State House to spend Shs 1.56bn on the deal
Mercury Public Affairs LLC, an American public relations consultancy firm, has been hired by State House to transform the image of President Museveni and promote Uganda’s global trade interests.
The firm is to be paid a total of $600,000 (approximately Shs 1.56 billion) for the duration of one year. News of the contract was first broken by BuzzFeed, a respected online news aggregator and blog in the United States.
BuzzFeed based its report on federal disclosure filings made by Mercury Public Affairs LLC to the US Department of Justice on July 30, 2014 at 5:50pm. According to the filings, the agreement took effect on July 19 and expires on July 18, 2015.
Kirill Goncharenko, the president of Mercury Public Affairs LLC, signed on behalf of the firm while Lucy Nakyobe Mbonye, the State House comptroller, signed on behalf of State House. The deal was finalised weeks before President Museveni travelled to Washington DC to attend the US-Africa Leaders Summit last week. It is unclear if the PR contract was necessitated by the negative international publicity arising from President Museveni’s signing into law of the now nullified Anti-Homosexuality Act in February this year.
The law was annulled by the Constitutional court on August 1 for having been passed without quorum in parliament. On Monday, President Museveni urged NRM legislators pushing for its enactment to tread carefully.
According to the 10-page agreement seen by The Observer, some of Mercury’s tasks will include “managing media relations”. Among other assignments, the firm will “monitor coverage of President Museveni as well as the country as a whole.”
Mercury Public Affairs LLC will also provide consulting and communications services, promote trade and investment opportunities in Uganda while developing special initiatives such as the “Uganda Enterprise Empowerment Initiative” (UEEI).
Other services to be rendered by Mercury Public Affairs LLC shall include:
Managing media relations and monitoring all media globally with an emphasis on USA. This includes print, digital for coverage of the president and the republic of Uganda.
Disseminate information about Uganda using all available avenues, documents and report these publications, documentaries and stories to the press unit of the president/office of the press secretary to ensure regular and updated briefings to the presidency.
“Where possible some of these reports will be circulated widely in the local media using the State House portal,” the agreement partly reads.
State House was expected to make a down payment of $150,000 (Shs 390m) upon the signing of the agreement. Thereafter State House is supposed to make a monthly payment of $50,000 (Shs 130 million).
Headquartered in New York, Mercury Public Affairs LLC (www.mercuryllc.com) is part of the Omnicom Group Inc., a leading global advertising and marketing communications services company. It describes itself as a high-stakes public strategy firm. The firm says it uses expertise and reach to gain competitive advantage for clients.
“Our expertise comes from extensive must-win campaign experience and operating successfully at the highest rung of business, government, politics and media.
“Our reach is the ability to use strategic intelligence to mobilise the message and persuade the toughest audiences,” the firm says.
The firm further says it has advised and executed successful election and public affairs campaigns on five continents.
“We are successful because we don’t guess. Through market research, we ensure local knowledge and cultural understanding. Then we combine those insights with strategic practices — such as positioning, branding, social media, digital communication and grassroots mobilization — to achieve wins for our clients.”
One of the partners of the company is Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and campaign adviser to Mitt Romney, who was defeated by Barack Obama in the last US election. Mercury Public Affairs LLC is not the first international public relations firm to be contracted to shore up the image of the Ugandan government or that of President Museveni.
The Observer reported in 2005 that government had paid Hill & Knowlton, a London-based firm, Shs 1.6 billion to polish the image of the Ugandan government, which had been stained by a poor human rights record and a restrictive political environment.
The PR firm had itself been criticised in the past for working with governments such as Indonesia and Turkey, whose human rights records were suspect. Later in 2012, the government paid an Irish firm, Glenevin Operational Risk and Security Consultancy, Shs 2.3bn to clean up its image, which had been dented by the opposition walk-to-work protests.
Asked to comment on the development yesterday, Nakyobe said: “I cannot comment about anything.”