Kenya pays Sh3m monthly for good coverage in the US


Amina MohamedThe Jubilee administration has spent more than Sh50 million, over the past year in public relations campaigns, including pushing positive stories about Kenya in US media, the Nation has learnt.

Kenya, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, hired a Washington-based PR firm, Podesta Group, to strengthen ties between it and the US.

Podesta is led by a Democratic Party insider, Mr John Podesta, who once worked as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and was billed as a “top President Obama adviser” — a position he recently left to manage the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

The firm, according to its latest filings at the US Department of Justice, indicated that it receives a monthly fee of $30,000 (Sh3 million) to “strengthen Kenya’s ties to the United States Government and institutions”.

Notably, the government contracted the firm a month after the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to its filings, the firm has been in touch with key US senators, including Mr Thad Cochran from Mississippi, Mr Jeff Merkley from Oregon, Mr Jeff Flake of Arizona, and about half a dozen other House representatives.


Podesta Group is one of Washington’s well known lobby groups and its work is to influence perceptions in Capitol Hill, where power, money and intellectual prowess rule.

Relations between Kenya and the US soured when the then Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson warned the country of unspecified consequences in their relations with the Americans if certain candidates  — understood to be Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto — were elected as the country’s leaders.

By then, President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto had been indicted by the ICC over charges of crimes against humanity and their only key supporter had remained Ms Jendayi Frazer, a former Assistant Secretary of State in-charge of African Affairs and a critic of ICC who, throughout the case, maintained it was political.

“I knew the ICC indictments were purely political. The court’s decision to continue its case against Kenya’s Deputy President reflects a degree of indifference and even hostility to Kenya’s efforts to heal its political divisions,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal ahead of President Obama’s visit to Kenya.

Whether the Podesta Group was involved in the US policy turn-around is not clear.

Founded in 1988 by two brothers, John and Tony Podesta, the Group has blue-chip clients ranging from US corporations, non-profit organisations and foreign governments.

Many governments seeking to have a say in Capitol Hill, or facing public relations crises, usually approach Mr John Podesta due to his links within the Democratic Party circles.

“Wiry, ascetic, profane and relentless, John Podesta has become the Democratic Party’s marathon man in more ways than one. He helped save Bill Clinton’s presidency from the fires of scandal and impeachment. He spent the last year trying to salvage Barack Obama’s presidency from gridlock and malaise.

“And now he has handed in his White House pass to try to create a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency from the ashes of her last failed campaign,” the New York Times writes about the man that the Jubilee administration has tapped to help them.

Mr Podesta was in Bill Clinton’s White House team, where he rose to become chief-of-staff and was last year described by the New York Times as a “veteran infighter”.

He is also the founder of a Democratic Party think-tank — the Washington based Centre for American Progress  — and was co-chair of the presidential transition team after Barrack Obama’s victory.


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