Uproar over Uhuru campaign agency's election tricks

Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. [Photo: Reuters]

A British election consultancy firm preyed on Kenyans' fear of ethnic violence and joblessness to help President Uhuru Kenyatta win the August 2017 poll.

According to a video secretly recorded and broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News on Monday, Cambridge Analytica (CA), a data analytics firm, deployed psychological manipulation to influence voters in both the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.

The company has denied the claims.

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

In Kenya, Cambridge Analytica interviewed 47,000 people to assess Kenyans' fears, then used the information to engineer an online media onslaught against Uhuru's opponents.

The firm worked with a local research partner to deliver results for Uhuru in 2013 and then replicated the strategy in the 2017 polls.

Political research

Explaining how it worked in Kenya, the officials said that ahead of the 2013 presidential election, the firm designed and implemented the largest political research project in East Africa.

It sampled and interviewed 47,000 people in a three-month nationwide data collection exercise.

From this process, it drafted what it described as an effective campaign strategy based on the electorate’s need for jobs and fear of tribal violence.

“The 2013 Kenyan election was the first national election to be held after the electoral violence of 2008,” Cambridge Analytica said in a brief.  

“It was also the first election held under Kenya’s new Constitution, which redrew Kenya’s constituency boundaries and brought in new electoral requirements,” said the statement, published on its website.

Cambridge Analytica said it was contracted by a leading Kenyan political party to conduct the large-scale research project.

“The aim was to provide the party with a comprehensive plan to shape its election strategy,” the firm said.

It worked with a local research partner to train a team of enumerators to ensure regional variations in language and social customs were respected during data collection.

“Having designed the research methodology and sampling approach, and finalised the questionnaire, CA piloted the survey to a small sample of respondents. This determined that our research tool was fit for use across a national research sample," the firm stated.

Following the data analysis, the firm said the research gave Uhuru's campaign a profile of the Kenyan electorate, including key national and local political issues, levels of trust in key politicians, voting behaviour and intentions, and preferred information channels.

Cambridge Analytica said its analysis also segmented the country's population into key target audiences.

Under-utilised youth

“Of the audiences identified, our work highlighted that the youth cohort were an under-utilised party asset that could be highly influential if mobilised,” the brief said.

To connect with this audience, CA’s communications and strategy team devised an online social media campaign to generate a hugely active online following. 

A global privacy protection organisation, Privacy International, has suggested that the data analytics firm was paid Sh600 million ($6 million) for three months work in the 2017 election.

In an expose run by Channel 4 this week, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica, admitted that his firm secretly stage-managed Uhuru's election.  

“I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing - so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said.

The CA executive boasts that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), have worked in more than 200 elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India, and Argentina.

“It’s no good fighting an election campaigns on facts… because actually it’s all about emotion,” the executive is heard saying in the clip.

Last year, reports emerged linking the firm to a toxic online campaign targeting National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga titled Stop Raila Save Kenya…….The Future of Kenya is in Your Hands.

Leaked memo

Earlier, a leaked memo spoke of plans to run an on-line campaign to portray NASA as violent.

The memo also suggested emotional manipulation of Jubilee Party supporters to ensure they turned up to vote.

CA dismissed the memo as a fabrication.

Yesterday National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale dismissed the claims of the firm's involvement in the 2013 and 2017 elections as 'hogwash' and 'lacking substance'. 

“Those claims are just hogwash. We went out to every village and town in this country, we sold our agenda of development, we merged our parties and campaigned on the platform of unity and development, the people of Kenya gave us victory,” Mr Duale said.

Duale argued that most voters did not rely on the internet and social media enough to make political decisions during elections.

“Less than 4 per cent have access to the internet. The so-called Cambridge Analytical had no bearing on our victory. We campaigned hard and won fair and square,” he said.

Jubilee's secretary general, Raphael Tuju, termed the reports as 'speculation', saying the party did not wish to comment further.