By Privacy International

Earlier this month, the Kenyan daily The Star reported that UK-based data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica had been quietly contracted by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party in a bid to win himself a second term in office. State House officials were quick to deny the claims, while the company itself issued no comment.

Cambridge Analytica has exploded onto the scene following revelations that its psychometric profiling techniques were used and reportedly played a role in both the US election and the UK Brexit referendum. The company has been in the limelight ever since, and the UK information commissioner is launching an investigation into the way political parties target voters through social media.

The news that Cambridge Analytica has reportedly been hired by an increasingly unpopular president (according to some polls) to win a very close, tense election, does not necessarily give case for alarm.

This is not the first time that Kenyatta’s administration has carried out opinion polling to hedge its chances. In fact, Cambridge Analytica worked on behalf of one of the candidates in the 2013 election, claiming to have implemented the largest political research project in Africa. The Kenyan government has strategically called on the services of UK firms in the past. London-based public relations Agency BTP Advisors, which is reportedly working with Cambridge Analytica over the next few months, represents the Kenyan government, including in interactions with the UK Parliament. BTP Advisors, also claims credit for building scepticism about the International Criminal Court in Kenya, during the ultimately fruitless attempt to prosecute President Kenyatta for alleged involvement in crimes against humanity following the 2007 elections.

But in an election context, profiling and microtargeting of voters is particularly problematic. Kenya’s presidential election this year is no ordinary one. That the Kenyan president’s Jubilee party would commit a reported 6 million USD to Cambridge Analytica for a mere 3-month project contract so soon to the polling date, and with such secrecy, gives cause for further scrutiny…

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