How Cambridge Analytica stage-managed Uhuru’s campaigns

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto addressing residents of Nyahururu in  2017 during a campaign rally . [File, Standard]
Cambridge Analytica, the UK political consultancy at the centre of Facebook’s election manipulation scandal, ran the campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections, according to video secretly recorded and broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News on Monday.

The company denied all allegations made by Channel 4 News regarding its business practices.

The news channel said it mounted a “sting operation” in which it said had secretly recorded top Cambridge Analytica executives saying they could use bribes, former spies and Ukrainian sex workers to entrap politicians around the world.

The New York Times and the British Observer newspaper reported on Saturday that Cambridge Analytica had acquired private data harvested from more than 50 million Facebook users to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

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Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told Channel 4’s undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns to run the East African nation.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing - so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s political party, known as the National Alliance until 2016, and subsequently as the Jubilee Party.

Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating opposition leader Raila Odinga by 1.4 million votes. The Supreme Court nullified the vote citing procedural irregularities and ordered a second election.

Last September, former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called the second election a “project” of Cambridge Analytica. The Jubilee Party has not commented.

Odinga did not contest the repeat vote on Oct. 26, saying it would be unfair because the election commission had failed to implement reforms and Kenyatta won with 98 percent of the vote.

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At a prior meeting, Turnbull told the reporters: “Our job is to really drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else to understand what are these really deep-seated fears, concerns. “It is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually it is all about emotion.”

Cambridge Analytica officials were recorded saying they have used a web of shell companies to disguise their activities in elections in Mexico, Malaysia and Brazil, among various countries where they have worked to sway election outcomes.

Chief Executive Alexander Nix is recorded boasting: “We are not only the largest and most significant political consultancy in the world but we have the most established track record. We need to operate through different vehicles, in the shadows.”

“I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you,” he tells the reporters.

Cambridge Analytica denied all allegations made by Channel 4 News regarding its business practices. The company said in statement it was humoring the undercover reporters and trying to gauge their motives by actively encouraging them, “to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions”.

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Channel 4 noted that their last meeting with Cambridge Analytica had taken place in January at a London hotel and that company employees had continued to email them seeking to strike a deal to work on a Sri Lankan campaign up until recently.

Cambridge Analytica acknowledged in a statement that, its CEO had “misjudged the situation”. Nix said: “I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.”

Cambridge AnalyticaFacebookUhuru KenyattaKenyan elections