alexa How cockiness cost Raila Odinga last two elections - Daily Nation

How cockiness cost Raila Odinga last two elections

Saturday January 4 2020

Opposition leader Raila Odinga

ODM leader Raila Odinga. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

VINCENT ACHUKA
By VINCENT ACHUKA
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An overconfident ODM leader Raila Odinga declined the services of controversial British data-mining company Cambridge Analytica in 2013, as he was sure of defeating the then Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mr Odinga’s party turned down the firm which, at the height of its operations, employed dirty political tricks for its clients, including sowing tribal discord and spreading fake news, but suggested that it would consider them in the 2017 polls, while already in power and seeking re-election.

Then he lost the election to the Jubilee alliance duo of Mr Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto.

But after failing to clinch a consultancy deal with Mr Odinga, Cambridge Analytica approached the Jubilee alliance and was hired.

The Jubilee duo went on to win the elections, just crossing the required 50 per cent plus one threshold required by the constitution.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, at the time the Eldoret North MP and a Cabinet minister, won the election with 6.17 million votes while the Prime Minister and his running mate, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, got 5.34 million votes. A challenge of the election outcome at the Supreme Court was decided in Jubilee’s favour.

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COMPROMISED POLL?

Later, in the run-up to the 2017 General Election, ODM tried to enlist the services of Cambridge Analytica, but the firm refused, pointing out that it only worked with governments.

The Jubilee Alliance, a coalition of The National Alliance (TNA), the United Republican Party (URP) and other like-minded parties, has consistently denied that Cambridge Analytica ever worked for them.

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said he did not have any information on whether Cambridge Analytica ever approached the party.

“In 2013, I was in private practice as a lawyer and was just an ordinary member of the party,” said Mr Sifuna.

“Therefore, I would not have any information on what you are asking me. The best person to call will be Mr Oduor Ong’wen or Prof Anyang Nyong’o.”

However, a trail of communication, invoices and work plans shared between Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, and middlemen for the Jubilee Alliance shows the company tried to get involved in Kenya’s elections immediately after being launched in 2012.

And while there has been suspicion all along that it helped President Kenyatta get elected in 2013 and in 2017, a thing Jubilee Party has vehemently denied, new evidence shows that Cambridge Analytica had initially approached the Orange party.

OVERCONFIDENCE

The attempt to get the controversial firm to work for Mr Odinga was brokered by a Mr Isaac Ndung’u Kanino of Kanino Global Limited, which at that time was operating from Apartment 5 of Apex Junction Suites in Kilimani, Nairobi.

“I hope you are fine. Last time we had a fruitful engagement, which led to a meeting with Marcus Beltran of SCL and ODM top brass, who included the former Prime Minister's permanent secretary Mohammed Isahakia,” says a note dated December 2, 2014 written by Mr Kanino to Alexander Nix, a British businessman, who was at that time the CEO of Cambridge Analytica and the director of SCL.

“It was truly unfortunate that ODM were too confident and thought that the services of SCL would best serve them in 2017 elections when they were already in power.

“The results of their overconfidence is well-known,” said Mr Kanino in reference to Mr Odinga’s 2013 election loss.

Cambridge Analytica was the American arm of SCL, which began in Britain just before the Brexit vote of 2014.

The two companies were forced to shut down in May 2018 following a huge uproar across the world after accusations of illegally accessing Facebook data and using it to target voters in the United States, which helped President Donald Trump win the elections.

DATA MINING

Additionally, they were accused of mining online data and individual psychometric profiles which they used to personalise political messages to communicate with both undecided voters and reach out to a candidate’s supporters.

In another email exchange, Mr Isaac Ndungu Kanino approached SCL to advise the government on how to counter radicalisation and counter-insurgency in the wake of the Garissa University terrorist attack in 2015.

Mr Kanino, of whom very little is known, says on his single-page company’s website that he helps leading organisations achieve their objectives.

Without the support of Cambridge Analytica in 2017, and having lost what could have been a great opportunity in 2013, Mr Odinga’s Nasa coalition turned to Canadian firm Aristotle Consulting.

But state operatives dramatically arrested and deported John Aristotle Phillips, the American founder and CEO of Aristotle, and Canadian Andreas Katsouris, the company’s senior vice-president, on charges they had violated visa laws with just a week to the elections.