JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – President Emmerson Mnangagwa, battling to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation, has recruited a second public relations firm in the United States at a cost of US$1 million per year.
Documents filed by lobbying firm, Avenue Strategies, show that Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo signed the agreement on behalf of Zimbabwe.
“Registrant (Avenue Strategies) will provide consulting and public relations services on behalf of the foreign principal to foster better relations with the United States government,” Avenue Strategies said in documents filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The contract, signed in April, is the second this year after Ballard Group were recruited in March for US$500,000 per year.
MDC treasurer David Coltart said Mnangagwa’s government had got its priorities wrong.
“This is profoundly shocking when simple radiation equipment at Mpilo Hospital isn’t working for want of a few thousand US$. This regime has got its funding priorities seriously wrong. If it just governed properly, it wouldn’t need expensive lobbyists,” Coltart said.
Jeffrey Smith, a US-based international human rights activist, said on Twitter: “An unsolicited piece of advice to Mnangagwa, Moyo and the government of Zimbabwe: respecting the human rights of your citizens – regardless of political affiliation – and implementing your own constitution and regional conventions costs nothing. It’s free. Try it.”
Mnangagwa came to power on the back of a military coup in 2017 promising to break with years of repressive rule under former President Robert Mugabe. Western countries initially appeared to warm up to Mnangagwa, one of Mugabe’s brutal enforcers over four decades, but withdrew support after he twice deployed the army to shoot at protesters in the streets and cracked down on dissent.
Zimbabwe’s economy has also tanked after Mnangagwa claimed a controversial election victory last July with a thin majority of just over 30,000 votes. The opposition accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of fiddling numbers to keep Mnangagwa in power.
The ensuing political standoff has spooked international investors, hurting the country’s economy and fuelled growing resentment against Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa is keen to market himself as a reformer in the United States, but administration officials have called on him to implement reforms he has committed himself to, including scrapping repressive laws.
“The best PR you can invest in is to care for the people. And guess what? It won’t cost you a cent. Just your sincerity. The money you waste on lobbyists and PR firms is better spent on critical drugs, fuel and electricity for the nation. Introspect,” prominent Harare lawyer Fadzayi Mahere said. – ZimLive