One major concern in the aftermath of Kenya’s disputed elections has been the possibility that the media is undercounting the dead and injured in incidents of election violence. In a blog post last week, Ory Okolloh suggested a project to document incidents of violence and place them on a web-based map.
The idea was quickly picked up by Kenyans in the country and in the diaspora, and over the weekend, Kenyan developer David Kobia put together the Ushahidi website, based on a design sketch from White African blogger Erik “Hash” Hersman and input from a wide range of Kenyan bloggers and activists.
Ushahidi is in its early stages – there aren’t many incidents yet reported on the map – but it’s a powerful and well-designed tool that will allow citizens to report on the tragic events currently unfolding in the country. The designers promise that SMS support, allowing people to enter reports from mobile phones, is coming soon. Ory, Daudi and others are working with Kenyan NGOs who are monitoring these events to ensure that their reports are included on the map and amplified to a domestic and global audience.
The rapid development of this application demonstrates a number of important points about the situation in Kenya, and about emergency situations in general:
– Kenyan bloggers are watching the situation in their country closely, and their combination of passion and technical skill means that we’re likely to see innovative uses of technology to document the unfolding situation and provide assistance to those in need.
– It’s still lots easier to create a web application quickly than an SMS application, even if the SMS application might be more appropriate. This is important for anyone concerned about applications for the developing world. While we all know that mobiles are the best platform (alongside radio) for reaching broad audiences, we need much better tools to build applications.
– When a crisis is unfolding, people want to find ways to help, and will build tools online to help. We saw this in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami, where activists in South Asia and around the world started a series of relief efforts around the SEA-EAT blog. We saw it again during Katrina, where teams around the world worked to create Peoplefinder, a database designed to help family members and friends find each other. And we’re seeing it in Kenya.
Andrius Kulikauskas, a Lithuanian activist, has been asking his online community what they can do to help people in Kenya. They’ve begun a service that raises money via PayPal and transfers it to people in Kenya via mobile phone credit transfer services, like Mama Mike’s, and via M-PESA. They’re vetting recipients based on a simple reputation mechanism – they’re asking friends in Kenya to recommend people in need.
It’s a good example of the ways in which Kenya is a technology leader – the nation has alternative remittance systems and mobile cash systems that lead the world. It will be interesting – once the dust has settled – to see how these systems helped people in Kenya cope with the current unrest, and whether projects like Andrius’s are a model for providing relief directly to familites.