Huffington Post.

By Vijava Ramachandran

This is a joint post with Julie Walz.

February 13, 2012

The aid community is well-accustomed to pushing for transparency in foreign aid transactions. But are we missing another key flow of money?

A recent article by Geoffrey York, African bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, described a contract signed a few years ago by the Government of Rwanda with Racepoint Group, which was tasked with doing an image makeover for the Rwandan government for a monthly fee of over $50,000. The rationale was that public perceptions of Rwanda were dominated by the horrific genocide that occurred in the 1990s, along with accounts of human rights abuses and media censorship. The contract with Racepoint reportedly aimed to increase the number of stories of Rwanda’s successes and block criticism of the government and its alleged human rights abuses. The effort landed more than 100 positive articles per month in newspapers from the New York Times to BBC, increased discussions of travel to Rwanda by 183%, and decreased discussion of the genocide by 11%, according to Racepoint.

In 2007, Racepoint also led a campaign to promote Libya‘s Gaddafi as an “intellectual and philosopher,” in advance of the thirtieth anniversary of his rule. Four years later, Libyan rebels hired the Washington lobby firm, Patton Boggs to help them unseat Gaddafi.

Other African governments have also invested in lobbyists. The Kenyan government contracted one of the top Washington lobbying firm Chlopak Leonard Schechter to restore its reputation after stories of election-related violence dominated the news headlines. It hoped to further U.S. support for its military and intelligence work, fighting piracy and dealing with the deteriorating situation in Somalia. Chlopak Leonard successfully placed positive stories in US media outlets and was able to call attention in Congress to the Somali crisis. President Obama’s Somalia policy even includes specific recommendations from the Kenyan government’s proposal to fight piracy and terrorism…Read more.