The Star (Nairobi)

22 June 2012

Kenya: American Lobbyists Cost Kenya Sh115 Million

KENYA has spent close to Sh115 million in the last two years on two public relations companies to improve its image in the United States. Chlopak, Leonard, Shechter & Associates and Private Public Solutions were paid to lobby for Kenya.

Despite their work, the US Senate is threatening to to slap a ban on funding, training and technical support for the Kenyan military and police because of alleged human rights abuses in Northern Kenya and the Rift Valley. On May 24 Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont submitted the Senate Judiciary committee's report and called on Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to effect the ban.

Political lobbyists are a huge industry in the United States. They are used by foreign nations, large companies and interest groups. Among the things charged to the taxpayers are tweets, e-alerts, tea party meetings, lunch meetings and sending out emails and letters to dignitaries. The companies also organise meetings for Kenya delegations visiting the USA.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks foreign lobbying influence, Kenya pays Private Public Solutions LLC a retainer of US$37,800 annually. The amounts can be increased depending on the tasks the company is assigned. In 2009, Kenya paid $569,937 to Chlopak, Leonard, Shechter & Associates. In 2010, they paid a further $222,130, $306,395 and $88,645. The total paid to CLS is equivalent to KSh101 million.

According to the CLS website, they "strive to affect change in legislative and regulatory arenas by creating successful, result oriented public affairs campaigns for corporations, non-profit making organisations and foreign governments".

The CLS client list includes the European Union: Center for Wine Origins, Global Alliance for TB Drug Development/Rockefeller Foundation, the Colombian government, Visa International, and The World Bank.

The Senate report complained about abuses in Mount Elgon in March 2008 during Operation Okoa Maisha against the Sabaot Land Defence Force as well as operations against suspected al Shabaab sympathizers in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera between November 2011 and January 2012. The Senate also referred to operations at the Dadaab refugee camp since December 2011. "The Secretary shall submit a report to the Committee on steps taken by the Government of Kenya to conduct thorough, credible investigations of such violations and the identification of military units responsible," the American senators demanded.

In the committee, the report was passed by 29 senators while one voted against it. A day before it was tabled, Human Rights Watch released a report on alleged arbitrary arrests, beatings and detentions in Daadab refugee camp following discovery of explosives in the camp in mid-March. In January, HRW condemned similar abuses in Daadab following the killing of a police officer by an explosive device on December 5 last year.

In May, it released a report detailing alleged excesses by Kenyan security agencies against ethnic Somalis in the war against Al Shabaab. Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch researcher Neela Ghoshal told the Star that her organization shared its reports with both the American and Kenyan governments.

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