21 March 2018

Kenya: Cambridge Analytica Ruffles Feathers With 2017 Poll Claims

Photo: Daily Nation
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati (left) presents Deputy President William Ruto with a certificate after Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner of the presidential election, at the Bomas of Kenya on October 30, 2017.

While all along Jubilee Party had denied that Cambridge Analytica had worked in the shadows during its presidential campaigns, it only took an undercover British reporter to unmask the truth - or better still, muddy the waters.

The Jubilee Party Tuesday dismissed the controversial data mining company's claims that they had secretly worked for President Uhuru Kenyatta's political vehicle in the last elections.

"These things, the whole thing with Cambridge Analytica, don't you think it is just far-fetched? It is very far-fetched," Mr Raphael Tuju told the Nation by phone.

BRANDING

But speaking to Reuters, party vice-chairman David Murathe said that Jubilee had paid SCL, an affiliate of consultancy Cambridge Analytica, for "branding" in the 2017 presidential election.

"They were basically branding and all that but not directly," he said, contradicting the Secretary-General.

Cambridge Analytica is on the spotlight after its officials told an undercover reporter that they use prostitutes, spies and fake news to help clients.

They have also been accused of mining online data and individual "psychometric" profiles, which the firm used to personalise political messages to communicate with both undecided voters and reach out to a candidate's supporters.

Whether they were behind what Channel 4 called "apocalyptic videos" that appeared to cast National Super Alliance candidate Raila Odinga negatively during the campaigns is not clear.

OUTCOME

But the British media outlet says although Cambridge Analytica denied having a role on that specific online messaging, they boasted of having influenced the outcome of the elections.

While "pitching" for a pseudo-business in Sri Lanka - without knowing these were Channel 4 undercover reports - the Cambridge Analytica officials gave the example of the "Kenyatta campaign which we ran in 2013 and 2017... We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto, done two rounds of 50,000 surveys - huge amounts of research, analyses, (and) messaging."

Holding a laptop, with the image of both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto addressing a rally visible, the Cambridge Analytica executive Mark Turnbull added: "Then we'd write all the speeches and we'd stage the whole thing; so just every element of his (Kenyatta) campaign."

But yesterday, the Jubilee Party secretary general posed: "Tell me, what speech needed to be made, or fixing needed, to convince our supporters in our stronghold in Bomet, or Kiambu for example; what speech?"

CLAIMS

"The only thing I can say is that sometimes when consultants are looking for jobs (as was depicted in the investigation), they will make certain claims of who they have helped even if they were with you for only five seconds," he said.

Partly owned by the Mercer family, Cambridge Analytica has been on the spotlight ever since hedge-fund father-daughter billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer got entangled in the Donald Trump campaign.

As financiers, too, of the populist website Breitbert run by Steve Bannon - who was Trump's Chief Strategist - they were accused of financing a company that used controversial methods now linked to both the Brexit vote in the UK and the Trump election in the US.

At the moment, there are several investigators checking the scope of Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election and if any of its campaign managers had links with Moscow during the Trump campaigns.

TNA

While they are known to have worked with The National Alliance (TNA) party during the 2013 campaigns - and they said as much on their website - little is known on the kind of work they did in last year's elections.

But did Cambridge Analytica meet the Jubilee Party on or during the campaigns? Did they even reach out to them, or through their partners? Mr Tuju's answer was an emphatic "no."

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau has attacked the New York Times and the Financial Times for being "biased" against Kenya in their reporting.

Mr Kamau, until this month Kenya's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York since 2011, claims the two influential newspapers regularly depict Kenya as a dangerous place to live in.

"To my curious delight and with interesting regularity there was a constant feed of articles on Kenya. To my dismay, almost inevitably, the story was horribly negative, woefully biased and sadly misguiding if not entirely misinforming its readers," Mr Kamau writes in a letter to editors of the New YorkTimes, Financial Times and Reuters.

The letter was also copied to Nation.

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