Nmachi Jidenma, Nigeria
Ushahidi is an open source project which allows users to send information about crisis via sms, e-mail or the web. Ushahidi uses the concept of crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability, serving as an initial model for what has been coined as ‘activist mapping’ – the combination of social activism, citizen journalism and geospatial information.
The Ushahidi engine works by collecting citizen reports on crisis. The reports sent to the engine are then verified to confirm their authenticity. The information is afterwards put on a map indicating what crisis is occurring at a particular spot in a country. Verified reports are marked as verified sources, and unverified accounts are marked accordingly. Through the resultant map, citizens become better informed, engaged and participatory.
Ushahidi was originally developed in Kenya when electoral violence erupted following the Presidential elections between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. It has since been used to track near real-time stock outs of medical supplies at health facilities in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi & Zambia, to track the Swine Flu reports, to track crime in the city of Atlanta in the United States, to map xenophobic attacks perpetrated against non-South Africans and by Al Jazeera in their War on Gaza website among others. Notably, it is currently being used in the current crisis in Haiti to map out crisis information. This has helped save countless lives and has helped reveal vital information for humanitarian and relief efforts.
Last August, Ushahidi in collaboration with FrontlineSMS was used to monitor electoral fraud in Afghanistan. As users sent in text messages on cases of electoral fraud around the country, Ushahidi’s online tools mapped the accounts, alerting the populace of electoral malpractice. In the Afghanistan case, the maps were detailed enough to show polling stations and to also indicate levels of violence across the country. This was extremely useful to citizens, political activists and NGOs involved in the Afghan elections.
Amidst the current atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion in Nigeria and as Nigeria braces up for the 2011 elections, Ushahidi can serve as a voice for Nigerians and can help to galvanize the Nigerian populace to collectively stand up against violence and injustice. With Ushahidi, citizens in a crisis spot in Lagos, can for instance text, “riot in Ojuelegba, teargas” and save the lives of other innocent Nigerians that might have otherwise gotten into harm’s way. Most importantly, it can be used as a formidable force in rising up against electoral fraud during the 2011 elections. In past elections, though Nigerians got wind of electoral malpractices through hear say accounts, there was no coordinated means of organizing the information into a coherent and comprehensive whole. The Ushahidi engine can bridge this crucial gap. With Ushahidi, Nigerian voters can provide critical information about fraud and electoral violence levels real time and from different geographical locations. When trouble arises, citizens on the road can divert to other routes to avoid violence and voters can protest against identified voting centers where electoral rigging is reported. More crucially, the engine through its participatory model can help mobilize Nigerians to be more active in the electoral process. As the engine empowers citizens to become journalists, Nigeria can perhaps finally be able to spark the kind of revolutionary energy that it needs to drastically change the democratic process for the better. For too long, Nigerians have felt like by standers (and not as voters), watching candidates be selected despite their elected choices. The Ushahidi engine might be Nigeria’s one chance to institute free and fair elections once and for all in the polity. 2011 is a crucial and strategic moment in the life of the nation. It is vital that the irregularities of 2003, 2007 and elections past do not repeat themselves. With Ushahidi as a formidable tool, we can hope with a certainty that we would not need international observers monitoring us. Nay. For with Ushahidi, the Nigerian people would be watching; real time and with a united voice.