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Opposition fingers Cambridge Analytica in Kenya election hacking

Cambridge Analytica's offices in central London, 21 March 2018.
Cambridge Analytica's offices in central London, 21 March 2018. Photo: Reuters/Henry Nicholls

The main opposition party in Kenya has accused a controversial UK consultancy firm of being involved in alleged hacking that took place during the country’s elections last year. Cambridge Analytica was caught on camera boasting that it “staged” Kenya’s polls, saying that it was responsible for every element connected to the campaign for President Uhuru Kenyatta.


“They [Cambridge Analytica] were involved in the hacking of the results transmission system of the IEBC,” Norman Magaya, the chief executive officer of the NASA party, told RFI, referring to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Cambridge Analytica has been embroiled in scandal since the publication of an investigation into the harvesting of data from some 50 million Facebook users linked to US President Donald Trump 2016 election campaign.

“They provided the sophistication that Jubilee needed to beam in results into the IEBC system and manipulate the results declaration form,” Magaya said in a telephone interview.

Top management from Cambridge Analytica were featured in footage obtained by the UK’s Channel 4 News. Mark Turnbull, the consultancy firm’s managing director, was heard discussing its involvement in both the 2013 and 2017 elections for the ruling Jubilee party and its flag bearer Kenyatta.

"I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing - so just about every element of this candidate," Cambridge Analytica’s Turnbull said. "We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging," he said.

The Jubilee party has denied that Cambridge Analytica did anything more than provide advice on branding for the elections, according to the Reuters news agency. David Murathe, Jubilee’s vice-chairman, confirmed that SCL, an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, was paid for consultancy, but did not elaborate on the exact nature of that work.

Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled the country’s August polls over concerns about possible hacking, ordering a rerun that was boycotted by Raila Odinga, the NASA party leader. Ahead of the August vote, Chris Msando, the electoral commission’s IT chief, was found murdered.

“We have no reservation in our mind that if full disclosure is made then all these facts will be proven to be true,” Magaya said of his allegations linking Cambridge Analytica to the supposed Kenyan election hacking. Magaya did not provide further details of the evidence it has linking the British firm to the alleged Kenyan hacking.

Hillary Clinton, who lost against Trump in the 2016 elections, had also previously questioned the role of Cambridge Analytica in Kenya’s polls. Following the announcement by Kenya’s Supreme Court ordering the election re-run, Clinton told NPR in September that “the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica”.

“It’s a very, very dark day for our democracy,” said NASA official Magaya, calling for a full investigation into Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the elections.

Cambridge Analytica has described the Channel 4 News sting as “entrapment” and a “mischaracterisation” of the conversations that took place with the British media outlet’s undercover reporter. It said the discussions were intended to “tease out any unethical or illegal intentions”.

Kenya’s opposition NASA also accuse Cambridge Analytica of playing a role in a social media campaign described as “toxic”. A 90-second video published in July, just weeks before the August polls, depicts a post-apocalyptic Kenya in 2020.

The video describes NASA leader Odinga as “president for life”, having revoked the constitution, dissolved the parliament, fomented violence and declared martial law. It was unclear who was responsible for the video, although it was criticised at the time for its focus on ethnic loyalties, describing Odinga as being responsible for “whole tribes and communities” being removed from their homes.

“They employed toxic propaganda in a country with high ethnic tensions,” said NASA’s Magaya. “They’re part of the product of a divided nation as Kenya is today, according to the brief that Jubilee provided.”

The British consultancy firm said that use of social media was akin to any marketing agency – it was not directly addressing concerns about the Kenya election campaign.

“Cambridge Analytica uses social media platforms for placing paid advertisements and organic content,” it said in a statement. “Influencer marketing and building grassroots networks on social media are both common activities for a modern political campaign.”

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