Kenya hires firm with ties to Donald Trump to bolster relation

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed at a joint press briefing with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders (not pictured) in Nairobi on April 13, 2017. The ministry has signed a $1.2 million deal with US lobbying firm Sonoran Policy Group. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • SPG had maintained a comparatively low profile until Donald Trump's election last November.
  • The new agreement runs through May 25, 2018, with Kenya promising to pay the firm four quarterly installments of $300,000.


The Kenyan government has signed a one-year, $1.2 million (Sh123 million) deal with a Washington lobbying firm with close ties to the Donald 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".

Agoa 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.


The hiring of the firm is partly in order to help Kenya block a threat to the sizable trade benefits it receives through the Agoa programme, Kenya's embassy in Washington said.

More than 66,000 jobs in Kenya are in “imminent danger and threat of being lost” due to a move by a US trade association to have all the East African Community member-states barred from continued participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the embassy warned.

Kenya last year exported $394 million worth of textiles and apparel to the US duty-free under Agoa's preferential trade terms.

Kenya benefits from Agoa far more than the three other major EAC countries: Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda do.

The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles association (Smart), which represents US-based used-clothing companies, urged a US government trade agency in May to review the EAC states' eligibility for Agoa.

Smart took that action in response to the EAC's decision in February to phase out imports of second-hand clothing by 2019.

"The ban directly contradicts requirements that Agoa beneficiaries work towards eliminating 'barriers to United States trade and investment' and promote 'economic policies to reduce poverty',” Smart director Jackie King has said.

The used-clothing industry generates thousands of jobs in East Africa that will be lost if the ban takes effect, Smart warned.

The Sonoran Policy Group (SPG) “will be crucial” to efforts to prevent the country's expulsion from Agoa, the embassy said on Friday.

The embassy also clarified that the Kenyan government's contract with SPG runs for three months, not for a full year as is stated in a lobbying-disclosure document on file with the US Justice Department.

The contract with SPG “can be renewed if their performance is satisfactory”, the embassy noted.

The contract with the firm states that in addition to lobbying on Agoa-related issues, SPG will help Kenya “achieve its objectives” in regard to tourism.

Over 100,000 Americans visited Kenya last year, making the US the country's number-one source of tourists.

“The embassy intends to see that these figures increase in the next few years,” Nairobi's diplomats in Washington declared on Friday. “SPG efforts will be crucial in this.”

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 employed two other former Trump staffers: Robin Townley and Jacob Daniels.

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.

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 posted filing signed by SPG executive chairman Robert Stryk and by David Gacheru, deputy head of mission at the embassy in Washington, indicates that Kenya will pay the firm $1.2 million, in installments of $100,000 per month, for a full year of representation.

It runs through May 25, 2018.