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The spectre of Cambridge Analytica still haunts African elections

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15.02.2019

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........

© Al Jazeera