WASHINGTON — One month after the U.S. government announced the first substantial sanctions against Uganda in response to its Anti-Homosexuality Act, the government of Yoweri Museveni signed a contract with the D.C. consulting firm Mercury to help with public relations and lobby in the United States.
Uganda signed the one-year contract worth $600,000 on July 17, according to federal disclosure filings. Messages to Mercury representatives were not immediately returned, but the contract says that "Mercury will provide consulting and communications services to promote trade and investment opportunities in Uganda." That includes managing media relations, and specifies that the firm will monitor coverage of President Museveni as well as the country as whole. The filing is signed by former Republican congressman and Romney campaign adviser Vin Weber, a partner at Mercury.
Many countries enter into such contracts, but Uganda's stands out because of its timing. President Museveni and other Ugandan leaders initially responded to condemnation of the Anti-Homosexuality Act from donor nations with defiant bluster, asserting that Uganda didn't actually need foreign dollars. But in late June and early July — as Ugandan lawmakers confronted a looming deadline for producing the government's operating budget — officials took steps in an apparent effort to mollify the U.S., the World Bank, and other key donors. This included the release of a statement on July 7 asserting that the law, which imposed up to a lifetime jail sentence for homosexuality and made it a crime to "abet" homosexuality, had been "misinterpreted as a piece of legislation intended to punish and discriminate against people of a 'homosexual orientation,' especially by our development partners."
The contract with Mercury was finalized a couple weeks before President Museveni visited Washington for the U.S.-African Leaders Summit convened by the White House in early August. Uganda's Constitutional Court struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act last Friday, right before Museveni flew to D.C., leading to wide spread speculation that he had engineered the ruling to please American officials. That ruling is now pending appeal to the country's Supreme Court.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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