Nigerian and Kenyan officials are looking into the alleged interference by Cambridge Analytica in their national elections through the organisation of rallies and by orchestrating entire campaigns to sway public opinion away from certain candidates.
In Nigeria, a government committee is probing claims that SCL Elections, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, organised anti-election rallies to dissuade opposition supporters from voting in 2007 Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, told Reuters. The panel will also examine claims that Buhari’s personal data was hacked in 2015, when he was an opposition candidate for president.
“We don’t want to leave it open that Cambridge Analytica could have interfered with these elections,” Shehu told CNN. “The committee will scrutinise reports and allegations made against Cambridge Analytica. The government may prosecute, if the reports are found to be true. We just want to take lessons from what happened.”
Regarding Kenya, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, Mark Turnbull, was filmed telling undercover reporters for the UK’s Channel 4 news that his company managed two of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns.
“The Kenyatta campaign, which we ran in 2013 and 2017 for Kenyatta – we have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging,” Turnbull said. “I think we wrote all the speeches, and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate.” Since these revelations surfaced of Cambridge Analytica’s efforts to influence various elections around the world, opposition voices in Kenya have called for an investigation, and opposition leader Raila Odinga said he will sue the company.
“Finally, the world has woken up (to) the fact that there is a real danger posed to democracy, not only in Kenya,” Odinga told CNN. “This was really the extreme end of negative campaigning, and it was so intensive, and I think also capital intensive.”
“Somebody needs to take responsibility for this. Somebody needs to be made to answer,” he added.
Jubilee Party downplays Cambridge Analytica’s involvement
Jubilee Party secretary-general Raphael Tuju has downplayed the British data firm’s involvement in the election campaign. He told CNN that the party hired SCL “to do analysis of focus group discussions. They did demonstrate to us that they had that kind of expertise. That was it.”
Jubilee Party secretary-general Raphael Tuju has downplayed Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in Kenya’s election campaign.
Tuju, speaking at the party’s headquarters in Nairobi, said the party will not press Cambridge Analytica on the Channel 4 report. “We really don’t have time for that,” he told CNN.
On 23 March, Cambridge Analytica’s acting CEO, Alexander Tayler, said that the company’s board had launched an investigation into SCL Elections’ past practices. “As anyone who is familiar with our staff and work can testify, we in no way resemble the politically motivated and unethical company that some have sought to portray,” Tayler said in the below press release.
The New Yorker reports that SCL Elections described its origins as “a group of renowned academics and a consortium of international investors [who] collaborated to establish the first academic think-tank specialising in the Science of Communication” and was christened the Behavioral Dynamics Institute. Nigel Oakes, a former film producer and advertising executive, then formed SCL Elections, which pitched itself as “experts in measurable behavioural change”. The company has made the following claim:
“Unlike commercial PR agencies and communications firms, we use advanced scientific research and social analysis techniques, adapted for civilian use from military applications, to better understand behavior within electorates. Our unique, measurable and effects-based methodology, developed by the Behavioral Dynamics Institute, enables us to understand how people think and identify what it would take to change their mindsets and associated voting patterns.”
In 2013, SCL Elections spawned Cambridge Analytica, the latter’s acting CEO told the BBC. Cambridge Analytica then went on to work on a number of high-profile campaigns globally. In addition to Kenya and Nigeria, other African countries on the list of affected countries are South Africa, Mauritius, Zambia, Gabon and Mauritius. Africa, and the world, will watch the unfolding of this saga with great interest.