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Cambridge Analytica Scandal Ripples Across The World

NOEL KING, HOST:

Allegations that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to influence elections has lawmakers in the U.S. and the U.K. demanding answers. But this scandal also affects Kenya. Cambridge Analytica officials bragged that they basically ran the Kenyan president's campaign last year. NPR's Eyder Peralta has this story.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Out here in Kibera, politics is always front and center.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in foreign language).

PERALTA: When there are no politicians, regular guys take to a podium. I find Nyakundi Cherat listening and reading the newspaper. Cambridge Analytica has been on the front pages, but Cherat jokes that he lost his phone, so whatever influence campaign they engineered probably missed him.

NYAKUNDI CHERAT: You know when you lose your smart phone and you get the other one, then you cannot access.

PERALTA: He thinks what Cambridge Analytica did in Kenya probably influenced younger people. But dozens of people were killed during post-election violence in this neighborhood, and that he blames squarely on Kenyan politicians.

CHERAT: The violence was majorly instigated by the politicians themselves, not the company

PERALTA: Just how much of a role Cambridge Analytica played in Kenya is still the subject of debate. Top-ranking company officials were caught on tape by Britain's Channel 4 bragging about having a hand in, quote, "just about every element of President Uhuru Kenyatta's campaign." In an interview with Vice News, Raphael Tuju, the chief of the president's political party, rejected the claims. It would be far-fetched, he says, to think a company could use Facebook to determine the psychological profile of a Kenyan voter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAPHAEL TUJU: For us in this particular environment, it is a non-issue for us.

PERALTA: Last year, Kenya had two elections. One was annulled by the Supreme Court for irregularities. The second was also contested. In both instances, the campaigns were ethnically charged. Andreas Katsouris, who worked for the opposition, says President Kenyatta ran on a platform of fear, warning that his opponent, Raila Odinga, would lead the country into an ethnic war.

ANDREAS KATSOURIS: It's not so much that Cambridge ran the campaign, if they did indeed run the campaign. But the approach that they took to winning the campaign is not small beer.

PERALTA: Katsouris worked for a company called Aristotle. He was consulting in much the same way as Cambridge, but just a few days before the elections, he was deported. Katsouris says, the reality is that things do get heated during a campaign, but companies like his and Cambridge tend to lay out strategy in advance, so, he says, they have the ability and perhaps the obligation to propose less divisive politics.

KATSOURIS: I hope we're there to offer a democratic direction when it's possible to do it a different way.

PERALTA: The Kenyan elections were messy. There were vast irregularities, a high-profile murder and more than 100 people killed during election-related violence. Back in Kibera, Isaiah Omondi says he remembers watching incendiary ads flash on his phone. But since then, the opposition leader and the president have mended fences and forgotten all the tough words they said about each other and their supporters.

ISAIAH OMONDI: So people are left wondering and surprised. What has happened? So it's kind of a game. They are using us.

PERALTA: He says they do what's best for them, and Kenyans are left to deal with the consequences of their political games. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.