There is no way John Ngumi, the new chairman of the Safaricom board, can be used to rig elections

John Ngumi

We all know that Michael Joseph stepped down as the Chairman of Safaricom board so that effective from today August 1st 2022, the new chairman of the board becomes John Ngumi. When the news of the change was announced late last week, Kenyans received the news with mixed reactions, with a number opining that the change was being made so that the deep state can use Safaricom infrastructure to rig the August 9th General Elections in favor of Raila Odinga. The question is, how can someone use Sararicom infrastructure to rig the elections?

The thinking that installing John Ngumi as the new board chairman at Safaricom a week before the general elections to aid in rigging elections isn’t baseless. In 2017, National Super Alliance (NASA) accused Safaricom of aiding Jubilee Party in rigging the elections, and consequently Raila Odinga urged his supperters to boycout Safaricom alongside other brands. Although Raila Odinga and his NASA counterparts accused Safaricom of aiding the government in rigging the 2017 elections, the mechanism by which Safaricom could have aided the rigging wasn’t articulated.

What we know is that in 2013, 2017 and now in 2022, Safaricom has been a key partner to IEBC in the electoral process, and this partnership involves Safaricom providing the needed bandwidth for the wireless transmission of results from polling stations to constituency tallying centres, the county tallying centres, and to the national tallying centre. Safaricom however does not hold the transmitted data at all as it only provides a getway for the data to travel from origin to destination unimpeded.

The partnership between Safaricom and IEBC on the electoral process is no different from the partnership Safaricom has with WhatsApp when it comes to transmitting WhatsApp messages. When a person who is on Safaricom network (Internet) sends a WhatsApp message, and the receipent is also on Safaricom Internet, what happens is that Safaricom only provides a getway through which the WhatsApp message can travel from the sender’s phone to the receipient’s phone, with no storage of the message on Safaricom servers. The person who stores the message on its servers is WhatsApp but only does so until the message is delivered to the receipient, after which the message can be found only on the sender’s and reciepient’s phones.

Likewise, when an IEBC returning officer based at a polling station sends data from his KIMS kit to the constitiuency, county and national tallying centres, the message can only be found in the KIMS kit and in the servers stationed at the constituency, county, and national tallying centres – and not in Safaricom servers. Thus, the only way someone could change data is either before the data is entered in the KIMS kit, after it has been entered in the KIMS kit but before it has been transmitted, or in the IEBC servers at the constiency, county or national tallying centres.

It is possible to intercept data during transmission, but the practicality of that possiblity prohibits any attempt for any hacker, however sophisctaed, to attempt changing data when it is being transmitted for several reasons:

  1. Data is usually transmitted in an encrypted formated, whereby even if you were able to intercept that data, it would be gibberish to you. Only the servers have the decription keys (sent by the KIMS kit) to decript that data. It is therefore easy and effficient to change data in the servers.
  2. The time it would take you to intercept the data on stransit, change it, then retransmit it would cause long delays, and given the number of polling station data that you would need to intercept in order to make any meaningful impact in the results, the delays would amount to weeks/months.
  3. The resources needed to implement intercepting data on transit, change that data without being detected, then retransmit the changed data is beyond reach.

So, just like in 2017 when blaming Safaricom for the rigged elections was uncalled for and totally unnecessary, thinking that Safaricom can in any way influence the outcome of 2022 General or Presidential Elections is also totally uncalled for. It is therefore important for people to discuss the appointment of John Ngumi to the helm of Safaricom’s board on the basis of his qualifications, experience, and past performances in places he has worked instead of imagining that he can in any way influence the direction the elections will take.

Secondly, the work of a board chairman is not to dictate the daily operations of the company, but to chair board meetings which are usually called to discuss the policy direction of the company, and to ensure the interests (usually monetary interests) of the shareholders are safeguarded. In this regard therefore, what people ought to worry about is whether or not John Ngumi is qualified to spearhead Safaricom to the territories that will reap maximum benefits to the shareholders.

Se also: NASA online strategy is lacking, and is likely to cost them the 2017 elections


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