Liberia: Weah-led Government Hires Ex-Pres. Sirleaf’s Lobbyist to Strategize Upcoming Visit to the U.S.
Monrovia – Ms. K. Riva Levinson, credited for being the engine behind ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s international public relations, branding and global marketing propaganda, has found her way back into Liberia’s politics – this time working for President George Manneh Weah.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Document obtained by FrontPageAfrica shows that the new administration has hired KRL International LLC, a Washington DC-based communications and government relations firm that focuses on the world’s emerging markets. The firm is a top strategist in managing international policy issues. Levinson, the CEO, served as a long-time adviser to former President Sirleaf.
The deal between the government and KRL International was consummated on August 22, 2018 and signed on behalf of the government by Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley while Jeffery Haymaker, the Chief Financial Officer, signed on behalf of his firm.
According to the agreement, Levinson’s work would be to design a strategic framework for the visit of the Liberian government to the United States.
Paving Weah’s Way
Attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York this September would be Weah’s first visit to the U.S. since becoming President on January 22. This comes at a time when he remains lukewarm on his stance on the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia despite a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Committee in June calling for the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations.
Many had hoped that Pres. Weah would have followed the presidential tradition of placing himself in a good stead with Liberia’s traditional ally – the United States of America. Instead, his first visit outside Africa upon his election was to France where he met with President Emmanuel Macron.
The United States of America and Liberia have a longstanding historical relationship dating back to founding of Liberia. At least eight of its former presidents were born in the United States of America. The capital, Monrovia, was named after the fifth U.S. President James Monroe and so are many of its cities or townships which are named after places in the United States. Moreover, the United States has been Liberia’s largest source of donor support over the years.
How Levinson Helped EJS
Levinson was one of the quiet drivers in Liberia’s progress during her regime. In an interview with Forbes in 2016, Levinson revealed how she first encountered Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her relationship with Pres. Sirlaf is dated back to July 1996 when she was working at the United Nations, waiting for the political space to open up so she could return home.
Former President Sirleaf never had a better image in her home country, but was internationally acclaimed, wining several international awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 just few months to that year’s presidential election.
In 2014, Madam Sirleaf was accused of spending over US$200 million in lobbying fees to foreign firms in the United States.
But Madam Sirleaf refuted the allegation, informing the House of Representatives it is “preposterous” for anyone to believe that her government could spend such an amount.
She said only KRL lobbied on behalf of Liberia from 2007 to 2013 and was paid a total of a little over $368,000.
At the time, Representative Bhofal Chambers of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change, (now Speaker) who called for an official inquiry, said Sirleaf and her government should cooperate fully.
Citing a U.S. State Department report, Chambers said that from 2006 to 2009, 102 lobby payments were tracked by foreign lobby trackers, amounting to an alleged US$263 million.
Chambers listed a host of other companies, which he said were paid huge sums for lobbying for Liberia and condemned Madam Sirleaf, noting that the legislature was concerned about the alleged large sums of money being spent on lobbying abroad, while the country had nothing to show for the money spent.
“We have gross deficits in Liberia in terms of infrastructure at home, in terms of employment, in terms of welfare. There are so many gaps and our people cannot afford,” Chambers said at the time.
Chambers also lamented at the time that while Sirleaf appeared to be the most popular leader in the world, the country had nothing to show for it.
“Internationally, we hear so many good things about our President, and this President of ours has got more accolades than the Pope, has got more accolades than the President of the United States, than Russia’s leader, and the great leader of Germany, Angela Merkel. And yet, there is nothing that we can show for.”
It is not clear what benefits the contract with the KRL would bring Liberia as the government continues to decry financial incapability to carry out projects and achieve its Pro-poor agenda.
However, some foreign relations experts have earlier admonished the Weah-led administration to play its international relations properly if it should gain a stronghold on the global stage.
And observers say with President Weah yet to pay a visit to Washington since his ascendency, paying hefty lobby fees seems to be a means of paving his way for an invite at the White House.
Beginning in 2009, just for public relations purposes, according to US Government’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (www.fara.gov), Madam Sirleaf’s administration, on KRL alone, spent nearly US$495,000. Her regime also spent thousands of dollars on other lobbying firms for similar purposes, including for Reva’s KRL to contact the U.S. Government officials, media representatives, congressional staffers, and members of Congress in order to ensure that assistance with bilateral relations, debt relief and support for security was maximized through the administration allocation and congressional appropriations. It was also intended for the lobbyist to contact U.S. Government officials to ensure that the foreign principal (Liberia) remained eligible for bilateral programs.
Weah Taking Similar Trend
In March this year, the Weah-led administration reportedly paid over half a million dollar in lobbying to gain recognition from the U.S. Government.
Document obtained by FrontPageAfrica then revealed that the government, through its Embassy in Washington, signed a lobbying contract with Ezra Friedlander, CEO of Friedlander Group to negotiate the establishment of a bi-partisan caucus in the U.S. Congress.
Friedlander Group is a boutique political firm, based in New York City, specializing in government advocacy, public & media relations, and political event management.
The bi-partisan caucus mission was to lead the advocacy in Congress for Weah’s recognition and the eventual presentation of a Congressional Award.