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Economy

Kenya signs deal with Trump-linked lobby for Sh124m to improve US relations

US President Donald Trump (centre) poses with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (left), Guinea's President Alpha Conde (second left) and Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo on May 27, 2017 in Taormina, Sicily. PHOTO | AFP
US President Donald Trump (centre) poses with Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (left), Guinea's President Alpha Conde (second left) and Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo on May 27, 2017 in Taormina, Sicily. PHOTO | AFP  

The Kenyan government has signed a one-year, $1.2 million (Sh124 million) deal with a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to the Trump team, according to US Justice Department documents.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs entered the agreement with the Sonoran Policy Group (SPG) on May 25, states a lobbying disclosure form filed on June 6.

An outline of the arrangement states that SPG “will provide US congressional and executive branch brand engagement to cement and deepen relations between Kenya and the US government as well as between the people of Kenya and the US.”

More specifically, SPG commits to “assisting the Embassy of Kenya achieve its objectives on the issues of tourism, trade, investment and Agoa.”

That term refers to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a preferential trade initiative through which Kenya exports hundreds of millions of dollars of textiles duty-free to the US market.

SPG, headquartered in the state of Arizona, had maintained a comparatively low profile in the US capital city until Donald Trump's election last November.

That changed early this year when Stuart Jolly, formerly the national field director for Mr Trump's White House campaign, was appointed president of SPG.

The firm also employs two other former Trump staffers: Robin Townley and Jacob Daniels.

Africa director

Mr Townley, a former US Marines intelligence officer, briefly held a Trump White House post as Africa director at the National Security Council.

The CIA rejected Mr Townley's request for a top-level security clearance, forcing him out of the job.

He was subsequently hired by SPG as its vice president for defence and international affairs.

Mr Daniels, now SPG's vice president of public policy, served on the Trump inaugural committee after working as chief of staff for the Trump campaign in the electorally important state of Michigan.

Politico, a Washington-based web news site, reported in January that SPG was co-hosting an inauguration party that was “expected to draw high-profile Trump backers.”

Since enhancing its influence in the months following Mr Trump's victory, SPG has landed a few prominent clients in addition to the Kenyan government.

They include Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry, New Zealand's Washington embassy, the Office of the President of the Czech Republic and the Korean International Trade Association.

Paul Manafort, once a key Trump associate and now caught up in the controversy over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, had also once worked as a lobbyist for the Kenyan government.

Moi's tenure

He was a principal in a powerful political influence firm that was paid nearly $2 million to help burnish Kenya's image in the US during part of Daniel arap Moi's tenure.

More recently, Kenya had retained another well-placed lobbying group for a three-month campaign aimed at preventing the loss of US aid due to Kenya's poor ranking in State Department monitoring of countries' efforts to combat sex trafficking.

The Kenyan government paid the firm of Squire Patton Boggs $135,000 for lobbying work in that regard in 2015.

The country has to date experienced no reduction in US aid due to its record on prosecuting sex traffickers.

The new agreement with SPG runs through May 25, 2018, with Kenya promising to pay the firm four quarterly installments of $300,000.

The contract was signed by SPG executive chairman and founder Robert Stryk and by David Gacheru, deputy head of mission at Kenya's Washington embassy.

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