Kenya’s opposition leader was targeted in a virulent online campaign created by a U.S.-based company during the recent election turmoil, a privacy watchdog said Thursday, while another rights group reported multiple gang-rapes by men in uniform in opposition strongholds.
The reports highlight the volatility of the months during which the Supreme Court nullified the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ordered a new vote that opposition leader Raila Odinga boycotted and Kenyatta won. Anger remains high among Odinga supporters; scores were killed in clashes with security forces.
The data-driven social media campaigns allegedly created by Texas-based Harris Media contributed to one of the most divisive votes in the East African nation’s history, the London-based Privacy International said.
Harris Media’s previous clients include President Donald Trump’s election campaign and several far-right parties in Europe, according to Privacy International.
One social media campaign attacked Odinga and the other praised Kenyatta, both on behalf of the president’s re-election campaign.
The campaign against Odinga included a claim that he would “remove whole tribes” if elected, the report said. Voting in Kenya is often along ethnic lines, and previous elections have led to deadly violence.
The social media campaigns “relied on ad words in Google search and apparently targeted advertising on a range of social media platforms,” the report said. “This raises serious concerns about the role and responsibility of companies working for political campaigns in Kenya’s volatile political climate … It also highlights the risks inherent to voter profiling and micro-targeting in a country with no data protection laws.”
The report doesn’t allege any crime was committed. Harris Media did not claim responsibility for the campaigns, the report said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The separate report by Human Rights Watch described rapes of men and women and cited victims and witnesses in the slums of the capital, Nairobi, and the opposition strongholds of Kisumu and Bungoma.
“Some were raped in the presence of family members, including young children,” the report said. “Most women said they were raped by policemen or men in uniform, many of whom carried guns, batons, tear gas canisters, whips, and wore helmets and other anti-riot gear.”
In at least one case a girl died after being raped, said Human Rights Watch, which accused Kenya’s government of often ignoring election-related sexual violence.
Kenya’s police chief Joseph Boinnet rejected the allegations in the report as “utter falsehoods” and challenged Human Rights Watch to produce evidence.