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Kenya: mapping the dark and the light

Like many of you, I’ve been following the events in Kenya closely the past three weeks. One way to measure the continuing protest and unrest is to follow the story through Ushahidi, a citizen media site put together by friends of mine to allow Kenyans to post news about post-election unrest and violence. Each incident is added to a map, giving a visualization of the ways in which reactions to a rigged election have spread across the nation.

Most of the news on the Ushahidi blog is extremely sad. Some reports feature stories that are getting play in international media, like the shooting of youth by government soliders in Kisumu – video of the incident made its way onto Kenyan television and has been widely circulated on the internet. Many of the incidents documented on Ushahidi point to violence from state actors against protesters, something that’s become depressingly common as Kibaki’s government continues to maintain a “no tolerance” policy against protests, including peaceful protest.

But Ushahidi is also documenting stories that don’t get as much coverage internationally, or even within Kenya. A recent report on “Mama Peter” in Eldoret focuses on one aspect of the unrest – property crimes. An entrepreneur who’d invested in a hair salon and a training school for hair dressers found herself fleeing violence in Eldoret and the destruction of her stores. These reports aren’t as dramatic or brutal as video of soldiers shooting unarmed men, but they add to the complexity and sadness of the current situation in much of Kenya.

Ushahidi is tracking hopeful stories as well. A category of incidents on the site is “Peace Efforts”, community-based projects that are attempting to bring Kenyans together while other factors tear them apart. A report on a meeting of senior doctors in Nairobi begins:

A group of senior doctors concerned about the escalating insecurity met to think through the issues of the day and in particular to consider their possible role in the mediation process.
Their starting point is the fact that they as doctors are able to work across tribal lines while their patients in particular the politicians seem to be unable to do so.

My hope is that we’ll see more doves on the Ushahidi maps in the future, and fewer fires. And since the opposition is now shifting tactics towards a boycott, perhaps maps need to start being market with dollar signs?

In the long run, I suspect tools like Ushahidi – which now accepts reports via SMS – will be useful for everyone working in citizen media when events grip a nation or a region. I also suspect that the tool is important for Recovery 2.0 efforts, where having visualizations of people in trouble is a first step in deciding where and how to deploy aid. It’s too early to be looking for silver linings in a situation that’s still rapidly evolving, but I suspect the reaction of the Kenyan tech and blogger community will be one of the long-term positives of this situation.

I’m not the only one looking for silver linings. Daudi Were identifies the civility that’s prevailed in Parliament – despite ferocious political conflict – as a source of pride. At the very least, there were “no unseeingly scenes of honourable members doing what some call pulling a South Korea.” Amidst a wealth of bad economic news, Bankelele finds some hope in the fact that some insurers are covering damage from riots, despite the fact that policies don’t cover these damages.

If you’d like to be part of a hopeful story in Kenya, take advantage of the system that the folks at Mama Mike’s have set up to process donations to the Red Cross. $25 sends the following items to a Red Cross/Red Crescent center in affected areas: “5litres of cooking oil,sanitary products,2kg of unga,2kg rice and a pair of shoes.” Juliana is documenting the work that the Red Cross is doing assisting displaced people and has photos of a relief center set up in Jamhuri Park, near Nairobi. She urges readers to give: “This week we would like to appeal to all bloggers, friends of bloggers, wannabe bloggers, diaspora kenyans, Tedsters, treehuggers, geeks, nerds, boingboingers, worldchangers…you get the idea, to give what they can using Mamamikes’ donation page. ”

That page is right here, and I’m happy to report it’s very easy to use. So use it.

9 thoughts on “Kenya: mapping the dark and the light”

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