The Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has contracted the services of British data harvesting company, Cambridge Analytica for the upcoming Presidential election in August.
Cambridge Analytica on its websites says “We are the global leader in data-driven campaigning with over 25 years of experience, supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents. Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections”
The statement on CA website goes further “Gain the advantage over your opponents by adding our blend of big data analytics and behavioural psychology to your campaign arsenal. Together, with an unmatched understanding of your electorate, we will pinpoint the voters who will turn the tide in your favour, creatively engage with them, and drive them to the ballot box’’ Cambridge Analytica
The use of Digital Data in Kenya is not surprising; Kenyans are among the most active social media users in Africa. The number of mobile phone users in the country shot up from 8 million in 2007 to 30 million in 2013, and 88% of the population can now access the internet through their phones.
The coming election will not be the first election where data is used to reach electorate, Ahead of the 2013 Kenyan presidential election, CA designed and implemented the largest political research project ever conducted in East Africa. Sampling and interviewing 47,000 respondents, CA was able to draft an effective campaign strategy based on the electorate’s real needs (jobs) and fears (tribal violence).
The result of CA 2013 Kenya election campaign was that CA provided the Uhuru Kenyatta campaign with a profile of the Kenyan electorate, including key national and local political issues, levels of trust in key politicians, voting behaviours/intentions, and preferred information channels.
Using big data harvesting technology, CA is able to acquire useful information by trawling user Facebook account and buy up commercial consumer data sets to identify ‘persuadable’ voters whom it then bombarded with disproportionate social media posts and adverts.
Cambridge Analytica is heavily funded by Robert Mercer, a US businessman who helped to fund Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and was a member of Trump’s transition team. Mercer is also a major donor to Breitbart News, the website that current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon ran before joining the Trump campaign, and Bannon was once on Cambridge Analytica’s board of directors.
SO, WHAT IS WRONG WITH HERE?
This is a misplaced priority and the use of a good technology for a totally wrong purpose.
Using data to understand the behaviour of a population could have been deploy to better channel social services that would improve their lots.
Africa lacks data in everything, from Health, Education, Housing and other social services. These are the areas data acquisition would better serve.
Paying top dollars for a company to trawl people’s online behaviour and then delivers a targeted advert to them in order to win an election is a total misplaced priority, a major problem in Africa.
According to the universal declaration of Human Right, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence.”
“Kenya does not currently have specific data protection legislation,” says Claire Lauterbach, a researcher at Privacy International. “This basically means that it’s unclear which agencies or companies can have access to individuals’ data, including sensitive information.”
What happens to data acquired by CA on behalf of the government? Can this be used to target people or communities?
Digital footprint of individuals have become very important, it is now entirely possible to map one’s behaviour including your likes and choices, while this information is used by big organisations for commercial purpose (targeted advertising), it can also be used by government to target political opponents and denial of vital services to communities they perceived to be ‘areas’ political adversaries.
The use of digital campaigns is not new, President Obama used it during both of his campaigns, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns used it, as well as during the UK BREXIT referendum and the just concluded UK general election, the difference here is that privacy laws exist and very strong in these other countries, and institutions that protect citizens from government are well established, where there are no such protections, government in any domain can overreach their powers.