Digital Listening and Internet Campaigns: Nobody Knows the Art Better than Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta

Digital technologies have emerged as such a powerful entity that they can manipulate election results in a matter of no time. 

One such example is the rise of Uhuru Kenyatta in the political landscape of Kenya, where, despite having popular perceptions against him, he turned the odds in his favor.

Manipulating popular perception through entrapment techniques using the internet is no joke, and Kenyatta did precisely the same through a series of steps.

Only because Uhuru Kenyatta was better at adapting to modern techniques timely, he made it to the highest office in 2017.

The likes of Cambridge Analytica were involved in shaping electoral results for Kenya, which helped Kenyatta make the best bid.

How has technology transformed Kenyan elections, and how did Uhuru Kenyatta trick Raila Odinga to win the presidency once again in 2017? Let’s see.


Adapting to Internet Campaigns: Kenyatta’s Secret to Win Big in Kenya

Digital technologies have penetrated dramatically in Kenyan youth in recent years. With the rise of mobile broadband and the availability of highly affordable smartphones, this is no surprise. 

Kenyans have changed their methods of content consumption due to this paradigm change. 

With the fast, available internet and the pervasiveness of technology, its integration with politics was only a matter of time. 

And Uhuru Kenyatta became the trendsetter in this regard. He counted on the technological revolution in Kenya by measuring the social change better than anybody else.

To no surprise, the opposition, primarily Raila Odinga, was the victim of cultural lag and unsurprisingly cried foul in the wake of a sweeping defeat.

Whether this rising propaganda by the Kenyatta-led campaign was ethical or not is a separate debate. 

The digital navigation in Kenya started making footprints post-2008 election violence when scores of internet activists countered the government narrative with the help of their digital properties.

Almost nine years down the line, the government used the same technique to manipulate voices in its favor. 

The ruling elite installed a complete ecosystem to capture voters’ data while launching targeted campaigns by running meme factories and hiring bloggers to defame the opposition candidates.

All of this surprised the opposition leaders, who never expected these tactics from the government. Hence, they never planted countermeasures to tackle the propaganda.

Their failure to craft a successful strategy for their reputation management was nothing less than a disaster for them.


Read Also: Kenya 2022 Election: An Imminent Threat of Violence?

Google Ads: Uhuru Kenyatta Going Digital to Make his Opposition Silent

With mobile phones in every pocket, Kenyatta put his efforts where it mattered the most. 

His campaign tried its best to kill the reputation of his opposition by running ads on high-volume keywords.

For instance, when Kenyans used to search the term “scandal” on Google, the first search result would lead them to a blog named “12 Reasons To not Trust Raila,” damaging the reputation of Kenyatta’s rival candidate Raila Odinga.

Similarly, when the term Unga prices, meaning maize flour prices in the local language, was searched, results in favor of Kenyatta popped up, showing how he slashed the commodity prices, which was the talk of the town back then.

The following screenshots showed how all of these actions happen to malign Raila Odinga.


These two results were shown to Kenyans by Uhuru Kenyyata led campaign to manipulate voters in their favor

These two results were shown to Kenyans by Uhuru Kenyatta led campaign to manipulate voters in their favor


Surprisingly, the story does not end here. The screenshots were circulated in the WhatsApp groups to make more people aware of the search results so that everyone could know the “reality” of Raila.


WhatsApp Election:  Easiest Way to Reach Bulk Voters Instantly

The increasing influence of WhatsApp on election results is not news anymore.

The concept of “WhatsApp election” has been penetrated in countries with a rapid technological shift within most of the population. 

As WhatsApp emerged as the most accessible and affordable messaging app across the globe, disinformation and fake news have also been circulated in the WhatsApp groups to target thousands of voters in a matter of seconds.

The goal of WhatsApp targeting is simple yet effective. Politicians try to make a personal connection with the readers in every possible way.

Just before the Kenyan presidential elections of 2017, many political and unpolitical WhatsApp groups were invaded by “political activists,” launching a narrative-building drive in the masses. 

This was the trump card of Kenyatta’s dirty politics, as it left the opposition candidate with no counter-strategy.

Raila’s vote bank was diluted in bulk, with voters going in Kenyatta’s ranks in significant numbers.

Most of this last-minute WhatsApp campaign revolved around tons of disinformation and fake news, but he did not bother about it as he was getting votes with it.

This WhatsApp campaign was so severe that Kenya’s communication authority even signaled to launch a crackdown against group admins, but of no use.

Cambridge Analytica was the frontline advocate of Kenyatta as they transformed Kenya's politics in 2013 and 2017 elections

Cambridge Analytica was the frontline advocate of Kenyatta as they transformed Kenya's politics in 2013 and 2017 elections

Cambridge Analytica: People Behind Kenyatta’s Rise to the Highest Office

The name behind Uhuru Kenyatta’s surprising rise is Cambridge Analytica, which left no stone unturned in swaying Kenyan elections.

As the company’s managing director was filmed in a covet operation, admitting its role in influencing Kenya’s elections, the company got into hot water.

The company claimed to conduct “the largest political research project ever conducted in East Africa regarding the Kenya election.” It is no wonder why Uhuru Kenyatta won in a national clean sweep.

This involvement of Cambridge Analytica came at a time when the internet was penetrated at a rapid pace within the country.

Before the 2017 elections, almost 67 percent of Kenya’s population was using the internet compared to the African average of 18 percent.

These statistics provided Kenyatta, and Cambridge Analytica means to conspire, resulting in an unprecedented campaign.

While talking about Kenyatta’s Jubillee party, Cambridge Analytica said,


“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifesto, done two rounds of 50,000 (participant) surveys,”

(Managing Director Cambridge Analytica)


Raila Odinga paid the price of not being digitally active. Hence his rival Uhuru Kenyatta outpaced him in Kenya election

Raila Odinga paid the price of not being digitally active. Hence his rival Uhuru Kenyatta outpaced him in Kenya election

Digital Listening is the Key for African Politicians Now

Opposition parties in Kenya have started learning their lessons now. Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement has started catalyzing its digital presence with a solid user base on Twitter and Facebook to tackle the reputation crisis.

All African countries need to embrace this thing for the sake of their campaign instead of pursuing the autocratic path.

African countries are prone to a lack of democracy because many politicians try to clinch power through whatever means they see. 

However, they need to know the digital campaigning trends now, just the way Uhuru Kenyatta did.

Almost all African countries have extraordinary potential for internet penetration, and it is a matter of time before these countries see a rising trend towards digital technologies.

Politicians who know the art of managing their reputation online would be at the most advantaged end. Those who would stick to the traditional campaigning methods would bite the dust.


Final Thoughts

This online reputation management is only possible through unique data analytics techniques that could help.

The way Kenyatta did digital listening is unique and a powerful strategy. By targeting the right audience through internet marketing, African politicians would be thankful for the technological pervasiveness in their respective countries.

However, others who keep themselves in denial would lament, later on, cursing the system time again and again.

These strategies would also bring democracy into African countries where the ruling elite mostly shuts down the voices of the opposition.

Through internet campaigns, opinion filtering would become difficult, starting a new era of freedom of speech in African countries.

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