How I run my Ushahidi project while staying in a refugee camp

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.

ushahidi_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.

location-of-active-resistance

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.

6 Comments

  1. Linda

    When reading your post I came to think about when Ahmad Shuja visited my work (about him: http://bit.ly/2em4CPQ). He and his team had developed an online tool called “ SadRoz” meaning “100 days” in Dari. It allowed Afghans to monitor their government in its first 100 days in office. SadRoz showed that after day 62, the government had made no progress on any of the 110 campaign promises SadRoz tracked. It is a really interesting example of how activists utilised new media as part of democracy and social change. It also opens up a conversation about the digital divide. Only a fraction of the country’s citizens have Internet access. The lack of access to modern technology means many of the citizens who would benefit from it cannot be part and contribute to sharing their voice (Read, 2016). Although the project is over you can still visit their twitter: https://twitter.com/sadroz_af

    1. Yoseph Berhane

      Linda, I agree with your reflection about the digital divide. Like Afghanistan, 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.

      However, Ethiopians in the diaspora has become regular voices about the #OromoProtests on the social media. Last week, the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia slammed opposition groups in the diaspora for misrepresentations that were worsening protests leading to the imposition of a state of emergency. The social media has transformed the #OromoProtests in Ethiopia. Many independent journalists are extensively using ‘social media’ for news content. Social media activism is really having an effect on the country.

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