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Tony Blair gave PR advice to African president after death of protesters

A charity founded by Tony Blair helped the president of Guinea with public relations advice after security forces shot protesters in anti-government clashes

Tony Blair advised an African president on how to win over public support in the aftermath of clashes in which opposition protesters were shot dead by security forces.

Mr Blair’s guidance is contained in a four-page communications strategy document drawn up for Alpha Conde, the president of Guinea.

The document seen by The Telegraph offers a guide to Mr Conde on how to improve his government’s image following mass civil unrest in February and March 2013. Nine protesters died and hundreds were injured in clashes with government forces who were accused of quelling public unrest by firing on demonstrators with live ammunition.

In a document that might be seen as cynical and more probably replicates public relations techniques used in Downing Street than in West Africa, the strategy includes a timetable for talks with the opposition which Mr Blair and his team know are doomed to fail.

The strategy document provides insight into work undertaken by Mr Blair and his charity Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) in advising Guinea’s president. Mr Blair began working in Guinea in 2012, a year before violence gripped the country in the run-up to elections. His charity also advises Nigeria, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has also agreed a deal to work in Kenya.

The strategy document for Guinea’s “electoral situation” will raise questions about whether AGI has become too political by siding with the president and the ruling party.

In its vision statement, AGI calls itself as “an independent, politically neutral organisation and we never engage in ‘big P’ or party politics”. It adds: “But we do understand that all reform is political, and having the right technical answer is often not enough.”

Mr Blair has previously caused anger for advising Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic president of Kazakhstan, on how to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime in 2011.

In a letter to Mr Nazarbayev, Mr Blair told the Kazakh president the deaths of 14 protesters “tragic though they were, should not obscure the enormous progress” his country had made. Mr Blair is paid millions of pounds through one of his companies to advise the Kazakh regime.

Mr Blair’s involvement in Rwanda and his close friendship with Paul Kagame, the country’s president, has also attracted much criticism. Mr Kagame’s regime has killed and tortured opponents.

Mr Blair’s work in Guinea is funded by donations to his charity and grants from taxpayer-funded bodies such as USAid, the aid arm of the US government.

The document was written in March 2013 and was sent to Mr Conde’s son — also called Alpha Conde — by Shruti Mehrotra, who at the time was running AGI’s team in Guinea. Miss Mehrotra is now based in London at AGI’s head office.

In the email Miss Mehrotra confirmed the president had requested help from Mr Blair in defining a “communications strategy”.

The email includes a document which lays out how the president can win the public relations battle at a time when Guinea was facing mass unrest over forthcoming parliamentary elections. The elections were subsequently delayed by several months.

The strategy calls on Mr Conde to create a “new narrative” in which “we must be seen as the side that has always been open to the democratic process and dialogue”. The document goes on: “Communicating this new narrative … will be critical in ensuring that the president regains his democratic credentials … for what may be a rocky coming weeks and months.”

It adds: “Opposition marches triggered some of the worst violence seen in recent years in Guinea, leaving nine dead and over a hundred people injured in the latest estimates … We are losing the communications battle, in part because the government has remained largely silent over these past weeks.

“To the world outside of Guinea’s political classes, the situation looks rather complicated with the president being left to hold all responsibility for the impasse.”

The strategy lays out the “choreography” for a “day-by-day plan for communications” surrounding a timetable for talks that could allow the stalled election to go ahead.

It includes offering the opposition concessions to get the election moving which the document acknowledges will be rejected. “We then need to be able to rapidly respond to the rejection of this offer by the opposition and all that will come, protests and the like, in the days thereafter,” the strategy document states.

It advises on the “key lines” to take during the talks and adds: “We need to have a strong story coming out from the talks each day to demonstrate the momentum. This story will need to be prepped in advance every night.”

Guinea, despite being rich in minerals, has been dogged by years of misrule, but the election of Mr Conde in 2010 — the first properly democratic elections for some years — brought hope the West African country could enjoy stability and growth.

Mr Conde, 77, a political science professor who had spent decades in opposition, had been viewed as a reformer and is still seen in the international community as Guinea’s best hope.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) praised Mr Conde for addressing governance and human rights problems.

But its review, covering 2013, said security forces had been “implicated in numerous incidents of excessive use of lethal force and unprofessional conduct as they responded to the violent clashes between militants of opposing political parties”.

HRW added that the election, which took place in September and which was won by Mr Conde’s RPG party, was marred by irregularities.

An AGI spokesman said it was working in Guinea “to reduce poverty and improve people’s lives”.

Referring to the 2013 document, he said: “We advised the government on how to calm the situation to reduce the risk of violence and to get the delayed elections to happen.

“This is categorically not ‘big P’ political advice, it’s about the elections taking place peacefully, not who would win those elections.

“Guinea is a new democracy and the peaceful running of its elections was priority for the entire international community.”

Source: The Telegraph

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