An undercover investigation has blown the lid off the workings of Cambridge Analytica, the British data company that was suspected and now boasts of influencing Kenya’s 2017 presidential election.
In a three-part series titled ‘Data, Democracy and Dirty Tricks’, Britain’s Channel 4 News exposes how the right-leaning digital marketing firm targets voters with propaganda to influence their voting decisions.
In the investigation, the company’s bosses, including chief executive Alexander Nix, are secretly filmed saying they discreetly campaign in elections across the world through a web of shadowy front companies or by using sub-contractors.
The executives boast that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), have worked in more than 200 elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.
In the Kenyan propaganda campaign, Cambridge Analytica executives say they worked for the re-election of re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta behind the scenes.
Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s Political Global, says they engineered a digital campaign that painted Mr Kenyatta in positive light while smearing his main rival Raila Odinga.
The smear campaign against Mr Odinga, which featured apocalyptic scenes, had one strong message: “Stop Raila Save Kenya…….The Future of Kenya is in Your Hands.”
The fake news and disinformation against Mr Odinga used skewed videos on issues that matter most to Kenyans— such as health, infrastructure, and terrorism.
In one such video, the Orange Democratic Movement leader is portrayed as a sympathiser of Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based and Al-Qaeda-linked rag-tag militia that has declared war on Kenya.
And Turnbull, in the secret recording by Channel 4, reveals the much they delivered for the UhuRuto and Jubilee Party campaigns:
“The Kenyatta campaign which we ran in 2013 and 2017,” he starts off.
“And what have you done in Kenya?” poses Channel 4 journalist.
“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto, done two rounds of 50,000 or so surveys… Then we’d write all the speeches, and we’d stage the whole thing. So just about every element of his campaign.”
Top achieve their goal, Cambridge Analytica executives say they use many tactics, including entrapping politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.
In one exchange with the undercover journalists, Nix says they “send some girls around to the candidate’s house” to dig up information on political opponents of their clients.
The company also offers to bribe politicians on camera and use such recordings against them.
“We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet,” Nix is quoted by Channel 4 as saying.
Bribery is a punishable offence under Kenya's election laws.
Such damaging information is discreetly pushed into the internet and social, according to Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s Political Global.
He tells Channel 4: “we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’”.
And since most politicians fear being seen working with foreign companies in their campaigns, Cambridge Analystica says it uses people you could least suspect.
Nix says, “…we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”
Channel 4 News said its reporter had posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get a political candidate elected in Sri Lanka.
However, Cambridge Analytica said the report had "grossly misrepresented" the conversations caught on camera.
"In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our 'client' from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios," the company said in a statement.
"Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called 'honeytraps'," it said.
Mr Nix told the BBC's Newsnight programme that he regarded the report as a "misrepresentation of the facts" and said he felt the firm had been "deliberately entrapped".
The Nation's efforts to get a comment from Mr Kenyatta's Jubilee Party were fruitless as secretary-general Raphael Tuju's phone remained switched off for the better party of Tuesday morning.