Kenyans put messaging to work to head off poll violence

 

Nairobi

For Juliana Rotich, like so many Kenyans, the last election at the end of 2007 evokes painful memories.

Having returned from her studies in the US to vote in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret she was stranded for days as her compatriots fought and died over the disputed results. She remembers feeling helpless and has no intention of repeating the experience. As Kenya goes to the polls again tomorrow, the young technologist is among a small army of Kenyan geeks who have been leading efforts to prevent violence.

During the post-election crisis text messages were used to spread rumours, incite violence between different communities and even coordinate attacks. But mobile phones could also be put to positive use as Ms Rotich proved when she helped to found Ushahidi (Swahili for Witness), a platform that allows text messages to be used to map crises.

The tech initiative was one of the few positives to emerge from a crisis that left 1,300 people dead and 600,000 more homeless. The Kenyan startup has since been used all over the world from mapping temporary office locations during superstorm Sandy in the US to improving public transport systems in Beijing. Now the crowd-sourcing and crisis mapping venture returns home for possibly its greatest test.

“You (the media) can't be everywhere but the crowd is everywhere,” said Ms Rotich.

Ushahidi's election project aims to take tens of thousands of SMS reports and turn them into live maps, bulletins and in some cases report incidents to the police. They are also overseeing Umati (Swahili for crowd), which has volunteers scanning Kenya's lively social media for any signs of hate speech, while members of the public can flag incitement by sending a free of charge text message.

During a referendum vote two years ago they launched the Nipe Ukweli (Gimme Truth) campaign. When a false rumour spread that some Kenyans were burning churches a young activist tweeted a photograph of one of the unharmed churches with the words "stop the lying."

Hopes that the country might move beyond the tribal politics that blighted the last election have evaporated. The election will be won by one of two clearly ethnic alliances whose presidential hopefuls drawn from the same pool of politicians who oversaw the chaos in 2008. On one side is Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who most observers agree narrowly won the last election but had to settle for the junior role in a power-sharing government. One the other is Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president, who is due to stand trial at the ICC for his alleged part in the post-election violence of 2008.

In this context Ms Rotich remains realistic about the limits of technology in preventing intercommunal unrest: “We can at least show that there are Kenyans whose reality is not tribal.”

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments