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March 01, 2013

Crowd Sourcing Project Aims to Keep Kenyan Polls Credible

by Jill Craig

Ushahidi is a crowd sourcing company that originated during Kenya’s 2007 and 2008 post-election violence. 

Its platform allows users to submit information to a central processing point in crisis situations.  It could also help citizens protect their votes in Kenya’s elections on Monday.  Ushahidi has launched the Uchaguzi elections project.
  
Mapping violence

In 2008, as post-election violence was raging in Kenya, a group of volunteers came up with an idea to map incidents of violence across the country.  Citizen journalists could use any mobile device to send information to a volunteer technical team responsible for mapping those data.  Ushahidi was born.

Ushahidi’s program director Daudi Were explains. “At that time, we noticed a lot of the things we were seeing around us were either under-reported or completely unreported by mainstream media and other official reporting agencies.  So we thought that we’d build a tool that would allow anybody with whatever technology they had available to them to get that information to us," he said. "And we would curate it and visualize it on a map so we could see what was happening and where it was happening.”

According to Ushahidi’s executive director, Juliana Rotich, each reported incident shows up as just a dot on the map, but has a larger meaning.  “So that, when you see a dot on the map, it’s not only just a dot, it’s actually a single story from a single place.  And if we aggregate that, we can have a bigger picture of what’s going on,” she explained.

Monitoring ahead of elections

The value in getting these stories is why Ushahidi decided to roll out the Uchaguzi initiative, which will be used in the Kenyan elections next week.  Its purpose is to help citizens protect their votes by alerting a volunteer team of so-called “digital humanitarians” to electoral irregularities and violence.  People can send text messages, emails, comments, and tweets to Uchaguzi -- whatever their mobile device will support.  The volunteers will then determine the accuracy of these messages and notify the authorities of credible information.

“The aim of Uchaguzi is to have a free, fair, peaceful and credible general election in Kenya.  And our strategy for that is to increase transparency and accountability, by returning citizens to the heart of the electoral process,” said Were.

According to Were, Uchaguzi is utilizing 150 digital humanitarians in Kenya and 100 in other parts of the world to pull off this massive effort.

Ushahidi’s Rotich says that even this volunteer turnout shows that Kenyan unity is possible. “The volunteers are from every walk of life, many of them are from the local tech community, from different tribes, from different places.  And we are living a different vision of Kenya.  So sometimes when you hear about division, here we have unity around one technological platform," she noted. "But for us, we find it very important and we’re happy about that.”

Uchaguzi was first deployed in Kenya’s 2010 referendum and has since been used in the general elections of Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia, according to Were.  It will now be used for Kenya’s elections on March 4.  

The Uchaguzi Situation Room will be operating from March 2 to March 7.