Ushahidi Deploys to the Congo (DRC)

In what is becoming typical Ushahidi fashion, we’re going into a hot zone with little warning and improve, yet only half-baked software…

Over the last week, while the world watched the US elections (as were we), we were also watching the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Since last Wednesday we’ve been quietly scrambling towards the first deployment of the new Ushahidi Engine into a crisis zone. Today, we’re announcing this instance to the world.

The DRC deployment can be found at http://DRC.ushahidi.com, and the mobile number to send SMS reports to is +243992592111.

Ushahidi Deployed to the Congo (DRC)

Note: This is the alpha software for Ushahidi, so there are likely quite a few bugs and kinks that need to be worked out. If you find any, please submit them to bugs.ushahidi.com.

Help get the word out

We need to get the message to the people on the ground in the Eastern Congo that this tool is now available for them to report incidents in on. If you have contacts there, or can help spread the word through some other means, it would be a great help if you did so – even if it’s just point them to the website or telling them about the SMS number.

Setup and lessons learned

We don’t believe in waiting for software to be perfect before a launch, so we’ve tidied it up as best we can, and are doing constant updates along the way. This instance we’re running on our own servers for speed and ease of updates.



SMS Reporting Through Ushahidi, originally uploaded by whiteafrican.

We run what we’re calling our “tech hub”, which features a mobile phone with a DRC SIM card, tethered to a local PC running FrontlineSMS. Whenever this computer connects to the internet, it auto syncs with Ushahidi.

David Kobia worked very hard through the weekend to get the SMS functionality right. We’re using a combination here of FrontlineSMS to receive local SMS from anyone in the DRC at +243992592111, with a completing feedback loop from the admin area to the incident submitter that goes through Clickatell. Ken Bank’s team at FrontlineSMS has been very quick on the ball to provide us updated code samples to get everything working in time (big thanks!).

At the same time, this isn’t Kenya, so none of the Ushahidi team is well positioned to manage any kind of approval or verification of reports that come into the system. We’ve found a couple local groups that are willing to help us with this, including HEAL Africa. Their members are helping to report incidents, as well as verify incoming reports.

The categories being used in the DRC are different. One of the new ones is “verified reports” which only come from users who are known quantities by the groups managing the Ushahidi instance. It’s a form of more “trusted” reports. While we’re optimistic about gathering reports from people all over the Eastern Congo, we know that there is a certain amount of disinformation that goes on. We are actively looking at ways to neutralize false reports and encourage factual ones.

We’re also working on the French translation, and we need to be proactive here in doing other major language translations before they’re needed. If you’re an expert in a major global language, we’d love to hear from you.

35 Responses to “Ushahidi Deploys to the Congo (DRC)”

  1. It’s great that you guys were able to get established on the ground there. Having seen what it’s like there in the Kivus, this was no easy task.
    Since the fighting is really in the outlying areas outside of Goma, how are you planning to get the word out to the folks that it’s really hitting hard? And once the word hopefully does get out, how do you see the data being used, since once again, the people in the villages won’t really have access to it?

    -miquel

  2. @Miquel – We’re working with people in Goma, who have contacts outside of the town and teams that go into them to start spreading the word. Since not everyone has access to a mobile phone, these same groups are also gathering reports using more traditional means and then uploading those reports here.

    We’re open to ideas and ways of getting more input from people being the hardest hit too, so if you have any, send them our way.

  3. As you know, I’m a huge fan of rapid prototyping, and they don’t come better than this. Taking what you have – ready or not – and applying it in the DRC context will not only help document and explain what’s happening on the ground, but will also help advance your development and testing by weeks, if not months. It’s obviously a sad reality that Ushahidi’s greatest demand will be in times of crisis, and worth making the point that this will always be more about human suffering and not technology, but you and your African team of developers have well and truly risen to the challenge, and I (and the Masabi developer team) are proud to have been able to help you in some small way to get there

  4. Lisa, California

    Hi Ory. I checked out I’m so glad Ushahidi has deployed in DRC. The people there have been suffering for so long. Ory, I learned about this action through gorilla.cd, as I have been a longtime supporter of the Rangers that work so hard to protect Virunga National Park. I have seen your Ushahidi site through the link you posted at gorilla.cd. It’s beautiful, but I wonder can you add kidnappings to the catagory list. New reports suggest that the rate of kidnappings by the rebel groups for child soldiers have increased dramatically. I believe that is an important piece of information to document and might well help children become reunited with their families at some point. What do you think? Thanks for the great work you are doing. Lisa

  5. On the subject of kidnappings, we were discussing a specific category for children with Ory and Eric, and will continue discussing this. For now, I think Kidnappings falls under Civilians and one thing users could do is to consider starting their posting with a key word like Child Kidnapping which will help make the posts stand out.- Anne-christine d’Adesky, Journalist, working with Ushahidi and Heal Africa on this DRC site.

  6. patrick kamotho

    Hi i am glad for this site,please i have forwarded this site a several people who have connection to DRC,Thanks what is happening to our brothers and sister is a catastrophy we as kenyans cannot sit and watch this god given country is going to waste.

  7. Congrats for the job you are doing!

    It is interesting to read other people’s views. But much as it is great tracking the everyday happenings, the boat is being missed if we who have the voice to speak on behalf of those poor men, women and children in the Goma are not attempting to discuss the cause of the current and past brutalities. I may be wrong, but I know that Rwandese and some Ugandan leaders are taking people on ransom. If Rwanda wants to grab that part of the Congo, why should ordinary people who only good health and education suffer the consequences? The rape, the killing, the psychological trauma and the long term effects of wars on future generations as everything comes to a stand still…. A second GENOCIDE in the region! just because of one person wanting to become rich? One person being used by western and pakistanis powers? What is the role of the UN, the AU and the likes?

    I suggest we intensify these discussions and create more platforms such as public lectures.

    Errol

  8. Just to update everyone. We have been working on a French translation of this since Friday night, and are quite close to deploying it. From our perspective, this isn’t just a translation of the site, it’s creating the right way to put any translations into the system in the future – using French as that first version.

  9. bonjour’ j’ai mon frere qui est injustement en prison por une affaire ayant trait a la surete de l etat. sans droit de visite ni meme d’un avocat pouvez vous faire qlq chose pour denoncer cette injustice.

  10. Jean Paul

    Comment expliquer qu’une petite rébellion puisse se rendre populaire si elle n’ est pas d’abord soutenue par le pouvoir central de kinshasa;aussi le silence du président dans cette affaire justifie sa complicité.Le peuple conglais est entrain de sortir de ses illusions

  11. Well very much impressed about this work. Since Ghana is going yo have its election I am wondering if…………..

  12. The web site, http://www.arrestNKUNDAnow.org , provides information about war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by troups under Nkunda ‘s command since 2002 . The website is also launching a petition calling on concerned people around the world to demand that MONUC immediately arrest Nkunda for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping mission will soon be over 20,000 in Congo “must ensure that those responsible for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws are brought to justice” said Mr. Kyubwa.

    Nkunda is accused of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity of which most cases are well documented by various human right organzations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In September 2005, the Congolese government issued an arrest warrant for Nkunda, accusing him of numerous war crimes and crimes against human rights. Human Rights Watch, for example, which has been calling for his arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity since February 2006 has documented summary executions, torture and rape committed by soldiers under the command of Nkunda in Bukavu in 2004 and in Kisangani in 2002. Also armed groups loyal to warlord Nkunda have been repeatedly accused of using rape as a weapon of war and the recruitment of child soldiers, some as young as 12 after the abduction from their homes.

    According to Mr. Kyubwa, NKunda continues to be involved in the committing of crimes in DRC, and in particular in the province of North Kivu, where again groups armed acting under his command are reportedly responsible for killing civilian systematically in the town of Kiwanja. The continuing horrific killing of civilians testifies that Human Rights Watch was absolutely reasonable in its warning then in 2006 and it’s today. “So long as Nkunda is at large, the civilian population remains at grave risk”

    The website http://www.arrestNKUNDAnow.org encourages concerned people around the world to sign a petition to demand that MONUC immediately arrest Nkunda for war crimes and crimes against humanity. For more information please call the project coordinator in the United States , Amede Kyubwa at (916) 753 5717 or email: arrestkundanow@hotmail.com

  13. Thanks for putting up this list. Just showed it at the Tokyo Barcamp while I was talking about tech scene in Africa,