Kenyan elections have in the recent past attracted international attention for the fear of politically instigated ethnic violence that they tend to come with.
The focus especially got sharper after the post-election bloody clashes of 2007 and 2008 that left over 1,000 people dead, displaced over 600,000 from their homes and drove the country to the brink of a civil war.
But the events following the landmark Supreme Court judgment overturning President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in this year’s election appear to have deflected attention from the country’s internal struggles with democracy to the possible role of foreign players in subverting it.
The Opposition, feeling vindicated by a court decision that does not rule out hacking of the electoral commission’s servers, manipulation of results transmission and forgery of results tallying forms, has stepped up its attacks on the French firm OT-Morpho, which supplied the elections management software, and Dubai-based security printer Al-Ghurair.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 election amid Russian hacking claims, last week added her powerful voice to the Kenyan election debate, citing the reported involvement of the American data firm Cambridge Analytica in the Kenyatta campaign.
Cambridge Analytica is also credited with unleashing its data weapons to influence the Brexit vote in the UK.
Some commentators of the controversial US election and Brexit have compared the emerging role of weaponised data and that of hackers to the past involvement of foreign mercenaries in overthrowing legitimate governments and installing puppet regimes especially in Africa.
In The Dogs of War, Fredrick Forsyth writes about mineral-hungry white men planning to invade the obscure republic of Zangaro with a band of savage, cold-blooded mercenaries, topple the government and set up a puppet dictatorship.
Unlike Forsyth’s tough men who shot their way to the place, the new generation of mercenaries are thought to be lurking not far away somewhere in the virtual world of the internet and computer servers.
Given the tight control of Kenya’s legislative and investigative agencies by the ruling elite, an inquiry into the claims of foreign interference in the presidential election is unlikely, and the truth might never be known.
The biggest casualty from any cover-up will, of course, be the country’s fragile democracy, which is crying out for another round of major electoral reforms after the bungled August 8 elections. In the absence of strong ideologically driven political parties, elite power battles over reforms tend to be fought along familiar ethnic divides, meaning national cohesion could suffer as well.
And the likes of OT-Morpho, Al-Ghurair and Cambridge Analytica could walk out with a bloodied nose, too. The mercenary tag that is being pinned on them in Kenya is likely to return to haunt their future election management dealings elsewhere in Africa.