The violence that swept Kenya after the disputed 2007 Presidential elections would have been swept under the rug but for the efforts of a Kenyan startup that rose up within that time. The Kenyan startup was called Ushahidi, which is Swahili for Testimony.
When Mwai Kibaki was declared as the victor in Kenya’s 2007 Presidential elections, his opponent, Raila Odinga refused to accept the results. Odinga insisted that the vote had been rigged and in no time, violence swept the country as protests began to challenge said results.
The violence lasted over two months and led to the death of over a thousand Kenyans while displacing more than half a million. Local officials made attempts and were successful initially in squashing reports of clashes between the opposing camps. That was until a group of coders and techies in Kenya decided to step up. They managed to put together a crowdsourced platform to document where and how many attacks were taking place.
Ushahidi, apt for its name meaning Testimony, testified to the happenings in Kenya in those dreadful months and now they will be used to monitor election day in the United States.
Some may consider it odd that Ushahidi would be called in to help with the US elections but this current election season in the United States has been anything but usual. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has severally leveled accusations of vote-rigging in favor of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He also refused to say he that he would accept official election results.
Ushahidi executive director Daudi Were, spoke of the new job thus;
“Elections in general are close to Ushahidi because of our history, … Our motto is, ‘raise your voice.’ Your voice is important. If you see something, positive or negative, then you can share that with us.”
Of course, the US has its own existing election monitoring groups but they cannot feasibly be present at every polling station and this is why Ushahidi is useful. Their crowd-mapping platform will give the voters themselves a voice; helping them document their experiences when they cast their vote.
Daudi Were says that their platform is not necessitated by an anticipation of violence but rather; “It’s just one way for us to get a snapshot of what’s happening on election day.”
According to the Kenyan startup, US voters can report instances of “voter intimidation, misdirection, or any other attempts to keep someone from voting,” via text message, Twitter, or email to the crowd-mapping platform, which will map the reports. Volunteers who will be vetted by Ushahidi would then go about verifying those reports and publishing them to Ushahidi’s USA Election Monitor site.
The company’s software has been used the world over, although, it has been employed mostly during a crisis. It was used to find areas in need after the Haiti earthquake in 2012, document attacks on civilians in Syria, and monitor the 2015 elections in Venezuela.
With this new project of the US elections under its belt, Ushahidi will begin a large-scale deployment of its platform in January, to monitor presidential and local elections in Kenya which are scheduled to take place at some point in 2017.