1,133 is not just a number

Cambridge Analytica’s work in Kenya

Lies, confusion and psychological warfare are Cambridge Analytica’s tools of trade

27 March 2018 - 08:03

By Never Again

Lying, sowing confusion and using psychological manipulation are the confessed stock-in-trade of a British company to deliver victory in polluted elections.

Besides boasting about its involvement in political campaigns in Kenya and the United States last year and in 2016, respectively, Cambridge Analytica officials have also confessed that they encouraged their clients to appeal to raw emotions and not facts to sway voters.

Attention is focused on how Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of military contractor Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), improperly used data secretly mined from Facebook to influence voting. America and Britain are in the grip of panic over the role Cambridge Analytica’s unsavoury methods played in determining recent the outcomes of the presidential election and the vote to leave the European Union, respectively.

Britain's Channel 4’s three-part expose reveals how senior Cambridge Analytica officials privately bragged to potential clients about the firm’s role in helping Kenya’s ruling party (Jubilee) to take and retain power in presidential elections in 2013 and 2017. "We'd stage the whole thing," was how CA Managing Director Mark Turnbull summed up the firm’s role in Kenya’s elections.

Unprecedented levels of misinformation and ethnically tinged propaganda characterised Kenya’s hotly contested 2017 presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix admits in the Channel 4 exposé that the firm has had no qualms about helping clients lie to voters. "It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don't necessarily need to be true, as long as they're believed," he said.

Propaganda in a country like Kenya, unlike in America and Britain, has life and death consequences. The fake news machine is an accelerator for tribal hostilities. Every lie is a potential trigger. Election-related violence in 2017 claimed the lives of more than 100 Kenyans, among them 7 minors.

In the Channel 4 exposé, a senior Cambridge Analytica official brags that the firm “ghosts in and out” of elections without leaving any fingerprints because they use subcontractors. The firm clearly invests a lot of resources in hiding behind quasi-independent entities that lend it plausible deniability. These are not the actions of a firm with nothing to hide.

Cambridge Analytica has a right to work for whom they choose. However,  if the firm broke any laws or crossed any ethical boundaries to secure victory for its local clients, Kenyans deserve to know about it.

UK information minister Elizabeth Denham has sought a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica’s databases and servers. If Cambridge Analytica used data secretly mined from Facebook to bamboozle voters in the US, then the odds are they did it in Kenya, too. Just like voters in the US and Britain, Kenyans too deserve to know if military-grade psychological techniques were used to manipulate them.  

Bell Pottinger, the disgraced British public relations firm, paid a steep price for attempting to use a racially charged campaign to help a beleaguered South African client. If Cambridge Analytica has in any way used Kenya’s long struggle with ethnic divisions to give its clients an electoral edge, then it must surely face some consequences. 

Journalists For Justice (JFJ) has been at the forefront of demanding accountability for those killed in election-related violence. If Cambridge Analytica played any role in creating the climate of mistrust and hate that engulfed Kenya circa July 2017, then they shouldn’t be allowed to slink off and repeat the same dark tactics in another country. Authorities in the UK have an opportunity to show that their swift action against Bell Pottinger wasn’t a one-off. They shouldn’t waste it.

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