It was always an open secret throughout the just-concluded campaigns that political parties had escalated their use of cyber space to reach out to voters.
From the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) that IEBC deployed for identification of voters and transmission of results, the parallel tallying centres by various political formations and candidates, to data company Cambridge Analytica whose links to the Jubilee campaigns has refused to go away, technology was at the heart of everything.
This was heightened on August 9 when Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga claimed that the polling agency’s software was hacked to manipulate the election results in favour of Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Hackers gained power to add or delete anything on the IEBC database... We are telling our people not to accept the results, stay calm as we get deep into this,” he said, adding that the presidential results IEBC was relaying were not factual but computer generated.
Besides the statement, the Nasa leadership produced a 50-page document which it claimed were logs from IEBC’s server to demonstrate the hacking claims.
From then on, the energy-sapping countrywide campaigns had turned into boardroom cyber fights as IEBC and Jubilee denied the Nasa hacking claims.
“We have seen attempts by some people to hack into our system but they did not succeed because we have invested heavily in surveillance system,” IEBC commissioner Yakub Guliye said on Thursday, a day after Nasa made the claims of hacking.
“There was attempt but there is no evidence of access. The alleged hacking is not on our system. Claims the system was hacked are not true,” he added.
After that, IEBC went loudly silent on the matter, with chairman Wafula Chebukati and Prof Guliye refusing to respond to the Nation’s queries about the time they discovered the ‘attempt’, what prompted IEBC to check their systems against possible hacking, the measures they took to secure their systems, how far the suspect had gone into the systems by the time IEBC discovered the attempted hacking, and whether they had in their possession any digital footprints of the alleged hacker.
No sooner had Nasa made the hacking claims than controversial analyst Mutahi Ngunyi took to the social media to refute the allegations.
“No to fake hacking. We need answers on how Raila gained access to IEBC,” he said. “Nasa has a mole in IEBC. He has no name. Now they want the mole to declare Raila President. Tyranny of lies,” Mr Ngunyi added.
In effect, the controversial analyst was saying that Nasa too had illegally accessed the IEBC servers either directly or through an IEBC insider, making the last leg of the political campaigns and elections a full-blown cyber fight.
By the time Mr Ngunyi was refuting the hacking claims, Nasa principal Musalia Mudavadi, who also chaired the campaign committee, came up with further claims pointing to escalation of cyber fights.
On Thursday, Mr Mudavadi said the alliance had “received further information from confidential IEBC sources furnishing us with the actual presidential election results contained in their database.”
“Evidently, the accurate and lawful results in the presidential election is the transmission received from the polling stations and contained in the IEBC servers and not the unverified displays,” Mr Mudavadi pointedly stated.
IT experts agree that while Kenyans were being treated to the intense campaigns, the role of cyberspace cannot be underestimated.
If anything, Nation columnist Sam Wambugu opines that it could only intensify from now onwards, especially in the next poll in 2022.
“The heated debates, lies and propaganda in cyberspace only leaves majority of tech-illiterate Kenyans confused or relying on lies that often cloud the messages from politicians.
I have no doubt that the next election will by far be won on cyber platforms. Voter education need to go hand in hand with technology literacy,” said Mr Wambugu.
Mr Wambugu further says that technology, especially the one employed in this election, is very complex.
“To many, it’s a black hole. It’s very tech-heavy for the less tech-savvy population. To the common man, when you add politics into technology, it becomes anything but understandable. Because of the difficulty in understanding technology, many people believe what their leaders tell them. If they say the system was hacked, many could swallow that — and the opposite is also true,” he said.
Furthermore, Mr Wambugu notes that the accusations and counter-accusations regarding the alleged hacking of technology is coming hot on the heels of Russia’s tampering with America’s last elections through use of cyber tools.
The alleged Russia tampering with the US 2016 elections has now thrust technology into the spotlight and is now a subject of ongoing investigations by various agencies, including a special counsel and two committees of the US Congress.
For Dr Shem Ochuodho, from a technological perspective, the results IEBC was relaying had “some gaps” that can only be solved through a bipartisan approach.
“It is hard to say whether the IEBC system was hacked... but the constant 11 per cent difference (between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga), from start to end, was unusual. It is not that it is impossible but it raises questions,” said Dr Ochuodho.
And so, even as the dust settles on the August 8 elections, with the IEBC yet to publish its report on the alleged hacking, the cyber fights that characterised these polls will likely become a major political talking point.