THE Zimbabwean government has splurged US$800 000 on London-based lobby and public relations (PR) firm BTP Advisers in a desperate bid to spruce up its battered international image and bolster a diplomatic re-engagement drive that has gone off the rails amid a growing backlash over the deteriorating political and economic rights situation in the country, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
The hefty payment by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government follows hot on the heels of yet another payout of US$500 000 in February to United States-based lobby firm Ballard. The PR companies were tasked with canvassing for the removal of targeted sanctions imposed on the country.
Zimbabwe in June struck a similar arrangement with Avenue Strategies Global LLC to the tune of US$1 million. The company was tasked with lobbying the US government to drop sanctions against the country.
Another US PR firm, Mercury International Limited, has a contract that runs until May 31, 2020.An official in the Ministry of Finance told the Independent that government paid US$800 000 to the British PR firm.
“The British PR firm which also counts some British lawmakers among its shareholders, mainly members of the House of Commons, has already begun working for the country. A large sum close to US$1 million has been paid. In real terms, it was US$800 000,” the official said.
“Their influences in the House of Commons will help our re-engagement drive. We are going full throttle. The lobbying is very much part of our strategy to regain international trust and we will not relent.”
BTP Advisers was engaged following the alleged abduction and torture of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) president Peter Magombeyi in September.
The government, through the PR firm, distanced itself from the reported abduction.
As reported by the Independent last month, BTP was tasked by Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo with absolving government from the alleged abduction.
“These incidents do nothing to assist, and only seek to obstruct the government’s genuine and open-minded efforts to engage with the international community on behalf of the Zimbabwean people,” the firm said in a statement dated September 20.
Government is also desperately seeking to rejoin the Commonwealth after applying to be readmitted.Efforts to get a comment from Foreign Affairs permanent secretary James Manzou were fruitless as he did not respond to inquiries on the matter while BTP chief executive officer Mark Pursey did not reply to questions.
Mnangagwa’s government has been desperate to straighten a chequered human rights record since the August 1, 2018 shootings which claimed the lives of six civilians.
BTP, a PR firm whose senior management has close links to the Liberal Democrats, has in the past worked with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and successfully led a campaign to exonerate him from the 1994 genocide.
A 2009 report from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative acknowledged that the BTP’s “excellent public relations machinery” had succeeded in hiding “the exclusionary and repressive nature of the regime” in Kigali.
BTP advised Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta during his dispute with opposition leader Raila Odinga after the 2014 elections.
The company also ran Kenyatta’s PR campaign when he was facing charges from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
He was charged for his role in the violence that erupted during the 2007 Kenyan elections, where more than 1 200 people were killed while 300 000 were displaced.