Leaked e-mails have lifted the veil on how reclusive State House operative Nancy Gitau and the controversial United Kingdom communications consulting firm Cambridge Analytica played a crucial role in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election.
The e-mails come in the wake of revelations by British MP Alexandra Philips, a former Cambridge Analytica employee about her role in that election.
The leaked e-mails appear to show Ms Gitau’s role as the overall coordinator of President Kenyatta’s re-election campaigns, with the firm, led by an Indian British citizen Sabhita Raju reporting to her.
The e-mails lift the lid on the role Ms Gitau, alongside President Kenyatta’s private secretary Jomo Gecaga, played in coordinating several meetings to plot the Jubilee leader’s re-election strategies, including commissioning research studies in the run-up to the August 2017 poll.
Throughout President Kenyatta’s tenure, so powerful has Ms Gitau been that her name is only whispered by politicians yet no one wants to go on record talking about her.
While she officially resigned from her Harambee House post following pressure from Deputy President William Ruto’s camp, multiple sources, who spoke in confidence, acknowledge she continues to pull the strings from behind the scenes.
Recently, she was back in the news when vocal Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi, a Ruto ally, named her as one of the people involved in the controversial Mt Kenya leaders’ meetings.
Politicians from both Mt Kenya and Rift Valley acknowledge she is powerful but differ on the influence she wields within the country’s executive.
While those from Rift Valley claim her office is well-oiled, they also believe her influence is not as massive as claimed.
Those from Central region are cagey when it comes to discussing matters concerning her, though acknowledging her domineering presence in the country’s power circles.
That Ms Gitau never sees eye to eye with Deputy President is well documented. It is also common knowledge that Ms Gitau enjoys special ties with the Kenyattas, with this pointed out by some as the source of her powers.
Her return to the news after a low public profile in the last few years came after she was mentioned over the La Mada meetings that stirred controversy over a purported plan to “assassinate” Dr Ruto.
Others said to have attended the meeting were four cabinet secretaries from the Mt Kenya region — Peter Munya (Trade), James Macharia (Transport), Sicily Kariuki (Health) and Joe Mucheru (ICT). Detectives are investigating the claims after questioning various people, including the Cabinet Secretaries and the Deputy President’s communications aide Dennis Itumbi.
“We have been discussing these issues (La Mada Hotel meetings) for the last ten days. There is a tell-all video clip which will be played in due time. I want to tell the chairman and the Secretary of the meeting Nancy Gitau, if you meant that you were at a development meeting, Ms Gitau does not belong to any office that plans development. We know more and we won’t be cowed no matter how many of us are arrested,” said Mr Sudi, alluding to Mr Itumbi’s arrest on allegations of authoring the “fake” letter that claimed Mr Ruto’s assassination had been discussed at the meetings.
Back in 2017, Ms Gitau alongside Mr Gecaga were the focal points for the campaign as the secret e-mails show.
Those from Cambridge Analytica who communicated with her alongside Ms Raju include Antonya Allen, Kieran Ward, Richard Bailey and Simon Waddington.
In the e-mails, Ms Raju signs off as Vice President of Programs, Cambridge Analytica and Director of Programs SCL group. SCL group, whose Kenyan elections connection was first revealed in March 2017, is linked to Cambridge Analytica, which was last year forced to close down.
The secret e-mails paint a picture of the British consultants engaging with their Kenyan counterparts on the aspects of the campaign, with all e-mails being copied to Ms Gitau and Mr Gecaga. Once in a while, Ms Gitau offers direction on how the campaign should be conducted.
In 2012/2013 campaigns, the Kenyatta campaign had hired yet another set of consultants BTP advisers who also reported to Ms Gitau.
This week, high-profile Brexiteer MP Ms Phillips admitted that she secretly worked for Cambridge Analytica in the 2017 election campaign in Kenya.
She made the admission to the UK’s Channel 4 News after initially denying any involvement with the disgraced data firm, and pressuring journalists to drop the story.
She backtracked only after Channel 4 News obtained a recording of an interview from 2017 in which she confirms she had been “employed by Cambridge Analytica to work for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.”
Cambridge Analytica, created around 2013 with an initial focus on the US elections, denies meddling in the 2017 Kenya polls, even though Mr Mark Turnbull, then MD of the firm, had been quoted by CNBC as saying they “rebranded the entire (Jubilee) party twice, wrote their manifesto, and conducted two rounds of 50,000 (participant) surveys”.
The admission by Ms Phillips will further dent the digital marketing firm’s controversial image.
But even as Cambridge Analytica faces sandstorm over their activities, sources who participated in the campaign said that the two groups (CA and Kenyans working for the President) fell out over differences over an anti-Raila negative campaign.
“The consultants insisted on a negative campaign, Team Uhuru team insisted on vibrancy and positivity as opposed to raw propaganda,” said a source.
Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny, who worked under Ms Gitau at President Kenyatta’s office, has defended her from the accusations.
“Time has come for these leaders to give Nancy respect. This is not the first time they are attacking her. They are jealous of her organisational skills. They should give her a break. These attacks demonstrate the fact that they are running short of ideas,” he said.
He maintained that Ms Gitau no longer works for the President or the government. Those in the know claim so powerful is Ms Gitau that many cabinet principal secretaries routinely reach out to her for “advice” before making crucial decisions.
Ms Gitau is also said to be one of the key players, albeit in the background, of the Kieleweke grouping within the divided Jubilee and which is opposed to Mr Ruto’s ascend to power in 2022.
She first came to the limelight during the National Rainbow Coalition rule when retired President President Mwai Kibaki appointed her as an adviser.
President Kenyatta retained her in the same capacity.
Deeply private and media shy, Ms Gitau’s name always pops up whenever discussions centre on the country’s political power games. And as the succession debate gains foothold, her name has once again started being whispered by elected leaders.
Ms Gitau served in the Kibaki administration from 2007 up to 2013, playing an instrumental, though behind the scenes role in the merger of President Kenyatta’s then The National Alliance and Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party to form the Jubilee juggernaut in the run-up to the 2013 general election.
Her differences with Mr Ruto go way back in 2015 when then Kericho Senator Charles Keter (now Energy Cabinet secretary) and his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen publicly named her as having been part of leaders who had conspired to fix Mr Ruto at the International Criminal court.