While politics is infamous for being dirty, brands are famous for protecting their reputations. Reputation to brands is what propaganda is to politics. ALSO READ: Editorial: Uhuru, Raila must put Kenya first in their fight Yet it is inevitable that at some point, brands and politics will interact.
This happened in the lead up to, during and after the August 8, 2017 elections. During this electioneering period, a number of companies were contracted to assist in facilitating the smooth operation of the electoral process. Kenyans were going to vote for six elective positions, in one of the country’s most expensive and emotive elections. Kenyans would vote for Member of County Assembly (MCA), Member of National Assembly, Woman Representative, Senators, Governors and President.
Unfortunately, for some of the companies, the dirty politics that saw politicians rubbed against their reputation might prove an indelible blemish to their brand. Although others might have escaped un-tarnished, the sound of ‘Kenyan elections’ in the future might give them creeps. Safaricom, Eastern Africa’s largest telecommunications provider, had to put up a spirited fight, to save its brand reputation.
This was after former Prime Minister Raila Odinga sensationally claimed that the telecommunications provider was complicit in what he believed was a scheme to rig the August 8 elections. Mr Odinga, who nearly enjoys a fanatical following, straddling Kenya’s political landscape like the proverbial colossus has sometimes had his word(s) taken or read keenly by his followers – who almost encompass almost half of the country.
ALSO READ: Pope Francis calls for ‘constructive dialogue’ ahead of repeat poll And to some of his followers, many of whom are also Safaricom subscribers, they tend to take his word as the gospel truth. The August presidential election has since been nullified by the Supreme Court, a decision the apex court said was informed by the widespread illegalities and irregularities. Safaricom, as expected, has vehemently denied the accusations.
Mr Odinga, a presidential candidate in the annulled August elections who has since pulled out of the slated October 26 repeat elections, told the public in a televised press conference that the telecommunications provider colluded with a French company, some individuals at the electoral body, and the ruling Jubilee Party to rig the August elections in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga wanted Safaricom, which he noted had been contracted by the Independent and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to transmit election results from the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) kits at polling stations to the IEBC servers, to explain delays in transmission of August 8.
The former premier said the delays gave room to the manipulation of results at Bomas of Kenya, the national tallying centre. “It has come to our knowledge that one of these VPNs terminated at a cloud server registered in Spain but operated in France under control of OT-Morpho. Both VPNs were fully paid for by IEBC,” said Odinga in a press conference.
ALSO READ: Uhuru wants court to stop Raila from disrupting poll “However, VPNs from Safaricom terminating locally were never set up,” explained Odinga. Safaricom came out swinging. “For further clarity as to how transmission was conducted, the country was divided into zones, allocated to Safaricom, Telkom Kenya and Airtel Kenya, collectively known as the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs),” read the Safaricom statement, signed by its Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore. “All KIEMs kits had two SIM cards with one MNO as the primary provider and the other MNO as secondary.
Each of the MNOs established a VPN to transmit results from areas where they were either a primary or secondary provider,” went on the statement, with Safaricom insisting that the work of MNOs was only to transmit the results from the KIEMs kit to the IEBC servers. The accusations saw Safaricom investors lose some of their wealth in paper. The telco is listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). The shares which were trading at Sh26 the day, dropped marginally to trade at Sh25.75 after the rigging claims.
And Odinga was not done. “We are considering beginning a period of economic boycott of products and corporations that are working against the interest of Kenyans,” he said, accusing big corporations of stifling democracy in the country. “Big corporations are part and parcel of killing democracy in Kenya. We have the power and if they want to stifle our democracy, we can retaliate,” he said.
“We can react by telling our people not to buy the services of this and that corporation. That time is coming but it has not come yet. There is notice,” said the opposition chief. Despite all the back-and-forth between the telecommunications provider and the Opposition, Collymore insisted that Safaricom would still offer its services to IEBC.
ALSO READ: No, ours is not a manufactured crisis It was not the first time that the opposition was calling for a boycott of products which it deemed unfavorable to its course. Earlier on, a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner by the IEBC in August, Siaya Senator James Orengo, during a political rally, told NASA supporters to boycott Nation Media Group’s (NMG) products – its newspaper Daily Nation and television NTV. The legislator said NMG had been biased in its coverage.
The senior lawyer has since urged NASA supporters to go ahead and use these products. It was not clear whether or not NASA supporters actually boycotted these products, though pockets of NASA supporters on social media tried to buttress this point. Some organisations that received backlash after the poll outcome and Supreme Court ruling were observer missions – including African Union Observer group headed by former Ghanian President John Dramani Mahama, The Carter Foundation which was represented for former US Vice President John Kerry, The EU Observed group among others.
Dr Joseph Owino, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, who teaches brands and marketing, says political rhetoric can have irreparable damage on a brand, especially if the supporters of a politicalparty or ideology have strong bond to a political outfit than to a brand. “Political parties enjoy support from the public. At the same time, the public is the customer of brands,” said Dr Owino noting that commercial interests of a brand might be jeopardised if supporters do not have “a very strong bond with the brand.”
Prof Justus Musyoki, who also teaches marketing and branding at the University of Nairobi, said Collymore did a splendid job by responding in a “straightforward and honest” way. ALSO READ: 9 tips on investing when you’re a small business owner Safaricom is not the only company that found itself in the murky waters of politics. Audit firm KPMG, Dubai-based printing and publishing firm Al Ghurair and French defence company were also dragged into the political pool. KPMG, currently entangled in yet another political scandal in South Africa that has seen it shed clients en masse, was a target of the Kenyan opposition leaders after it had been contracted to do an audit of the electoral register. NASA, through its Presidential National Campaign Committee Chairman Musalia Mudavadi, said that KPMG did a shoddy job. Like a soap opera He cast aspersions into the competence of the audit firm, noting that their work would as well have been done by IEBC data clerks.
“Instead, the KPMG report did not achieve its primary purpose of restoration of public confidence in the register of voters. KPMG just did desk reviews and cross-checking of data against incomplete national databases of births and deaths as provided by a wanting National Registration Bureau (NRB),” said Mudavadi. “This would have a bad effect, especially given the fact that Mudavadi tends to give a balanced statement,” said Musyoki, noting that Mudavadi enjoys more credibility than most politicians in the country.
Thus, he said, Mudavadi’s remarks might have a negative effect on the audit firm. Names such as Safran and Al Ghurair, of course – also became familiar to many Kenyans who avidly follow politics like a soap-opera. Safran, a French company that is partly owned by the state, was contracted to provide security to the entire electronic process. The company said it did an audit of the system and found that it had not been hacked. Odinga would hear none of that. Dropping the company from its services was one of the so-called 12 irreducible minimum demands NASA wanted to be met if they were to take part in the October 26 elections. But as soon as Safran’s name came up, some enterprising Kenyans dug up the archives and came out with this: Safran, once known as Sagem, was at some point fined 500,000 euros by a French court for having paid bribes to secure business in Nigeria. The company did not appeal the ruling.
The court found that Safran endorsed bribes of between 22,000 and 36,000 euros between 2000 and 2003. It also found that Sagem had paid the bribes to Nigerian officials to secure a contract worth $214 million (Sh21.4 billion to produce national ID cards. Nigeria still went ahead to retain Safran Identity & Security to provide an upgraded automatic biometric identification system and maintenance support. These developments made Safran a little uncomfortable about their brand reputation. So much that some observers think this is the reason the company recently decided to change its name from OT-Morpho group to IDEMIA. “The accomplishment of this promise is what we call Augmented Identity.
It is about using the biometric characteristics of each person as a unique signature of individual identity, thus facilitating exchanges,” read the statement. Prof Munyoki says people also want to associate or be dissociated with certain brands that somehow have some relations with a given politicians. “The association might be where he went to school, for example,” he says, noting that is how Maranda High School, said to be where the former Prime Minister went to school, became popular. St Mary’s School, where President Kenyatta went for his secondary education, also became popular after the latter became President.
Munyoki adds that this is also what happened with Hummer, a brand of trucks and SUVs first marketed by General Motors. In the lead up to the 2007 elections, these vehicles became very popular after Raila Odinga is said to have imported them. Uhuru was by then associated with Lexus – a high-end brand for the upper class. Brands and politics, during this electioneering period, have also interacted in some rather mundane ways, with customers going for products bearing the colour of the political parties they support and rejecting products of a product they do not support. Elisha Reru, an insurance dealer at Jubilee Insurance, who has a small team of insurance salespeople under his wing specialising in selling medical insurance policies has encountered firsthand such political risks. Mr Reru says he has heard a number of cases where customers have associated Jubilee Insurance and Jubilee Party, with positive or negative results.
Brands operate in a wider macroeconomic environment, of which politics is part. Dr Owino gives the example of East African Breweries Ltd that was accused of cheering on the Government when it undertook a crackdown against illicit brands. “They ran adverts to help the Government achieve their goal,” said Dr Owino, noting that such coziness can be dangerous in the long-term.
“Politics changes with time, but brands are not there for a season,” said Dr Owino. He noted that it might not be good for a brand to support a political stand for a short-term despite the commercial gain because it can suffer in the long-term.