Deflection Tactics: How A Coordinated Online Campaign Tried To Blame Ex-Agriculture CS Peter Munya For “Fake Fertilizer”

On March 10, Africa Uncensored published Fertile Deception, an investigation into how SBL Innovate, a company that had a deal to distribute fertilizer through the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), packed diatomaceous earth in bags and sold it as organic fertilizer.

Soon after publishing the investigation, we noticed an emerging narrative online, which redirected the blame to Peter Munya, who was Agriculture Cabinet Secretary in former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government. 

The narrative appeared to have one motive – to absolve the current government of possible lapse in oversight and instead pin this on the previous government, which had introduced the fertilizer subsidy program to begin with. 

As a result of this campaign, ‘Peter Munya’ was trending for the better part of 11th and 12th March. The Piga Firimbi team investigated the accounts, comments and posts on X driving the Munya narrative, and established that this well-choreographed campaign had the telltale signs of an influence operation, and the likely goal was to turn people’s eyes away from a government caught, to quote Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi, pants down.

The Deception 

The two-part Fertile Deception documentary contains whistle-blower accounts, secret filming, testing for nutrient quantities and testimonies from farmers and experts, blowing the lid off a scheme to fleece farmers. Starting from a diatomite mine in Kariandusi, the documentary follows the bags, which were marked to indicate optimal levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, to NCPB depots around the country. 

The main character behind all this is Josiah ‘Joe’ Kariuki, whose company SBL Innovate LTD, distributed the diatomaceous earth packaged in gunny bags and labeled as GPC organic fertilizer .

Within a day of the exposé, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) withdrew the standardization accorded to SBL for their GPC Plus Organic fertilizer, and later initiated legal action. In a bizarre twist, SBL Innovate Limited CEO claimed the product was a soil conditioner and not a fertilizer as claimed, despite the label on the packaging stating otherwise.

Excerpt of statement issued by KEBS Managing Director Esther Ngari

Following the publication of the documentary the government’s statements have swung like a pendulum between denying the circulation of fake fertilizers in the market, acquising to presence of counterfeit fertilizer, then equivocally claiming the fertilizers are only substandard, not fake. While the debate about fake fertilizer, substandard fertilizer, and “soil booster” disguised as organic fertilizer continues, the issue seems to be taking up a more political tone rather than a non-partisan one, with keyboard warriors even wanting to sway and shape people’s opinions on the matter.

Deflection tactics

One lingering question that arises from the investigation is how all this could go unnoticed right under the nose of the government. The diatomaceous earth disguised as organic fertilizer was being sold through NCPB — a government agency. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that such a product could get approval from KEBS, even though it clearly was not a fertilizer as claimed, and failed all the tests conducted in multiple laboratories.

The conclusion here is that there are glaring holes in the government’s oversight, and these holes were taken advantage of without consequence and over a lengthy period of time. While it is clear that Joe Kariuki’s company was the main actor in this ruse, the fact that government machinery was involved in distributing the product implies that someone on the inside was involved. 

We expected this to be someone in the current government. However, a rather unlikely person would trend on X a day after the exposé, with the narrative that he was to blame for all the nefarious goings on that we uncovered — former Agriculture CS, Peter Munya. 

There was a suspicious volume of activity in the barrage of posts alleging Peter Munya’s involvement and complicity in the scam. With this insight, Piga Firimbi began an investigation that uncovered a number of pro-government accounts driving the campaign. 

Given the intensity of the campaign to deflect suspicion towards the former regime, and Peter Munya in particular, it is possible that their agenda was to stifle any criticism of the current government, given the growing number of accounts of fake fertilizer that emerged as a result of the conversation that Fertile Deception had started. 

The accounts Piga Firimbi investigated have been posting, and continue to post, pro-government sentiments and publishing the government’s agenda. While this is not evidence of their affiliation to the government, it speaks of their political inclinations and possibly their agenda behind the Peter Munya narrative. 

The campaign managed to put Peter Munya among the top trending subjects on X, with the hashtag  ‘#MunyasFertileDeception’. One of the X accounts suspected to have propagated the Peter Munya narrative is that of Sam Terriz, who according to his X profile is the Senior Film Officer at State House, and Director General of what is known as the Hustler Nation Intelligence Bureau (HNIB). In a lengthy post, Sam Terriz points a finger at former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government and Peter Munya.


Left: Sam Terriz’s post on X that ignited the Munya narrative.
Right: Sam Terriz’s X profile with the titles HNIB Director General and Senior Film Officer at State House Kenya.

The HNIB was an active tool used by Dennis Itumbi, a key campaigner and supporter of President Ruto, during the runup to the 2022 general elections to campaign for Ruto. Itumbi claimed that HNIB is an intelligence machine, while some contended that it was a propaganda machine instead, owing to its assertions and innuendos that offered no proper factual basis. The tool was a brainchild of Itumbi, who appears to have handed it over to Sam Terriz, if the latter’s X profile is anything to go by. In our investigation, two things connect the accounts that promoted the narrative of Munya’s culpability in the ‘Fertile Deception’ — their affiliation to Sam Terriz and their open support of President Ruto or promotion of his agenda. 

Network diagram showing connection between X accounts accusing Peter Munya of complicity in the distribution and sale of counterfeit fertilizer

Whether HNIB is a propaganda machine or not may be a subject for debate, but what is not debatable is the breadcrumbs Piga Firimbi found which clearly indicate a high level of coordination, as our investigation found. 

There is clear association between the accounts we investigated, with seven of the 12 accounts we looked at either following or being followed by Sam Terriz. All these accounts posted at least thrice, directing blame at Peter Munya for the fertilizer saga. The account Trends908 posted the most with 36 posts, followed by ChebetKE with 18 posts, therealgeorge with 13 posts, Bennix with 12, Kirutit Rono with 10, Kibet Bernard with 6 posts, Victor UDA General with 4, and Bianca Naom1 with 3. We identified two other accounts with nearly similar profile names to Victor UDA general, very likely being operated by the same person. 

One man, many accounts

In addition to following Sam Terriz and mutual accounts, the accounts we investigated exhibited similarity in the way their posts were written and the images they chose. Moreover, all posts from the accounts in question were published between 11 and 12 March, and all mentioned former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya in relation to the fake fertilizer scandal. The posts were either comments replying to Sam Terriz’s initial post, or independent posts carrying the same sentiments and accompanied by the same images. 

Judging from their posts, all these accounts are openly pro-government. They publish information focused on advancing the government’s agenda, particularly around the President’s ideologies and events. Like clockwork, the accounts repost nearly every post by Sam Terriz. It is hard to conclude that all this is a coincidence, given the high level of coordination we have seen.

One account we investigated, trends908, posted 36 times in less than 24 hours that Peter Munya is responsible for the fake fertilizer. In one post, the account says, “Peter Munya is the man behind [the] fake fertilizer scandal”. 

Three accounts appear to have been operated by the same person – Victorkkimutai (@Victorkmutai8), Victor (@mutai_viccy), and Victor UDA General (@victorkjr32). The profile names are very similar, and the content and timing of their posts show that the same person is behind them. These posts are published within minutes of each other, and are all in reply to Sam Terriz’s post (see red arrow). 

The posts bearing the statement from the KEBS Managing Director were published between 2:16 PM and 2:36 pm, ten minutes apart. This implies that the account owner could be using an automated tool to publish posts. Cumulatively, the three accounts posted 17 posts of this nature garnering 92 reposts and over 11k views.

The strategy here was to game the trend detection mechanism on X with the goal of making the subject go viral. 

The campaign driven by the accounts investigated seems to have started at 2:13 pm, when trends908 commented on Sam Terriz’s post saying, “The crimes that people like Peter Munya committed to farmers in this country are the worst” with the hashtag #FertileDeception attached. This was about 30 minutes after Terriz’s post, with the other accounts posting minutes after. Attached to the post was a statement by KEBS managing director, Esther Ngari, which she had issued to Africa Uncensored. 

Notably, within the first hour of starting the campaign, eight of these accounts had published at least 50 posts driving this narrative, amassing over 270 reposts and tens of thousands of views. This increased visibility may have led to organic reposts from unwitting members of the public, getting more attention in the process. It is therefore not surprising that they managed to get ‘Peter Munya’ to trend. 

The accounts behind this push also showed a high level of coordination on multiple occasions. Many of their posts were published on 11th March between 2 and 5 pm, followed by a few between 10 and 11 pm, then on 12th March between 8 and 10 am. All the posts followed this pattern.

Graph of the accounts’ activity showing a peak between 2 and 3 pm. More than half of the total posts on 11th March published during this time.

Additionally, the accounts we investigated also shared the same images with their posts, pointing to outright coordination. Some of the images shared were manipulated to include messages targeting Peter Munya. For instance, the accounts Kibet Bernard, Chebet KE, Kirutit Rono, trends908, and Victor (@Mutai_viccy) shared an image of Peter Munya with the caption “ongeza ngunia zingine elfu tatu za mchanga” which translates to: “Add 3000 more bags of soil”. 

All these accounts went on to publish posts with similar images and tone. Among the images shared is a  2022 image of Peter Munya commissioning the sale of subsidized fertilizer. The accounts Chebet KE, trends908, and Kibet Bernard share the image with claims that Munya was supervising sand.  

Graphic of Peter Munya with claim he was “supervising sand”
Manipulated graphic implicating Munya in the sale of soil disguised as fertilizer
The accounts shared a memo by the ex-Agriculture CS Peter Munya with comments accusing him of complicity in the ‘con’

Keyboard warriors reloaded

On March 27, about two weeks after the initial storm surrounding the fake fertilizer exposé and the coordinated activity blaming former Agriculture CS Peter Munya, Dennis Itumbi, speaking at the funeral of Nation Media Group journalist Rita Tinina, told-off those claiming that there were fake fertilizers in the market. Itumbi claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Presidential Communication Service. 

On the same day, some of the accounts propagating the “Munya narrative” were at it again, this time trying to discredit any reporting around the fake fertilizer scandal with claims that it was “fake news”. The accounts in this new wave of campaign included Victor (@Mutai_Viccy) and Victor UDA General (@Victorkjr32), Kirutit Rono (@KirutitRono), Kibet Bernard (@KibetBenard_), and Chebet KE (@Chebet2023). 

New graphics shared on 27th March refuting claims of fake fertilizer in circulation
Posts calling allegations of fake fertilizer “fake news”

While coordinated inauthentic behavior is not a new phenomenon in the Kenyan media ecosystem, this level of coordination shows how the mechanisms used to set the agenda for online discourse and drive engagement around important issues can be manipulated. 

In this case, it was a deliberate attempt to throw a red herring into the conversation around a matter of food security, and bordering on national security – Agriculture – which should neither be politicized nor trivialized. While such behavior may be helpful to drive certain campaigns, for instance the #EndFemicideKE campaign in Kenya in the wake of increased cases of murdered women, they can also disrupt the flow of information on social media and mislead the public. We cannot say for sure that the persons behind the X accounts listed here were guns for hire, but what we are certain of is that the pattern of their online campaign is quite telling. 

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  • This is really helpful and gives a detailed insight of how manipulative people, government and groups can be to change narratives and unfortunately malign one’s name. But thanks to African uncensored for a good and truthful articles and investigative pieces like this, God bless you all for a wonderful job always.