Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm said to have been involved in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns in 2013 and 2017, is overrated.
As one of my Facebook friends pointed out in a post, ‘it is largely a first world problem’.
There seems to be a consensus in the western media that the firm, which deploys social media user information to influence voter behaviour, had a hand in the outcomes of the Brexit vote in the UK and presidential election in the US in 2016.
But the notion that it could replicate that success in a third world country with very different voting patterns is misplaced.
Supreme Court battles over Kenya’s past two presidential elections have stirred public debate about the possible role of vote rigging in their outcomes.
The last one was actually annulled by the court, raising questions whether a candidate’s campaign effectiveness or lack of it really mattered.
Let’s assume the elections were free and fair though.
For all the awesome revolutionary capacity of digital technology, I just don’t see how some smart man flies in from a western capital, hooks up his laptop in a Nairobi hotel and manipulates about eight million Kenyans to vote in a particular way in the presidential election.
If it is hard enough to tell an authentic Kenyan voter from his or her Facebook likes and other interests on social media, it is even much harder to have him or her leave the herd – typically a voting bloc assembled from two or more big ethnic communities propped up by smaller ones.
If your propaganda campaign is drifting too far away from the surname, mother tongue or geography, you are probably baiting the wrong fish.
Take the ‘Real Raila’ video, which is the most popular propaganda that has come to be associated with Cambridge Analytica, for example.
The video sought to depict Raila Odinga, the opposition Nasa coalition candidate, as violent.
Who honestly believes the lie that a significant number of people, including those active on social media, made up their minds who between Mr Kenyatta and his Mr Odinga to vote for after watching that video?
Did the Uhuru campaign even have to fly in political consultants from London to craft a stale personalised hate message that has been aimed at his opponent in past elections?
Of course, Cambridge Analytica has since said that it did much more than get the ‘Real Raila’ video go viral.
Its executives told the British Channel 4 undercover reporters that they had branded the President’s election party twice – presumably TNA in 2013 and Jubilee in 2017 – and written all the speeches.
But the UK firm should also count the money it was paid for its work in the Kenyan elections as the easiest it has ever made.
Who purports to have the capacity to manipulate a people to vote in a way they have also done anyway and gets paid for it?