Technology transforms election monitoring in Kenya

Source: SODNET

SODNET, the focal point of the Kenya Social Watch coalition, is part of the civil society team that has been actively monitoring Kenya's constitutional referendum on August 4, 2010, which is a key step towards the consolidation of democracy in the country. 

NAIROBI, Kenya (August 3, 2010) —The crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi announced a short code to monitor Kenya’s constitutional referendum on August 4, 2010. This was the second attempt to give Kenya a new constitution. The first was in 2005, and the motion was defeated. It has been noted that the failure to adopt a constitution was one of the causes of the post election violence in 2008 that killed thousands, displaced 300,000 and affected all Kenyans. The first instance of the crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi was created in the midst of the 2008 post election violence as a tool to map violence and react to the crisis. 

The Ushahidi platform is able to accept SMS text messages from the “crowd” or any person with a cell phone or computer to record events happening at any location instantly.  People are also able to call in reports by voice or via email and Twitter. However, the SMS feature remains one of the most powerful communication tools for developing countries.  In Haiti, it was reported that the first thing people would do when they regained power or found a battery was to charge their cell phones.

This election is emotional for many Kenyans as the “Yes” and “No” camps have been parading their colors of green and red respectively at rallies, demonstrations for the last few months. 

Since the first deployment of Ushahidi in Kenya, the platform has been used as a crisis map after the 2010 earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, as an election monitoring service in places like India, Burundi, Mexico and Afghanistan, and by major news services such as Al Jazeera and the Washington Post. 

Uchaguzi (“decision” in Kiswahili) is a customized version of the Ushahidi platform to monitor incidences of electoral offences, violence and even peace activities during the August 4th Constitutional Referendum vote.  The Constitution & Reform Education Consortium (CRECO) is providing 500 monitors located at various polling stations around the country as well as administrative support.  The Social Development Network (SODNET) is offering Uchaguzi its total partnership and the shortcode #3018 that is being used for SMS messages countrywide.  With the support of Uraia, HIVOS and Twaweza; Uchaguzi is the most collaborative deployment of the Ushahidi platform to date. 

The short code for Uchaguzi has been advertised on the cover of the Kenyan Daily Nation Newspaper, on monitors in grocery stores, on TV and radio.  In addition to these media outlets, 20,000 text messages were sent to cell phones around the country alerting the users to their ability to SMS voting concerns to Uchaguzi. 

The hope is that the Kenyan referendum vote will be peaceful, but if there is any violence the 600+ Uchaguzi volunteers will be ready to map concerns and fears sourced in the most democratic way possible for this 21st century: personal cell phones. 

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