Ushahidi was born out of a flawed election. The post election violence in 2008 following the fractious Kenyan election season of 2007 highlighted the need for a tool that allowed ordinary citizens to report on incidences that would otherwise have been under reported or completed unreported. Since then we have watched Ushahidi grow and evolve into a tool which ordinary citizens around the world have adopted and adapted to collect information, tell their stories and hold their governments and corporations accountable. Members of our community continue to excite us with the innovative ways they deploy our tools.
However, throughout this growth and evolution, questions on elections continue to challenge us to think of different ways we could strengthen the electoral process. Specially, three questions:
- How do we increase the probability that our elections will be well managed?
- What is the best way to ensure the risk of violence around elections is minimized?
- What can we do to increase the credibility of the institutions mandated with delivering free and fair elections in our countries?
Our response to these three challenges is the same: put ordinary citizens at the centre of all electoral processes for the entire electoral cycle.Our first map in 2008 allowed us to map what was happening and where it was happening with information collected mainly from ordinary citizens with whatever technology they had available to them.
In 2010 together with our key partner on elections, the Social Development Network, SODNET, we decided to take the values and passion of our first deployment and enhance it with a strategy that leverages on a customized version of the Ushahidi platform to extend the role and responsibility of citizen’s to actively engage in the protection of democracy while ensuring that the electoral body as the provider of electoral services actively responds to their demands. We call this new strategy and customisation Uchaguzi. Uchaguzi is the Kiswahili word for elections.
Uchaguzi enables unprecedented collaboration between election observers and citizen’s to monitor elections in near-real time. The goal is to extend the common practice of traditional election observation by seeking to engage citizens in election monitoring as citizens can be a valuable source of information for election observers to verify and amplify to the respective electoral authorities or security personnel in case of violence. The methodology has evolved and builds on the concept of trusted sources and unverified sources. The goal is to both the traditional election monitors and citizen science included on Uchaguzi. This combines Ushahidi’s roots of “what do you see, what do you hear” (citizen data) with the trusted expertise of election monitors who have field experience.By engaging the authorities and making visible their responses, Uchaguzi, we anticipate, will increase electoral efficiency, transparency and accountability in the electoral process by making these interactions open to public scrutiny.
Together with SODNET, we have deployed Uchaguzi four times so far, in 2010 for the Kenyan Constitutional Referendum and the Ugandan General Election, in 2011 for the Tanzanian and Zambian General Elections (in Zambia under the brand name Bantu Watch). Each time we deploy Uchaguzi we learn lessons. We take these lessons and incorporate them into the strategy. We are currently planning our largest Uchaguzi deployment yet, for the Kenyan General Election of March 2013.
A crucial part of this planning is the simulation we are running with our partners on Monday September 17. Three parliamentary seats in Kenya, Kajiado North, Kangema and Ndhiwa, are vacant and the by-elections in all three constituencies are set for September 17 2012. The simulation on September 17th allows us to test the systems, partnerships and technology at the heart of the Uchaguzi deployment in a live election scenario.The hosts for our Uchaguzi situation room in 2010, the iHub, will graciously host us again. We welcome the expertise and professionalism of the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) the umbrella group for civil society, faith based organizations and other key stakeholders interested in promoting citizen participation in the electoral processes through non-partisan, impartial domestic observation and objective reporting of elections and referenda in Kenya. We will share information with the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission the independent regulatory agency responsible for conducting or supervising referenda and elections in Kenya.
We are extremely proud that our friends and community leaders at the Standby Task Force (SBTF) have activated their network to train and lead our situation room administrators for the simulation. The Stand By Task Force is a volunteer-based network that represents the first wave in Online Community Emergency Response Teams with extensive experience grown out of supporting for crisis mapping initiatives in Haiti, Chile and Pakistan. Since their origins almost 2 years ago, the SBTF network has over 900 members and has been activated for many important deployments and simulations. The SBTF has experience with election monitoring having supported the Sudan Vote Monitor in January 2011. The SBTF has begun extensive preparations for this deployment. This includes Uchaguzi Simulation local volunteer training hosted at the ihub by Anahi Ayala Iaccuci, a core team leader of SBTF.
Let’s activate the power of ordinary citizens to protect their own elections!