02 Sep A Momentous Ruling In Kenya Undoes A Vote Marred By Fraud, Fear, And Fake News
Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified last month’s electoral victory of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta after finding that the balloting had been tainted by voting forms that were likely fraudulent—the first time that a judicial body has done so in Africa, and only the third time in modern history.
The initial outcome—a landslide for Kenyatta, who won 54% of the vote—was contested by longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose supporters claimed the vote had been “hacked” by someone using the password of a central election technology official who had been found murdered a week before the vote.
Other shenanigans surrounded the campaigns, including, as I reported, the sudden deportation at gunpoint of a U.S.-based data firm that was working for the opposition and the government-backed raid of a Nairobi voting center.
Privacy advocates also raised concerns about the Kenyatta campaign’s reported decision to enlist the services of Cambridge Analytica, the UK-based data and psychographic messaging firm that worked for the Trump campaign and that is partly funded by the wealthy political donor and Breitbart News– and Trump-backer Robert Mercer.
Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, the political communications firm SCL Communications, signed contracts with the State Department earlier this year to carry out overseas political messaging. The company did not reply to a request for comment about its reported $6 million contract with the Kenyatta campaign. An Aristotle spokesperson declined to say what it had been paid for its services for the Odinga campaign.
The election—the most expensive in Kenya’s history, costing an estimated $1 billion in total—was also plagued by false news reports on platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram. The torrent, said polling firm GeoPoll, amounted to the most “fake news” around an election ever recorded, with 90% of Kenyans saying they had encountered deliberately false political news.
In its nullification ruling, the court identified problems with the transmission and tallying of votes: It found that many of the paper forms that were required to be scanned and sent from over 40,000 polling stations were never recorded; the results were instead sent by text message and other means. It also found that a third of some 10,000 missing forms submitted days after the election lacked security features like watermarks or serial numbers, which observers said was evidence that the forms were likely false.
Immediately after preliminary election results were announced, Odinga’s supporters claimed that the tally had been manipulated by a hacker, using the password of Christopher Msando, an official who had been instrumental in setting up the country’s voting technology and whose body was found tortured and mangled outside Nairobi days before the vote.
Despite the concerns, the August 8 election was largely peaceful and was praised by international observers in the country at the time, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and the Carter Center. Kerry previously conceded “little aberrations here and there,” but he and others said the election was not rigged. Here’s Kerry at a press conference after the election:
Odinga said that international observers who determined that the election was mostly fair and free had “sanitized fraud.”
Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, did not weigh in on the outcome but urged peace after the vote in a letter he posted to Twitter.
President Trump has yet to comment on the election, but on August 10, the U.S. State Department issued a statement urging candidates to dispute results “in accordance with the constitution and rule of law and not through threats or acts of violence.” It added, “We stand with Kenyans across the political spectrum who are working together to advance democracy, build prosperity, and strengthen security in their great country.”
Fears of violence swirled after the vote was nullified. The country experienced postelection violence after presidential elections in 2013 and 2007, when as many as 1,500 died. After last month’s election, when supporters of Odinga had protested and rioted, at least 24 people were killed, most of them by security forces. Both sides were blamed for not doing enough to prepare their constituents for defeat.
An online flood of incendiary fake news ahead of the vote also raised fears that false stories would help stoke violence. Facebook even took out full-page newspaper ads and radio ads as part of its efforts to curb misinformation.
— Matina Stevis (@MatinaStevis) August 3, 2017
The company launched a news feed notice in Swahili and English directing users to resources on how to spot false reports “such as checking the web address, investigating the source and looking for other reports on the topic.” Ebele Okobi, Facebook Africa’s director of policy, said in a statement that the company had “a three-part strategy to stop the spread of misinformation: disrupting the economic incentives for the spammers who attempt to distribute false news, building new products and helping people better identify false news and report it.”
Along with data and polling analysis, Aristotle helped Odinga with debate prep, polling, and digital and TV advertising, a spokesperson told Fast Company; she said the company didn’t spread false news stories, and that much of its work involved figuring out ways to fight fake news. A Cambridge Analytica spokesperson told the BBC that the company was not involved in any negative advertising in Kenya, and that it “has never advocated the exploitation of ethnic divisions in any country.”
A Historic Day
A new vote, which must be held within 60 days of the ruling, means that candidates will have to start campaigning again. Supporters of Odinga shared their delight in the streets. “I am happy to be Kenyan today,” said Odinga. “It is a historic day for the people of Kenya, and by extension the people of Africa.”
Odinga, who was running for a fourth time, contended he had been robbed of victories in the previous two elections. After Kenyatta won by a tiny margin in 2013, Odinga asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the election; they refused. In early August polls, the two candidates were virtually tied, with neither drawing more than 50 percent.
On Friday, Odinga called for calm but said that his legal team would take members of the electoral commission to court, saying that they had “committed a criminal act” and belonged in jail.
President Kenyatta called on Kenyans to respond peacefully to the decision, which he said he respected even as he branded the judges “crooks.” “Millions of Kenyans queued, made their choice, and six people have decided that they will go against the will of the people,” he said.
John Aristotle Phillips, the founder and CEO of data company Aristotle, who worked for Odinga’s campaign before he was deported by government agents along with a Canadian colleague, praised the decision. “Today’s ruling is a victory for the Kenyan people and democracy worldwide,” he said in a statement. “This election was a massive fraud, and the court demonstrated great courage given the lengths to which those in government have gone to cling to power.”
Walter Mebane, a professor of statistics and political science at the University of Michigan who studies elections worldwide, ran the voting results through a computer model he and his team developed to detect electoral fraud. Based solely on statistics, the New York Times reported, “and without knowledge of the intricacies of Kenyan politics, he and his team found patterns that showed widespread manipulation.”
Source: Fast Company