14 April 2019

Kenya: Why Ipsos-Kenya Sacked Analyst Tom Wolf

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Sacked Ipsos analyst Tom Wolf says he is still in the dark over the exact reasons that led to his axing from the leading market research firm.

After more than a decade as the corporate face of Ipsos Kenya (previously Steadman and Synovate), this past Monday, Dr Wolf announced that his contract had been terminated effective March 31.

"This is as a result of the decision made by Ipsos in Paris that Ipsos-Kenya should not include 'political' survey results in its public releases for the foreseeable future ... on the basis of this decision, it was judged that my position as a research analyst had become redundant. I was therefore given notice, which took effect on March 31 this year. I am thus no longer associated with Ipsos," he had said in a statement.

REDUNDANT

In an interview, Dr Wolf said his sacking came as a surprise and no plausible reason has been given to him for the decision. But he admitted having been given several months' notice.

"I can tell you that I have never received from Ipsos in writing or even verbally any major criticism of my work. On the contrary, it was often praised, by both local and global Ipsos management. However, on several occasions, we were advised that we were releasing 'too much' information to the media at a time thus swamping them with data, and that my presentations to the media were at times 'too academic'.

"I am not saying my work is perfect, not at all. But no one ever questioned the core of what we were doing," he said.

Dr Wolf's sacking and the apparent shift in policy by Ipsos with regard to political surveys in Kenya has caused consternation as to what could have led to such a shift.

ACCUSATIONS

But Ipsos Kenya CEO Aggrey Oriwo told the Sunday Nation there is no change in policy that he is aware of.

"Ipsos has no intention of disengaging from political polling in Kenya. We will get back to tracking voter's intention as we get closer to the next election. We do a lot of polling in Kenya on many issues. As always, we will continue to release it to the media on a regular basis," Mr Oriwo said.

Two years ago, the government of Egypt ordered Ipsos' office in Cairo closed amid criticism from pro-government talk show hosts and state-aligned newspapers for "sympathising with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, links to foreign intelligence agencies, labour law violations, and tax evasion, all of which it denies," Reuters reported in July 2017.

The sacking of Dr Wolf came after an unusually long period during which none of its national household surveys have been released.

POLLING PERIOD

Ipsos Kenya last released its survey data on September 19, 2018, some seven months ago.

"All I can say is that Ipsos was known for doing three to four surveys per year and releasing some of the results to the public through the media, while other results were client-privileged. But I am not revealing anything confidential when I say that this recent period is the longest without any such release since I started working for Steadman in 2005," Dr Wolf said.

But Mr Oriwo rejected reports that the firm's global headquarters has been embargoing survey results and blocking their release.

"This report is false. We have a central polling group that supports our polling worldwide. The decisions about how and when we do political polling in Kenya is ultimately made in Kenya with global support and oversight. The decision about what polling is released is made cooperatively by our Kenya and global polling team," he said.

REWARD

Mr Oriwo also said he was not at liberty to discuss Dr Wolf's exit from the polling firm.

"As for Dr Wolf, this is a private matter and we do not discuss staff/personnel issues in the media," he said.

Dr Wolf also questioned Ipsos' silence on his sacking though he was "a fairly well-known figure" and for many years the public face of Ipsos in Kenya.

"Ipsos' silence and my departure from work have made me extremely sad. Granted, it has given me a useful income and I have to enjoy being in the limelight somewhat. After teaching in high school at the Coast in the 1960s and later at the University of Nairobi, I find it quite stimulating to stand before journalists during our briefing and helping them to analyse survey results, and as you know, I also often privately complain to them when I feel their published interpretations are incorrect," he said.

"I have also found participation in various TV and radio interviews and panel discussions most challenging in a positive way."

STATEMENT

Failure by Ipsos to announce his exit, he says, is what prompted him to issue a statement.

"The main reason I issued a statement to the media about my departure was that Ipsos was silent and I already had been out of work for over a week. Mind you, there was no discussion with me before I left as to how to make this public.

"In the absence of any guidance as to what the company was going to do, given that I have become a fairly well-known figure, I thought it was proper for me to tell the public. Even my colleagues in the office were unaware of what had happened until I issued my statement," he said.

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