First appeared here on 26 Sept., 2014: https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2014/09/26/ushahidi-crowdsourcing-platform-a-people-centered-approach-to-conflict-transformation-in-kenya/
New media technologies have opened avenues for the African people to participate more directly, and more strategically, in public affairs. A closed door of morbid silence has suddenly been flung wide open, and different people-centered initiatives are emerging as the African general public utilizes these new technologies to address societal issues. One exciting and timely “bottom-up” innovation being used as a method of conflict transformation is the Ushahidi1 crowdsourcing2 platform in Kenya.
During the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008, a team of concerned bloggers formed the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform to “map” the crisis online, creating a graphic representation of the violence and its magnitude. Through planned collaborative efforts, the Ushahidi team and Kenyan citizen journalists were able to gather data for documentation and public alertness purposes, and to generate global awareness. Significantly, this allowed for an open account of what transpired after the 2007 general elections in Kenya, essentially enabling the citizens to reclaim some of the narrative that had been hijacked by leaders.3 This source of evidence was considered by the Ushahidi team to be an avenue for seeking justice and reconciliation.4
This momentous initiative has now matured into a global nonprofit technology organization, and thus institutionalized the Ushahidi platform. Several notable innovations, including (free) open-source software, have been developed to offer solutions to difficult challenges. Since 2008, Ushahidi has provided services to 159 countries (mostly in Africa) in thirty-one languages and produced over 60,000 successful interactive mapping representations.5 Ushahidi has extended its services to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia, for example, where students, academics, and other cross-sector partners have worked together to provide communities with support for epidemic crisis tracking. Likewise, countries such as Chile and Haiti have benefited from crowdsourced mapping of earthquake disasters for humanitarian assistance,6 and the software has been adopted and used to monitor gender-based violence, human rights abuses, and violent conflicts in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and South Africa.7 These, along with other important contributions, have been acknowledged worldwide through the Global Adaptation Index and the MacArthur and Omidyar Network awards.8
Since 2008, the Ushahidi team’s conflict transformation innovations have also advanced. Presently, a “participatory governance” project is underway with such reputable organizations as the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya. The project goal is to make everyone’s voice count in political matters. Additionally, over one thousand East African youth have become technology entrepreneurs and secured employment via the Ushahidi innovation hub (iHub), thereby supporting the creation of a powerful technology community in the region. A future project at Ushahidi is the interactive mapping of online ethnic hate speech, which is intended to be an early warning mechanism to help governments proactively mitigate discontent and crisis.
Ushahidi is not, however, the only organization at the fore of the people’s new media revolution in Kenya. The Uwiano9 platform is a multistakeholder medium facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for early warning coordination, among other activities. Uwiano, which uses the crowdsourcing principle of Ushahidi, was launched in Kenya in 2010 for a referendum on whether to adopt a new constitution;10 it is currently part of joint, multilevel stakeholders’ efforts on early warning and conflict prevention in Kenya. As more and more members of the public are coming up with groundbreaking ideas on how to participate in and contribute to peacemaking efforts using crowdsourcing platforms, it clearly demonstrates how integral people’s voices are in producing solutions to society’s problems.
In Africa, the potency of new media technologies cannot be underestimated. Numerous revolutionary concepts, such as those embodied in demands for a democratic state, have sprung from the general public. A key example is the Arab Spring, in which new media was utilized to organize and sustain a large protest in Egypt. According to Fackson Banda, who is the SAB Ltd-UNESCO Chair of Media and Democracy at the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies, Grahamstown, South Africa, new media has offered a progressive platform for people to participate in democratic processes in Africa.11 Gradually, some rural areas are joining urban centers in accessing and participating in the global digital space, either through mobile or online technologies. Women and women’s groups are also utilizing new media in both their public and private lives. For example, the Women of Uganda Network empowers women through e-agriculture,12 and the Association of Progressive Communication in South Africa provides training for women in using new media technologies for social, political, and economic activism at the grassroots level.
Clearly, the new media technologies have become powerful tools in the hands of the African people. Governmental censorship, unreasonable restrictions, and frustrating infrastructure notwithstanding, Africans are thriving and pushing forth constructive change. It is through excellent initiatives such as the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform, which is dedicated to and supported by the effective actions and contributions of citizens themselves, that lasting and sustainable peace can come forth.
1. Kiswahili for “testimony.” See http://www.ushahidi.com/mission/.
2. For the purposes of this piece, I refer to “crowdsourcing” as information contributed by the public, especially through online communities.
3. See “Ushahidi: crowdmapping collective that exposed Kenyan election killings,” The Guardian, April 7, 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/news/blog/2011/apr/07/ushahidi-crowdmap-kenya-violence-hague, accessed September 24, 2014.
4, 7. Ibid.
5. See http://www.ushahidi.com/blog/product/ushahidi.
6. See Fackson Banda, Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa: An Exploratory Study, (Grahamstown, South Africa: Highway Africa, 2010). Acccessed September 24, 2014, http://www.highwayafrica.com/media/Citizen_Journalism_and_Democracy_Book.pdf.
8. See Global Adaptation Index, http://www.ushahidi.com/2012/05/21/ushahidi-wins-global-adaptation-index-prize/; MacArthur Foundation, http://www.macfound.org/grantees/856/; and Omidyar Network, http://www.omidyar.com/investees/ushahidi.
9. Kiswahili for “cohesion.” See http://www.cohesion.or.ke/index.php/programmes/uwiano-platform-for-peace.
10. See background document, “Crowdsourcing for Collaborative Prevention: Strengthening the 4th Generation Conflict Early Warning for Multi-stakeholder Response.” Drafted by William Tsuma (GPPAC), Christy McConnell (ACCORD), Peter Mwamachi (NSC) and Anne Kahl (UNDP-BCPR). Available for download online: https://www.peaceportal.org/documents/130225323/2bfe849c-7867-4d13-832a-8323d2ac9ba1.
11. See Banda, Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa.
12. See http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/tci/pdf/Investment_Days_2010_2nd_day/Session_I/e-agrADV_en-singlefile.pdf