a case by case basis. There is thus far no set agenda for future activity.” For a $5,000 fee.] as discussed in Aly Verjee’s blog post. Newman is a longtime lobbyist who has been Africa lead for the Carmen Group after serving as Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs from June 2004 to April 2005 (with Ranneberger serving as Principle Deputy Asst.Sec.) and Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID from 2001. As a domestic lobbyist in 1991 after a long pioneering career in federal service she was given high credit in GOP circles for helping to persuade the NAACP not to oppose the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by civil rights icon Thurgood Marshall.
More: Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya lobbying to stop South Sudan war crimes court.An Africanist Perspective (Ken Opalo) Apr. 30:
. . . .
Everyone is rightfully outraged. More than 400,000 have died since South Sudan descended into civil war and millions more were displaced.
These revelations also highlight the many challenges the court is likely to face if and when it is eventually set up. South Sudanese political elites (on both sides of the post-2014 conflict) are not particularly keen on facing justice for atrocities committed against civilians and armed actors. It is also unclear if Juba’s friends in Kampala, Nairobi, or Addis have any incentive to inject yet another variable into the ongoing efforts to establish a modicum of stability in South Sudan.
Moral outrage alone will not move the needle. The court’s success will depend on how much pivotal actors within IGAD are willing to lean on Machar and Kiir.
As far as lobbying in Washington, DC goes, this is yet another reminder that even weak states like South Sudan are not passive members of the international system. While their options are limited on account of their position in the hierarchical structure of the state system, they still have agency and have a variety of tools at their disposal through which they can influence the behavior of much more powerful states. See also here.
[As an aside I also want to thank Dr. Ken Opalo for hosting a great book discussion event with Dr. Gabrielle Lynch on her most recent “Performances of Injustice: The Politics of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Kenya” which I was able to attend Tuesday.]