At­tack ads turn up heat on Kenya’s poll cli­mate

The Times (South Africa) - - WORLD -

A TOXIC cam­paign ad was un­leashed on­line in Kenya just weeks be­fore na­tional elec­tions — a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive move in a coun­try where pol­i­tics and eth­nic­ity are closely aligned.

The 90-sec­ond video, shot in moody mono­chrome, pre­sented a dystopia in which Raila Odinga, the lead­ing op­po­si­tion can­di­date, wins next month’s vote and plunges the na­tion into a vi­o­lent and in­ept dic­ta­tor­ship.

Un­der this sce­nario tribes would be set against one an­other while ter­ror­ists run riot.

“Stop Raila, Save Kenya. The fu­ture of Kenya is in your hands,” the video said.

East Africa’s largest econ­omy holds its gen­eral elec­tion on Au­gust 8, a decade af­ter dis­puted poll re­sults fu­elled vi­o­lence that left more than 1 100 dead and hun­dreds of thou­sands dis­placed.

It is un­clear who is be­hind last week’s slick video.

But some on Kenya’s vi­brant so­cial me­dia net­works were quick to blame Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, a com­pany cred­ited with us­ing its data min­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­niques to help swing re­cent votes in the US and UK.

In May lo­cal press re­ported Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s Ju­bilee cam­paign had hired Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, but spokesman Nick Fievet de­clined to com­ment on the com­pany’s pos­si­ble work in Kenya, say­ing it had “no con­nec­tion” with the video.

With 7.1 mil­lion Face­book users and an es­ti­mated two-thirds of Kenya’s 45 mil­lion peo­ple on the in­ter­net, there is a crit­i­cal mass of peo­ple leav­ing an in­creas­ingly de­tailed trail of in­for­ma­tion about their fears and pref­er­ences — a rich re­source for those seek­ing to in­flu­ence vot­ing choices.

“Here it can lead to war,” said John Githongo, a vet­eran anti-cor- rup­tion cam­paigner. The wrong video, the wrong in­for­ma­tion, it can go out of con­trol.”

Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica worked on Keny­atta’s last cam­paign in 2013 to paint Keny­atta and run­ning mate Wil­liam Ruto as vic­tims of a West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ist plot to try them at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in The Hague for po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence.

Fred­erike Kalthe­uner, a pol­icy of­fi­cer at data ad­vo­cacy group Pri­vacy In­ter­na­tional, is wor­ried by the “lack of any kind of data pro­tec­tion frame­work” in Kenya.

“There are con­cerns about the in­tegrity of data in Kenya. Who would have ac­cess to it? Who is stor­ing it? Do peo­ple even know what is be­ing col­lected about them? None of these ques­tions are be­ing an­swered,” she said. —

‘ So­cial me­dia quick to blame data an­a­lyt­ics firm for video

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