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How Jubilee reaped poll wins from ties with Cambridge Analytica

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VINCENT ACHUKA

By VINCENT ACHUKA
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On the morning of July 8, 2016, Mark Turnbull, who had just been hired as the managing director of the non-US political division of controversial data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, landed at the JFK Airport in New York and immediately saw the dozens of e-mails waiting in his inbox.

As he scrolled through them on his iPhone, one particular e-mail from Director of Sales Robert Murtfeld needed his immediate attention.

Cambridge Analytica, which was also working for then Republican candidate Donald Trump in 2016, had been given 25 seats at a summit organised by Concordia, an American non-profit organisation in the US.

Having quickly sensed a chance to make more money, the company decided to invite some of its potential clients to the summit to showcase its work on how to use data and technology to win elections.

And they picked President Uhuru Kenyatta.

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“I gather Alexander has already reached out to Uhuru Kenyatta, Horacio Larreta and others to begin that process,” Mr Turnbull responded to Mr Mutfeld.

“Identify and invite a wider list of prospective clients to the event. Electoral candidates up to two years out, which Brittany, you and I can work through,” he said.

The British-educated American citizen Brittany Kaisser mentioned in that e-mail was the Business Development Director for Cambridge Analytica who, it is now emerging, played a key role in the election of President Kenyatta both in 2013 and 2017.

A proposal sent by the company to the Jubilee Party for the 2017 elections by Alexander Nix shows that they expected to be paid Sh328 million for their services.

Mr Nix, a British Citizen and head of Cambridge Analytica, was at the fulcrum of operations. He and others may have met with President Kenyatta a number of times in the run-up to both elections as a consultant for the Jubilee party.

And although the Sunday Nation has since established that President Kenyatta never attended the summit in New York, it demonstrates the connections the company had in Kenya.

The revelations, which are contained in communication between the company and Jubilee, also details how the controversial company helped transform what was an unknown party into a movement that controversially won two elections through research, data analytics and psychographic profiling of voters.

In fact, there is a high likelihood that Cambridge Analytica was already operating in Kenya all along from the time Mr Kenyatta decided to ditch Kanu where he was a party leader and launch The National Alliance (TNA).

TNA was launched with a lot of pomp and fanfare on May 20, 2012 and propelled itself to fame as a youth-driven movement that would usher in a fresh Kenya with its famous ‘I believe’ slogan and five core values of peace, freedom, togetherness, possibilities and prosperity.

During its launch at the Kenyatta International Convectional Centre (KICC), Mr Kenyatta who was then a deputy Prime Minister cut the image of a tech-savvy individual even reading his speech from a teleprompter.

“Our ship has set sail today and passed the storm. We shall sail to the Promised Land. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not Uhuru’s alliance, this is your alliance,” said Mr Kenyatta to a thundering crowd waving red flags that only comprised the youth including party chair Johnstone Sakaja who was only 28 at that time.

What many Kenyans do not know is that for months before that launch, Cambridge Analytica had done a lot of research in order to create what a sellable party and ideals would look like.

A total of 47,000 interviews were done in all counties about the political views of Kenyans, economic management by the Kibaki government, trust of political leaders especially Mr Kenyatta and the International Criminal Court (ICC)

What the research revealed about what Kenyans thought about the ICC at that time is something we may never know.

The ICC factor however played a key role in the 2013 elections after Mr Kenyatta decided to team up with fellow inductee and then Eldoret North MP William Ruto and managed to mobilise a Kikuyu-Kalenjin alliance through Jubilee.

Before its downfall in 2018 after a worldwide outcry on its mode of operations, Cambridge Analytica employed dirty political tricks for its clients including hacking into Facebook accounts, sowing tribal discord and fake news.

While investigative agencies and lawmakers in the US and UK have scrutinised the company’s work and even punished it leading to its closure in 2018 over data breaches and privacy regulations, nothing has been forthcoming from any of the African countries where it played a role, including Kenya.

“I looked into what we did in Kenya and the good news is it seems like we basically did the entire campaign from extremely comprehensive research down to campaign T-shirts, so we could definitely provide similar services in Ethiopia,” Mr Harris Macleod, a senior communications manager in the company would later tell Ms Kaiser in an e-mail on December 7, 2014.

Among the roles the company says it played for Jubilee was creating its entire campaign theme, development of a manifesto, party policies, media strategy, setting up of a website, monthly polling and organisation of campaign events. All these were based on what was likely to move voters.

“Overcoming this challenge requires knowledge of what the population cares about and how they think, an understanding of how to communicate with them and the infrastructure required to ensure that your messages reach your audience and change their attitudes and behaviour,” proposed the company to Jubilee.

It is worth noting that some of the most ambitious promises in the Jubilee manifesto in 2013 like laptops, irrigation projects, stadiums, creation of two million jobs a year, 10,000 kilometres of roads per year proved difficult to achieve due to resource constraints.

The Big Four agenda, which was introduced in the 2017 elections, is also in jeopardy as the government is broke.

Jubilee initially denied ever working with the disgraced British firm but recently made an about turn and said it has nothing to apologise for.

“At the end of the day, it is the candidate who wins an election and not the consultant, whatever credit for the success such experts may want to claim in their CVs as a marketing pitch for the next job,” Secretary General Raphael Tuju told the Sunday Nation in a past interview.

The opposition too, led by Raila Odinga initially mounted a campaign to have Cambridge Analytica investigated over its role in the 2017 elections after an expose by British media house Channel 4 in early 2018 but shut up after the handshake.

After the success of the 2013 election of President Kenyatta, Cambridge Analytica barely waited for the dust to settle before it came back to Kenya seeking another contract for the 2017 elections.

By this time, ODM which had declined to allow the company to work for them in 2013 wanted in but their advances were flatly refused.

Cambridge stuck with the Jubilee camp for the 2017 polls.

The 2017 poll was marred by misinformation as fake news was spread across the country via the Internet. President Kenyatta’s opponent, Raila Odinga, was smeared with a series of viral videos, including one notoriously depicting apocalyptic scenes if he won.

“A majority of Kenya’s electorate chose the Jubilee Alliance in 2013, but voters have short memories and while the 2017 election may seem far off, now is the time to begin building towards a second historic victory,” Cambridge Analytica wrote in a proposal to Jubilee in 2015.

“Though it remains unclear at present whether the Jubilee should be proceeding as a coalition or if it should coalesce into a formal party, the national survey will provide guidance on how to proceed and the organisational capacity audit will enable the design of a comprehensive plan to turn the organisation into an effective campaign machine,” proposed the company.

As outlined in the proposal, Jubilee did fold into one party shortly before the 2017 elections.

The decision has however come to back to haunt the party with two factions- Tangatanga allied to DP Ruto and Kieleweke which is allied to President Kenyatta emerging.

Saturday, one of Dr Ruto’s online brigade Dennis Itumbi was forced to clarify that the Deputy President was not planning to quit Jubilee.

“All parties signed a sunrise clause of 10 years – URP can only return in 2027,” tweeted Mr Itumbi.

Other proposals which Cambridge Analytica made to Jubilee include the controversial membership cards, strengthening of organisational capacity from the grassroots upwards, poll tracking, campaign management, digital communication and conduct of a perception survey.

“A stronger party organisation means stronger messaging to voters, stronger engagement campaigns at election time and can translate into stronger support from the public,” proposed the company in a document dubbed ‘The Path to 2017′.

Cambridge Analytica’s role in his campaign was supposed to be so discreet that officials from the company were warned against speaking about Kenya in any marketing event.

“Robert, you must remember we cannot talk about our work in Kenya to other Kenyans or people who could get this back to them …. If it got back to the Kenyatta team that we were telling others about our work, it would potentially endanger one of our biggest contracts,” Ms Kaiser wrote to Mr Mutfeld on April 13, 2016.

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