By Aaron Brooks
Cambridge Analytica, the data firm accused of influencing the 2016 Brexit referendum and US presidential election results, has been implicated in Kenya’s election troubles last year.
In an undercover video broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News, Cambridge Analytica executive Mark Turnbull says the company twice rebranded President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party using surveys and Facebook data – first during the country’s 2013 presidential election and then in last year’s double poll.
Turning data into political messages
Using data acquired from Kenyan voters via Facebook and targeted surveys, Cambridge Analytica was able to craft political messages based on voters’ hopes and fears in the run-up to Kenya’s two latest elections. This included targeted SMS messages sent to individual phone owners, suggesting the company was able to link Kenyans’ social media data with telephone numbers and voter registration details.
Moses Karanja is a researcher working on a project at Nairobi’s Strathmore Law School about the use of social media and misinformation during the presidential election. He has expressed his concerns about the latest revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica.
“We don’t know how they accessed this data, or how it all ended up being linked to phone numbers and such,” Mr Karanja said. “For me that’s scary. Those are questions those platforms should answer.”
Calls for investigation into Cambridge Analytica role
Kenya’s main opposition group, National Super Alliance (Nasa), is demanding a full investigation into the role of Cambridge Analytica in last year’s election. The coalition accuses the UK data firm and the ruling party of trying to “subvert the people’s will” a matter of weeks after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa leader Raila Odinga vowed to put their political differences aside.
The full extent of Cambridge Analytica’s role in Kenya’s election is yet to be confirmed but Mark Turnbull suggests the company was pivotal in the Jubilee Party’s campaigns for 2013 and 2017.
“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging,” he said in the video aired by Channel 4. “I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate.”