February 10, 2012

Selling Out Senegal: Former Georgia AG Thurbert Baker (D) Lobbying For Disputed President

Selling Out Senegal: Former Georgia AG Thurbert Baker (D) Lobbying For Disputed President
Former Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker now works at a lobbying firm in Atlanta.

Over the past few weeks, there has been chaos in the West African country of Senegal. Senegalese citizens have been rioting as protests turned violent over the disputed high court ruling that president Abdoulaye Wade can seek a third term of office. This ruling has been viewed as flawed by many because the country’s constitution forbids a president from having more than two terms. Wade argued to the court that this constitutional limit does not apply to him because he was elected before this provision was written into the constitution.

Wade has in the past been criticized for corruption under his tenure, including distributing payments to foreign officials and exempting himself from the purview of an anti-corruption watchdog he created. U.S. Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat raised the issue with him in late 2010, only to be told by the Senegalese president that there is virtually no corruption in his country. What makes Wade’s refusal to abide by the two-term limit imposed by the constitution is that he himself actually had the change written into the constitution in 2001.

In making his argument to the international community, Wade sought the help of an American lobbying group, the law firm McKenna Long & Alridge. In October, the firm set to work to convince Washington that Wade could run again. At first, the firm’s arguments were unconvincing to American officials, who said that a third run for the presidency would “undermine the spirit of democracy.”

But after the court’s ruling, U.S. officials called on the population to “respect the court’s decision.” We don’t know what brought about the sudden change of tone in the stance of American diplomats, but it’s certainly possible that Wade’s enlisting of an American lobbying firm helped his case.

Wade’s lobbying was headed up by Thurbert Baker, the former Attorney General of the state of Georgia. The firm was paid “a $100,000 retainer, a $50,000 research fee, and $50,000 per month starting in October, according to the company’s public disclosure with the United States Department of Justice.”

Interestingly, the $200,000 that Wade spent on Baker’s firm isn’t the only monetary connection that the former attorney general has to Senegal. In early 2011, Baker joined the Masada Research Group as an “advisor and consultant” (its site lists him as the “Vice President for Global Marketing“). The corporation Nabirm, an affiliate and subsidiary of Masada which manages energy projects among other things, lists Baker as “heading up the Masada initiatives in both” Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Therefore Baker is simultaneously involved in business operations in the country while engaging in lobbying on behalf of its disputed leader.

The situation in Senegal remains tense. “I do not seek the interest of the toubabs (Westerners), but that of the Senegalese people,” said Wade during a speech on Sunday. Yet the president seemed to have no problem enlisting a Western lobbying firm to convince the international community that his third bid for the country’s presidential elections on February 26th was constitutional.