You may be wondering what Ushahidi is. Ushahidi (meaning ‘testimony’ in Swahili), is an open source tool which allows users to crowdsource crisis information via a web form, mobile phone, or Twitter. It also uses news sources to document and verify incidents.
It was created by an African tech company specializing in data collection and visualization. It was originally developed to map incidents of violence during the Kenyan elections in 2008. Now it is widely used in many different scenarios, including emergency response management and citizen media.
Ushahidi has several versions that differ from each other. The standard version allows you to have full control over your data but it requires a server. SwiftRiver enables the filtering and verification of real-time data from channels such as SMS, Email, Twitter and RSS feeds. Crowdmap, a mapping tool is less technical and quicker to launch than Ushahidi. It creates interactive maps for visualizing location-based data on a map and timeline.
My Ushahidi project is called +904. It is a project jointly organized by a group of exiled Ethiopian journalists to aggregate and map reports about human rights abuse in Ethiopia.
I first started to use Ushahidi in October 2015. My first aim was to report on arrests, abductions, injuries, deaths and other types of information related to journalists and bloggers in Ethiopia.
However, in November 2015 the civil unrest in the country escalated and I added violence and protests in Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. After working on the trial tool for two months, Ushahidi Inc allowed me to subscribe to Ushahidi without a cost. I invited people to submit reports using a mobile, an email or by sending a tweet with the hashtags: #EthiopiaFamine #OromoProtests #AmharaProtests.
At first, it was difficult to run the tool but through time I was able to plot reports on a dynamic map which can be seen on a website. However, as time goes, I found it difficult to locate activists based in Ethiopia via phone, email and social media. The government is the only Internet Service Provider in the country.
My view is that people are afraid to submit reports via the internet or SMS. In addition, the proportion of people who have Internet access in Ethiopia is only a couple of percent. Internet use outside the capital Addis Ababa and other main cities is extremely limited, and only a small percentage of Ethiopians are computer literate.
Source: #EthiopiaCrisis @EthiopiaWatch
The advantage of Ushahidi is that it is a flexible tool for information collection, visualisation and interactive mapping. It also has a vast support community. Without the support from the Ushahidi team I would not have used the tool. The disadvantage of the tool is that both Ushahidi and SwiftRiver require web servers and some technical skills.