Kenya bloggers monitor unrest

This woman is one of the most widely read Kenyan bloggers. This month she initiated a discussion on her blog, Kenyanpundit.com. she noted many in Kenya felt the government, the police and the media were grossly underreporting the violence. She wrote, �We don't think we have a true picture of what's really going on.� Then she had a brainstorm: what if the tech-savvy Kenyan blogging community created a website that would allow anyone in Kenya to report posts of violence? And what if that website had a Google Map that would show where the violence was occurring? This fellow blogger read that post and wanted to help build the site. He started sending some emails, �So I basically took that and I told all the people in my network, developers and computer programmers that I know, and started talking to them and finding someone who would build it with me.� One of the people he contacted was this man in America. The man is originally from Nairobi, he now runs his own internet development company in Birmingham, Alabama. In just two days, the two had a prototype up and running. Then, last Wednesday ushahidi.com was up and running. Ushahidi means �witness� in Swahili. The man says the site is bare bones for a reason, �Key to this website was getting the information out as quickly as possible, meaning that it has to be really as simple as possible. No bells and whistles, it's really a simple site.� Anyone with web access in Kenya can go to ushahidi site, then you can fill out an online form with details about the nature of the violence. It's also possible to upload photos or link to videos or news stories about the incident. But those won't get posted on the site immediately. The man says that everything has to be verified first, �Whatever's going on in Kenya is very sensitive so putting up anything unverified might have some major repercussions. We realize some people might try to take advantage of this tool to spread rumors, which is counterproductive.� On the ground in Kenya, this blogger is helping verify reports that come to the ushahidi website. To do so he uses government sources and information from aid groups. He also relies on local and international press reports and his network of blogging contacts. The man is soon to have even more work to do. Ushahidi now makes it possible to submit reports via SMS, cell phone text messages. This is important since many more Kenyans have access to a mobile phone than to the internet, especially in rural areas. More text messages mean more reports to verify, but the blogger says it will be worth it, especially for NGOs, �Because if you've got a lot of SMS's from one area then we'll know something is going on there. Then we can contact an NGO who's working in that area to see if they've heard anything and we can get a fuller picture on the ground.� For example, recent posts at ushahidi document not only ongoing ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley, they also detail the needs of local hospitals such as blankets, antibiotics and malaria medicine. Local NGOs can put that info to use. Already this blogger has received emails from people who wonder if ushahidi might work as a template in other crisis areas, �Because this is a problem, right? You have something blow up in the world and no one's prepared for it so it takes them two or three days to get a website up and working. So the idea might be to create something like this that's bigger and allow something that if something happens somewhere in Asia, people could start reporting on a similar website. So it's a pretty interesting idea.� But for now, the Kenyan bloggers behind Ushahidi are focusing on Kenya. They want ushahidi to serve as documentation for future generations. This blogger put it this way in a recent post: �Kenyans have demonstrated their capacity for selective amnesia time and time again. For Kenyans to truly move forward, the truth of what happens needs to be told.� She concludes, �Ushahidi is our small way of contributing to that.�

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