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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform