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The spectre of Cambridge Analytica still haunts African elections | Elections 2018

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Elections are big business, and look no further than the ongoing frenzy over the upcoming Nigerian election for proof. It is hard to miss how much money is being made in both the main event and the ecosystem around it.

Politicians are no longer just candidates, but also brands, backed by elaborate merchandising and advertising apparatuses that are designed to catapult their public image to victory. Outside the core tug of war, media companies around the world wrestle for the attention of viewers, listeners and readers with elaborate, attention-grabbing infographics and chyrons. 

The triumph of political style over substance in the capitalist election is almost complete, and with it the unparalleled influence of money over political decision-making. As Nigeria inches towards this critical vote, it does so in the shadow of profound questions about the changing nature of elections in Africa and beyond.

Over the last few years, there has been rising alarm over the role of social media in politics around the world. 2013 was arguably Kenya’s first social media election, where candidates for the first time invested significant sums of money into shaping the behaviour and conversation of voters on these platforms.

A startling expose from the British journalist Carole Cadwalladr and others confirmed that similar tactics were deployed in crucial votes like the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the United States general election in 2016. Political groups are spending considerable amounts of money on data analytics and data mining firms that specialise in consuming, digesting and regurgitating our online behaviour into political messaging.

In Kenya, media reports confirmed that investment in this industry had escalated considerably since the 2013 election, with both the ruling coalition and the main opposition party spending sizeable amounts of money on well-known firms specialising in these practices. Kenyan elections were already expensive and these investments only heightened the cost.

By some estimates, the average Kenyan politician spends $50m on their presidential campaign, but the ruling Jubilee Party allegedly spent $6m on Cambridge Analytica alone, the nominally defunct British firm that also worked on the US and UK votes. 

These firms were also involved in the 2015 Nigerian elections, perhaps in a more sinister way, by playing on existing religious animosity that has in the past flared into inter-communal violence.

One of the major fears for analysts watching the February 2019 vote is whether these social media parasites will return. In this regard, the election in Nigeria will be a bellwether for the increasing anxiety over the role of foreign private companies in African elections.

Underneath this panic over social media lies a broader conversation on the changing nature of elections worldwide. Money is more influential than ever and normative ideas about democratic values are in decline.

In Africa, countries and institutions that are self-styled watchdogs of democracy are becoming increasingly apathetic, while the advance of a capitalist electoral system is coupled with the retreat of structures that civil society especially relies upon for mitigation or redress.

The January 2019 elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were instructive in this sense. As that vote demonstrated, election observation has become increasingly just a formality. The allegations of fraud were rampant, well-documented and rapidly disseminated.

Yet, with the exception of the Catholic Church within the DRC, the people and institutions that have always insisted on the need to preserve elections chose to look the other way, hoping to keep the country “stable”, or – more accurately – profitable.

This suggests that in many countries, the electoral race is no longer about voting. Rather it has been turned into a performance piece aimed at rubber-stamping the international political status quo and the domestic elite consensus, even as they falter and fail to deliver.

More and more, the real decision-makers are those who can use their money more efficiently to tilt the scales in their own favour – basically, those who invest the most in branding and advertising, in lobbying foreign nations, or even as in Kenya, in manipulating the electoral system directly.

For voters, the process of achieving truly representative or inclusive government has never been more difficult.

Indeed, the issue of psychometrics and social media analytics is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to examining how money is undermining the integrity of electoral systems around the world.

When financial gain trumps all other consideration, our collective tolerance to injustice increases, leaving many who don’t have access to power or influence vulnerable to the whims of the people with the deepest pockets.

These practices are grounded in standard advertising, marketing and PR methods. However, it is one thing to use them for highly targeted advertising to sell jeans and a completely another thing to spend one’s term leeching the treasury to amass unmatched wealth and then use it to influence the political will of a country through PR schemes.

Political advertising should be a special class of its own, separated from the vagaries of advertising in general. The stakes are different, especially because the outcome will have an impact far beyond the individual or company buying or selling these services.

Such advertising is restricted on traditional media in many countries – with candidates forced to declare what they have paid for certain types of content. But the law and practice have failed to keep up with the behaviour online, leaving the door open for the kind of disproportionate spending and subsequent political compromise that has left faith in electoral democracy in countries like Kenya and the DRC shaken.

Money and politics have always been closely connected, but the idea of electoral democracy is to give people a little bit of the power back – “one person, one vote”, not “one dollar, one vote”.

The lesson from studying the role of social media on recent elections is that this is changing dramatically. Advertising changes everything, and we aren’t quite able to grasp its massive scale yet.

Thanks to the tenacity of journalists around the world, the ugly underbelly of corporatisation of politics around the world has been dragged into the open. Social media companies have been forced to make adjustments to the standards they use in permitting political advertising, but they have not gone far enough. 

On Saturday, Nigeria will be a test for how much we have all learned since 2016.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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