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Election monitoring

interview: Mark Caldwell / ai
March 2, 2013

The crowdsourcing project Ushahidi wants to help ensure Kenya's vote goes smoothly. DW spoke with the head of the online platform about how citizens can be part of protecting their vote.

Juliana Rotich Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

A group that won Deutsche Welle's annual online activism award, The Bobs, in 2010 is now poised to try and help to ensure that Kenya's elections remain peaceful on Monday. Ushahidi started as an Internet platform developed to map reports of the post election violence in Kenya five years ago. The group is going to use the same software during this election in a new project. The founder and executive director of Ushahidi is Juliana Rotich.

DW: Your new project is about helping election monitoring. How is it going to work?

Juliana Rotich: It is going to work by using the technology that everyone has in the pocket or purse or whatever type of technology that they have. So if all they have is a simple mobile phone, they can send a text message to 3002. If they have a smart phone, they can download an application in the Android app store and even the iPhone app store and they can even use the Ushahidi website to submit reports.

The type of reports that we are gathering include what was their experience at the polling station or if they saw vote bribery, vote buying or such things. Basically how did their voting experience go?

Campaign posters at the Kangemi slum in Nairobi (photo: REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)
Polls show the election will be a close oneImage: Reuters

Are you engaged in violence prevention or do you merely intend to monitor what is happening on the streets?

One of the things that we are doing is that we have a partnership with civil society organizations, peace networks and youth networks. And these are organizations that are doing peace work in terms of messaging and encouraging the population to be peaceful and to conduct themselves in a peaceful way. So in that respect we are part of a partnership. Ushahidi's key role in this partnership is the technology. And this is the crowdsourcing technology that allows people to report but also provides a way for digital humanitarians to volunteer and help to sift through the information, categorize it and make it available on the website.

How do you determine whether this information is correct?

We do that in conjunction with an election observer group called the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium. That is an organization that has a presence in all the different counties and we will have a way to call up the observers and ask "This is what were hearing from the crowd. Are you seeing the same thing?

And the other way that we are doing this is by looking at the reports coming from a specific region and you're looking at a group of reports. Very quickly you can see if there are similar reports or if there are reports that are in contravention of another report. So more like a triangulation based on location. That's why we have a geolocation team that maps each and every message that is mappable.

A message of peace in Kibera slum in Nairobi (photo: REUTERS/Noor Khamis)
Many in Kenya fear violence tied to electionsImage: Reuters

You receive information from members of the public, you process it and then you pass it on. Who receives it?

There are different recipients. The first recipient of the information is an umbrella group of law enforcement agencies. And this is a group that will get information that is of critical nature. And they can act upon it. We're also working with another organization that is also charged with response, participatory when it comes to reports of violence again women or gender based violence.

How have you been preparing for the elections?

Two ways: One is an internal simulation with the Ushahidi team. The other is trainings and dry runs with our partners. We have these trainings until the day before the election.

Then we'll be entering data into our system. The system will be live from March 2 until March 7.

From where you are sitting. What is the mood like in Kenya ahead of these elections?

I tell you about the mood where I am here: The mood is of optimism. Because the different volunteers who are working together on our project and our organizational partners, all the different organizations are extremely optimistic. We are actually quite inspired by the volunteers who have come together from all walks of life. We're working together for the aim for providing a channel for citizens to be part of protecting their vote and their electoral process. So the mood here is one of, well, I guess you could call it cautious optimism, but optimism none the less.

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