The project, one of the latest Ushahidi implementations in Africa was led by the US based Sudan Institute for Research and Policy (SIRP) and Sudan based Asmaa Society for Development, in collaboration with other Sudanese civil society organizations (CSO’s) who deployed certified election observers throughout the country to report using standard paper forms. These reports were then collated and uploaded to SudanVoteMonitor by designated staff members. Additionally, observers equipped with mobile phones were able to send reports directly using the SMS short codes setup by the project. The bulk of the reporting, however, was done by average citizens throughout the country using SMS, and online via the project website. This was one of the project’s biggest successes since this was a first time experience where technology was applied in reporting by citizens and civil societies in Sudan.
As a result of such success, and thanks to strong backing from international groups active in Sudan, the project is gearing up to cover the upcoming Referendum for Self Determination for Southern Sudan and Abyei in January 2011 where the challenges and stakes are even higher.
Executive Summary of Sudan Vote Monitor Report
The purpose of the Sudan Vote Monitor (SVM) project was to utilize simple information and communication technology (ICT) tools in the independent monitoring and reporting of the Sudan national elections held in April 2010. This initiative built on the successful recent experience of civil society organizations (CSOs) and volunteers in several countries (e.g., Ghana, India, Sierra Leone, Montenegro) in harnessing ICT to support the conduct of fair and credible elections. The project’s primary focus is the process of observing and reporting rather than the election results or their implications as significant as these are. Accordingly, SVM, and this report, is only concerned with the reporting activity with no regard to the political climate or political orientation of reporters, CSOs, or candidates. The main objective is to cooperate with and facilitate technological knowhow for civil society organizations in the Sudan (grassroots and other NGOs, media organizations, journalists, and interested private citizens and individuals in general). The project was led by SIRP in collaboration with Asmaa Society for Development and several other Sudanese NGOs, with technical support from eMoksha.org, Ushahidi.com, and Khotawat Consultancy.
During the April national elections, the Sudan Vote Monitor website enabled reporting of the election process by many different organizations and individuals. Through the use of open source software civilians in Sudan were able to report general observations or irregularities via e-mail, short code text message (SMS), or by logging on to the Internet and visiting the sudanvotemonitor.com website. Using the Ushahidi platform reports could be aggregated along with direct feeds from news sites, blog posts, photos, videos and tweets related to the elections from all relevant sources, in one place, on an interactive map. Users had up-to-date information including streaming video from election centers or polling stations around the Sudan, and were able to comment and rate the credibility of the submitted reports in collaborative manner. The site was accessible to all individuals and organizations regardless of their political affiliations or views. The reporting facility was available for public reporting from April 10 to April 30, 2010.
The majority of the legwork and election period activity was based on volunteer work and internal resources of SIRP and its partners. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies and Save Darfur Coalition facilitated participation in the Nairobi Civil Society Coordination Conference on February 12-14, 2010, where the concept was presented to Sudanese CSOs. A grant from the Open Society Institute, under its Initiative for East Africa, has made possible the continuation of the project through the elections and beyond.
- The site received a total of 564 reports from 419 locations, covering 26 reporting categories.
- The team developed a comprehensive set of election monitoring categories, some of which are unique to Sudan. These could be utilized for future campaigns.
- SVM helped establish and utilize an SMS short code service through collaboration with Zain Telecom of Sudan and Clickatell (an international Bulk SMS Gateway provider). This service can be utilized for future events.
- The project gave participating Sudan CSOs first-hand experience with SMS and Web based reporting, and the possibilities it offers. Work was completed in close and full consultation with Sudan partner organizations.
- SudanVoteMonitor.com gained wide recognition through a Sudanese-led, recognizable brand name. The site gained recognition despite inaccessibility for 2 days during the election period as a result of external interference.
- SIRP acquired substantial knowledge of ICT landscape and technical capabilities in Sudan, where impressive levels of talent and skill bode well for future collaboration efforts.
- SVM established a wide network of global organizations focused on supporting the democratic transformation process in Sudan through collaboration with Sudanese CSOs.
- Most of the project’s goals were accomplished efficiently, using very limited resources.
- The time factor. Importance of early start in securing funding and necessary licenses early on (SMS gateway, OFAC), launching the website, at least 2-3 weeks before Election Day, and early onsite training of observers.
- A larger core team is necessary to receive, validate, translate, upload reports, videos and photos, and to moderate the Blog.
- Greater availability of mobile phones, at least one per polling center, for CSO monitors to send reports.
- On the ground scenario testing to identify as many problems early on, e.g., content of the SMS short code.
- Securing early agreement among participating CSOs on the type of data that will be shared through the site.
- Developing the back up facility for the website in case of technical difficulties or external interference.
- Accommodation of slower networks by providing “low graphics” option on the website.
- Focusing more attention on regional centers in the South and West.
- Expanding the network of Sudan CSO partners, and improving coordination with other interested organizations.
The project has both tangible, readily measurable results, as well as intangible long-term outcomes. Short term progress indicators include: the extent of use of the web facility, the volume and quality of actual reporting on the election, the speed of reporting, and the number of volunteers trained to use the Ushahidi.com system. We will continue to track these metrics. Long-term, intangible outcomes are less certain. The diffusion of technology inevitably has complex immeasurable outcomes, but at least two broad impacts may be identified: (1) The incorporation of ICT as standard practice not only in election monitoring but other vital areas such as education and health care, in addition to its own rewards, will also improve the connectivity of Sudanese civil society institutions for more effective action in any facet of civil life; (2) Tapping into the resources and professional skills of Sudanese Diaspora to help accomplish relevant goals.
SVM is a pilot project, which will help guide SIRP’s longer-term plans and work with other organizations inside and outside the Sudan. Full assessment of it is on-going, and will be helped with input from our partners as well as any other organizations and individuals who participated in the election monitoring and reporting process. All comments are welcome.