March 20, 2018 / 3:51 PM / 4 months ago

Kenya's ruling party says hired firm linked to data breach

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s ruling Jubilee party said on Tuesday it had paid for “branding” in the 2017 presidential election from SCL, affiliate of consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which is at the center of an election manipulation scandal involving Facebook.

Mark Turnbull, Managing Director of SCL Elections/Cambridge Analytica arrives at the offices of Cambridge Analytica in central London, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Best known for helping Donald Trump’s U.S. presidential bid in 2016, the London-based consultancy also ran the campaigns of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 elections, according to video secretly recorded and broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News on Monday.

Commenting on the role of SCL in last year’s Kenyan election, an ethnically divisive affair in which about 100 people were killed, Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe said: “They were basically branding and all that but not directly.”

It was the first public comment by a senior official of Kenya’s ruling party on SCL’s involvement in the election.

Murathe did not elaborate on the precise nature of the work done by SCL or Cambridge Analytica in Kenya.

Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating opposition leader Raila Odinga by 1.4 million votes. The Supreme Court nullified the vote citing procedural irregularities and ordered a second election that Kenyatta also won.

In Channel 4 News’s “sting operation”, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, bragged about the extent of his firms’ influence in the Kenyan elections in both 2013 and 2017.

Cambridge Analytica denied all allegations made by Channel 4 News, saying it was humoring the undercover reporters and trying to gauge their motives by actively encouraging them “to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions”.

The consultancy is currently facing a search of its London office and questions from U.S. state authorities after a whistleblower revealed it had harvested the private information of millions of people to support Trump’s presidential bid.

Kenya’s opposition reacted angrily to the reports of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the Kenyan elections.

“The same propaganda that they used in Trump’s election is what has been used in Kenya. Cambridge Analytica is now becoming an international propagandist,” said Junet Mohamed, a lawmaker for Odinga’s ODM party and its director of elections.

However, Jubilee senator Kipchumba Murkomen denied any influence on the election, saying that social media were of only marginal influence in Kenya despite its reputation as one of Africa’s most tech-savvy nations.

“Those things don’t influence elections in Kenya,” he said. “Kenya is not America. In Kenya, vernacular radio stations are more influential than those things.”

Reporting by Duncan Miriri and George Obulutsa; Editing by Ed Cropley and Gareth Jones

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