Ushahidi is a tech company that uses easily manipulable software to collect data from text messages, emails, phone calls, and more to map phenomena in the realms of politics, natural disaster, social issues, and much more. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the company has expanded its outreach from humble beginnings and has had 120,000 total ‘deployments’ since its genesis in 2008.
Following a controversial presidential election in December 2007, violent protests and targeted ethnic violence broke out across Kenya. Some of the worst violence was in Nairobi, where the attacks were sporadic and occurred over the course of several months. Deeply troubled by these events, four Kenyan technologists began working together searching through blogs, news articles, and social media to find out where and why these acts of violence were occurring. With the data gathered from their collective research, they were able to better understand the patterns of violence. The four realized that a tool was needed for improving this data collection process and thus Ushahidi, meaning ‘testimony’ in Swahili, was born.
Ushahidi works to provide people with the tools needed to gather meaningful data in a way that is efficient for all users. Individuals can send data via text, email, and social media while the Ushahidi platform aggregates and organizes the data spatially. Ushahidi has been used to facilitate voting in the 2013 Kenyan election and to keep track of reports of bribery and tampering of polling stations in different areas. During the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, the Ushahidi platform assisted Obama’s campaign team in ensuring that when polling issues occurred, the stations were able to be legally held open later to allow voters to be represented fairly.
Although Ushahidi is a useful tool for facilitating political issues, there are many other applications for the program. In fact, according to Nathaniel Manning, the Chief Officer of Operations (COO) of Ushahidi, these uses tend to fall into a handful of groups including crisis response, human rights reporting, environmental issues, citizen journalism, and monitoring/evaluation. In a particular use case, Ushahidi has been used to map areas of harassment or unwanted sexual attention in Egypt.
When asked by AGS if he (Manning) saw Ushahidi as becoming a tool for the citizen or for political agencies, he answered- both. “We strive for this platform to be the long-tail in technology. It is ok even if it’s used for small applications… For bigger organizations, we provide services for a longer term. Smaller community organizations benefit from Ushahidi by using the service for free.”
To learn more about Ushahidi work in Nairobi, click here.
Written by Lewis Berger