Government hires PR firm to ‘clean Uganda’s image’

Saturday May 08 2021
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This photo taken on November 18, 2020 shows police arresting one of Mr Robert Kyagulanyi's supporters near Nalufenya police post in Jinja where he [Mr Kyagulanyi] was rushed to following his arrest that sparked off a wave of protests across the country. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

By U R N

The Government has hired an international public relations firm, Mercury International UK Limited, a subsidiary of Mercury Public Affairs, to improve its image on the international scene.

Documents seen by this reporter show that when Uganda hired Mercury International UK Limited, it subcontracted its mother firm Mercury Public Affairs to do the job. This signals that the focus of lobbying will be in the US.
Mercury Public Affairs submitted its agreement with the subsidiary to the US Justice Department on April 26, 2021.    
In the USA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires lobbyists of foreign governments “who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”  

READ: US imposes visa restrictions on Ugandan officials


It’s the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) unit of the National Security Division (NSD) in the Department of Justice that oversee lobbyists of foreign governments.   
“Registrant is providing strategic consulting, government relations, lobbying, and media relations consulting and management services,” the contract says.

“The term of this Agreement shall begin on April 22, 2021, and will continue in effect until May 21, 2021. The term of this agreement shall automatically continue every month thereafter unless terminated in accordance herewith,” it further reads.   
The UK firm will be paying the US firm on monthly basis for services rendered, the agreement says. It doesn’t reveal the amount that Uganda will be paying.
The government through Mercury International Relations UK Ltd is listed as the foreign principal. The listed address of the foreign principal is 25497 Kampala Road, Kampala Uganda. This address belongs to State House.  

READPressure mounts on US to act on Uganda’s abuses

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The move was made a week after US Secretary of State, Mr Antony John Blinken slapped visa restrictions against unnamed Uganda officials over human rights violations orchestrated during and after the 2021 elections.
“The government of Uganda must significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for the flawed election conduct, violence and intimidation,” Mr Blinken said. He further warned; “the US government will continue to evaluate additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda as well as their immediate family members.” 
Though the government has been bullish in public, hastily hiring an international PR firm is indicative that privately, it’s upping its tactics of restoring its reputation that has been in free-fall during election season. 

After the visa restrictions were announced, Foreign Affairs State Minister Okello Oryem said “we will not lose sleep, be shaken or demoralised.” 
And when asked about hiring the PR firm for lobbying, Mr Oryem argued that it’s not strange.

READ: There have been no abductions by Ugandan security - Kutesa tells UN

“My brother, all countries across the world hire private companies and institutions to do work for them including what you’re saying (lobbying). There is nothing unusual,” he said.
Uganda’s government faced a barrage of criticisms from international human rights organizations and donor governments over the electoral process and abductions of opposition supporters. But also, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, who was the leading opposition presidential candidate got favourable coverage in the foreign press. 

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