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How Somalia is trying to Stifle Somaliland – US ties with an Online Troll and a pseudo-Charitable Organization

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In FebruaryJune, and  August 2022, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten filed Lobby Disclosure Act and Foreign Agent Registration Act forms to lobby on behalf of the Federal Government of Somalia, the Somali Embassy in Washington DC, and the United Somali Alliance to prevent the US government’s engagement with Somaliland as a separate entity and the possibility of a military base in Berbera.

Mr. Okeke-Von Batten whose actual name is Dr. Karl-Marx Edward Ikemefuna William George OkekeVon Batten but goes by Karl Von Batten has rather limited clients that do not match his outsized bravado on social media where he claims to influence Capitol Hill on matters on Somaliland and the United States. Mr. Okeke-Von Batten has repeatedly claimed that he has blocked multiple bills in the US Congress including the Somaliland Partnership Act.

Before establishing his lobbying firm, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten tried his hand at other ventures including the now-shuttered Health Informatics Corporation.

Mr. Okeke-Von Batten’s lobbying firm VONBATTEN-MONTAGUE-YORK L.C. was established on October 13, 2020, as an LLC and so far seems to have booked a very limited number of clients including his firm which filed Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) before the United States government announced that Ethiopia is kicked out of AGOA, Mr. Okeke immediately claimed that the act was his doing on social media although his filing was months after the decision was already made by the United States government.

Mr. Okeke-Von Batten initially filed a Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) registration for the United Somali Alliance of the USA on February 4. Four months later, he registered with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia on June 22 with a one-week contract and payment terms of $1. In addition, he filed an LDA registration for the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia on the same day. LDA registrations require less disclosure than the Justice department’s FARA registrations, but anyone working at the direction of a foreign government is legally required to report their activities to the Department of Justice through established FARA procedures.

However, there are no FARA filings for the United Somali Alliance whose goals seem to align perfectly with that of the Somali Government which Mr. Okeke-Von Batten represents.

On paper, the United Somali Alliance is a run-of-the-mill tax-exempt organization based out of Minneapolis but is working with Mr. Okeke-Von Batten and the Somali Embassy in Washington DC in a coordinated effort to thwart potential bilateral ties between Somaliland and the United States.

All indications are that United Somali Alliance is operating at the direction of the Somali Embassy in Washington DC and the Somali government – as many of the below social media posts suggest – undertaking these activities without having registered under FARA may constitute a violation of federal law. And if Mr. Okeke-Von Batten is operating at the direction of the Somali government – either directly or through the United Somali Alliance as many of their shared social media posts also suggest – undertaking these activities without having reported his current relationship and their nature with the Somali government, a foreign entity, may also constitute a violation of federal law.

United Somalia Alliance, established on January 26, 2022, and registered as a 501c3 [EIN: 87-4659308] is a tax-exempt charitable organization with a combined reported income of $50,000 or less, and according to the IRS, an organization of this type is strictly prohibited from engaging in any political activity and especially any activity that influences legislation, and hiring Mr. Okeke-Von Batten to engage in lobbying activities on their behalf in the US Senate, possibly under the direct influence of the Embassy of Somalia and the Somalia government may be a direct violation of the basic principle of a tax-exempt 501c3 organization.

According to the Internal Service Revenue’s website “Nonprofit organizations that qualify for federal income tax exemption as public charities under Section 501(c)(3) of the Code are subject to heightened restrictions on lobbying and political activities. Carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation may not constitute a “substantial part” of the activities of an organization exempt under Section 501(c)(3); exceeding the “substantial part” limit places an organization at risk of losing its exempt status.”

From United Somalia Alliance’s social media accounts, it is clear that this organization works directly with the Somali government and is investing a significant amount of its energy in slandering Somaliland, and from their Facebook page, where most posts are in Somali, it is clear that United Somali Alliance is not only extremely political but is campaigning to destabilize Somaliland with toxic tribal rhetoric.

Before Mr. Okeke-Von Batten went to work for Somalia, he wrote an eight-page proposal to seek a lobbying gig from Somalia’s neighbor – The Republic of Somaliland.

On July 25th, 2021 Mr. Okeke-Von Batten prepared an 8th-page report outlining his plan to get Somaliland noticed in the hall of American power and stated in writing that “A stable democracy, Somaliland contrasts dramatically with Somalia, which perpetually teeters on the brink of state failure.

In his pitch, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten claimed to use sophisticated and state-of-the-art sentiment analysis and data mining methods similar to what was used by President Obama in his 2012 election campaign to get members of Congress to change their perception of Somaliland.

In the Strategic PR and Lobbying Campaign section of the document, he wrote “It is also essential to build concrete support for the US to provide direct political, financial, and humanitarian assistance to Somaliland and to include Somaliland in preferred US trade agreements such as trading opportunities as authorized by the African Growth and Opportunity Act.” AGOA or the African Growth and Opportunity Act seems to be Mr. Okeke-Von Batten’s go-to for anyone he seeks to represent.

We have reached out to Mr. Okeke-Von Batten for this report and asked him about his document on how he can bring Somaliland the attention it deserves among other things and asked him “Regarding Somaliland, in your pitch document, you wrote “A stable democracy, Somaliland contrasts dramatically with Somalia, which perpetually teeters on the brink of state failure.” and now you call a secessionist region of Somalia, what changed? And could your current sentiment on Somaliland have anything to do with the fact that Somaliland did not accept your offer to represent it?”  he responded as follows:

“When we were approached to represent Somaliland a few years ago, we, as with key members of Congress, were only aware of the positive image Somaliland had presented to the world. An image that was soon changed after we received in-depth briefings about Somaliland’s human rights violations and the effects an illegal Somaliland break away from Somalia would have on the stability of the Horn of Africa. Then we spoke to our friends at the African Union and decided to no longer consider representing Somaliland. All this and more were made known to our Somali clients before they hired us. They were fully informed of our past discussion with Somaliland representatives and our decision not to proceed with Somaliland.”

Officials from Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development dismiss that Mr. Okeke-Von Batten was approached by the government of Somaliland, one official who did not want to speak on the record stated “The Republic of Somaliland has all the resources it needs in the United States, a global player which sees its interests, particularly national security, align with ours, and we are very careful in choosing who we partner with in these sensitive matters. I can tell you with certainty that Somaliland has not approached this individual, and he can produce evidence to the contrary, but judging from what he puts out to the world and his weak moral fiber, he is definitely not the type of person we would associate with.”

Although Somaliland has its share of mishaps like all emerging democracies, it is interesting to note the contrast that Mr. Okeke-Von Batten in his report between Somaliland and Somalia by writing: “A stable democracy, Somaliland contrasts dramatically with Somalia, which perpetually teeters on the brink of state failure”. Others, including Freedom House, agree.

On morality and being well informed, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten who mainly relies on United Somali Alliance and the Somali Embassy in Washington, D.C, and perhaps social media to dredge up negative news about Somaliland, seems to have completely missed the war criminal known as Tuke working with his employer whose atrocities against the people of Somaliland are well documented.

When asked about Mr. Tuke, Mr Okeke-Von Batten stated “My partners and I have never met the noted person. Please report your claim to the proper authorities. You can find the number of the Department of Justice on their website. Nevertheless, thank you for informing me about the noted person. I will make sure (if your claims are proven correct) we do not sign on to represent this individual.”

Despite behaving like an online troll, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten projects an image of a sophisticated man with deep connections on Capitol Hill and in the Whitehouse, but outside of social media, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten is virtually unheard of especially on the Capitol Hill. Several Congressional staffers we asked about Mr. Okeke-Von Batten stated that they have never heard of Mr. Okeke-Von Batten.

On Twitter, Mr. Okeke-Von Batten’s firm is followed by a respectable 40,235 followers, but less than 300 list their location as the greater Washington, D.C region. While this does not include those who may live in the Washington, DC area but do not report this on their Twitter profiles, this relatively small number—along with the small number of retweets Von Batten’s posts generate—suggests that his social media messages have very little reach among U.S. policy influencers and audiences. Despite tagging notable policymakers and news outlets, these tweets do not receive engagement from government officials, Members of Congress, think tank experts, or the media, the firm’s Twitter activity is not acknowledged or responded to by relevant individuals in the Washington, DC stakeholder community among which Mr. Okeke-Von Batten claims to be a prominent member.

On this point, we asked Mr. Okeke-Von Batten “Unlike other lobbying firms which exercise a great deal of discretion on the work they perform on their client’s behalf and charge a lot more than your firm, you frequently boast about blocking bills about Somaliland and being part of getting Ethiopia off AGOA, are you really that influential or simply trying to build a business by trolling Somaliland on Twitter?” and he responded “We are a very small firm and only take cases we believe in. This means we work 24/7 to ensure that our client’s interests are protected and that our clients’ concerns are known to the public. We fight tooth and nail in Congress and the White House to ensure our clients win. That is why they hire us” and ended with a bizarre line that thanked Somalilanders as their attack makes him more popular. 

Although some Somalilanders perceive the current President of Somalia, Mr. Hassan Sh. Mohamoud is laissez-faire compared to his predecessor Mr. Farmajo who viewed Somaliland through a hostile lenses that harkens back to the days of Dictator Barre, what is clear is that Somalia Federal Government is staying the course and is prioritizing the diplomatic war of the Republic of Somaliland over pressing matters at home that require its full attention through surrogates in diaspora such as United Somali Alliance and by Mr. Karl-Marx Okeke-Von Batten.

Mr. Hassan Sh Mahamoud has been much more conciliatory at least in tone towards Somaliland, and at some point, while running for President has even apologized to the people of Somaliland for the atrocities committed by the dictatorial regime of Mohamed Said Barre which massacred tens of thousands of civilians and leveled all major cities in present-day Somaliland, a regime that employed war criminals such as Tuke who is currently employed by the Somali Embassy in Washington DC, but in a hypocritical 180 degrees, President Hassan Sh. Mohamoud, speaking to a gathering of Somali diaspora during his visit to the United States, reaffirmed his opposition to an independent Somaliland, essentially committing to the course charted by his predecessor to bring as much diplomatic muscle down on Somaliland.

The Somali government which has consistently ranked as one of poorest and the most corrupt governments in the world may not be getting the intended return on investment in Mr. Okeke-Von Batten’s services as United States policy towards Somaliland is driven by the geostrategic security interest that looks decades into the future, and legislators on Capitol Hill have their research institutions and policy experts augmented by the most accurate information distilled from sophisticated intelligence networks and do not rely on things tweeted at them on social media.

It is important to note that Somalia is reliant entirely on donors which the United States pays the majority share, funds that come from taxpayers and are intended to stabilize a war-torn country, feed a hungry population suffering from the compounding effect of Al-Shabaab and drought so it is worth asking if the source of the funding are coming from donor funds, diaspora such as United Somali Alliance or the People’s Republic of China which sees Somaliland’s bilateral ties as a precursor to what Mr. Okeke-Von Batten was hired to prevent.

Mr. Okeke-Von Batton has accepted his fate and the futility of his effort with his almost incoherent reply to the recent tweet from Senator Risch’s office, in which he showed gratitude to Somaliland for its friendship. He expresses shock and states that the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Committee does not speak for the United States and that he and his backers will keep opposing the inevitable with all his might. An amazing display of self-aggrandizement that Mr. Okeke-Von Batten fancies himself more powerful than the Ranking Member of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

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