Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has reportedly hired the controversial U.S.-based consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica to get him re-elected in Tuesday’s election.
In July, Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party contracted the services of Cambridge Analytica, with the firm working from the seventh floor of the party’s headquarters in Nairobi, according to the Star.
The three-month contract is reported to be worth around $6 million.
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Digging in to Data
Cambridge Analytica is essentially a data processing company. The firm purchases and compiles demographic data and uses it to create a psychometric profile of the voting public.
On its website, Cambridge Analytica describes itself as a firm that “uses data to change audience behavior.”
The company first made headlines after it emerged that it played an important role in U.S. President Donald Trump’s sensational victory at the polls last November.
There have also been claims that the company was affiliated with the “leave campaigners” in the recent U.K. Brexit referendum.
However, the firm’s involvement in Kenyan politics has a much longer history.
According to Privacy International, ahead of Kenya’s 2013 general election, Cambridge Analytica helped Mr. Kenyatta correlate online data with thousands of on-the-ground surveys, with Cambridge claiming it carried out the single largest political research project in Africa.
Its research allowed it to create a profile of the Kenyan electorate and come up with a campaign strategy “based on the electorate’s needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence).”
An estimated 88 percent of Kenya’s 44 million people access the Internet through their phones and Kenyans rank among the most active social media users in Africa. The country is also a world leader in mobile banking services.
As Cambridge Analytica continues to mine data to predict voter behavior, there have been concerns in several quarters over what appears to be the company’s unrestricted access to the private data of Kenyan citizens.
According to BBC Trending, the data gathered may include sensitive information, such as how likely an individual is to vote at all, their income bracket, interests, health, opinions, habits, or even their predicted future behavior.
For many, the big worry is the fact that it remains unclear how Cambridge Analytica will decide to use its wealth of data after the elections are over. They also fear that the company may use its findings to exploit the ethnic divisions that have framed Kenya’s politics since independence.
In its response, a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said that the company is not involved in any negative advertising and maintained that a mass data harvesting program of the type seen in America is not possible in Kenya.