The government of Zimbabwe has hired Ballard Partners to represent it in Washington, making it the first firm to lobby on the country’s behalf in more than a decade. Brian Ballard, a top fundraiser for President Donald Trump’s campaigns, and the firm’s other lobbyists will counsel Zimbabwe on “communication with U.S. government officials, U.S. business entities, and non-governmental audiences,” according to a disclosure filing.
“In as much as the government of Zimbabwe has been denied access to international financial institutions and been under intense diplomatic pressure from Western countries, it shall be the main objective of the firm to encourage a re-examination of Zimbabwe by the State Department with a view to establishing the best possible bilateral relationship with the United States and facilitating the restoration of Zimbabwe’s membership in good standing in the community of nations,” the firm’s contract states. The contact is worth $500,000 a year.
It’s not the first African contract for Ballard, who has also worked for the government of Mali and opposition political parties in Congo and Nigeria. James Rubin, a former State Department official in the Clinton administration who will be the lead lobbyist for Zimbabwe, said in an interview that the firm’s lobbyists thought carefully before agreeing to work for the country, which was ruled for decades by the brutal dictator Robert Mugabe before he was deposed in 2017.
While the country’s new leadership isn’t perfect — the government cracked down violently on demonstrators in January — “it is far, far better than Zimbabwe’s government was under Mugabe,” Rubin said. They’ll work to secure Zimbabwe, which remains under U.S. sanctions, with a fair hearing from “an administration in which Africa is not the highest priority,” Rubin said. Better relations with the U.S. might also “encourage Zimbabwe not to turn to China or Russia,” he said. “I’d rather they work with us than with the Chinese who don’t care at all about human rights” or democracy, he added.
However the move to hire a lobbyist is largely seen as a waste of resources in a country that is suffering from a foreign currency crisis and whose administration seems to be ignoring the call to reform.