We all knew it. We saw this coming in Haiti and talked about it in Egypt, when 5 Ushahidi maps popped out the day before the elections. But the Kenyan elections are somehow different, and the reason why they are, is that the possible outcome is indeed a civil unrest that could bring the country years back to 2007.
I have lived 3 years in Nairobi, and I have been working with journalists, media, technologists, mappers and so on. I admire and respect most of the organizations I will be mentioning in this blog posts, but still, there are some important questions that really need to be asked here.
Today is election day in Kenya, and a lot of organizations have been preparing for this day by setting up their own branded, advertised, funded and public electoral monitoring system.
Let’s have a look at them:
1. Uchaguzi. This is the well known Ushahidi project to monitor the elections in Kenya. Uchaguzi was used already 2 times, for the Constitutional referendum in 2010 and for the by-elections in February this year. Uchaguzi will be receiving SMS at the short code 3002 and also via social media #uchaguzi and via web forms, as well as via Android app and iPhone app.
2. Voice of Mathare. This is a project from Map of Kibera Trust, monitoring only electoral events happening in Mathare. The project also has an SMS number 0726300400, and also has a web form to report to.
3. Amani Kenya @108. This is a project from the National Steering Committee on peace building and conflict management, under the Ministry of state for provincial administration and internal security. The system will make use of the current District Peace Committees (DPCs), Peace Monitors and other relevant parties to gather crucial information from the field. Once information is gathered from various sources on the field, an analysis group will be able to analyze the information and to issue an indicator based Early Warning Report to the relevant parties for a response. Amani has its own short code for reporting on election related events, which is of course 108. In addition to this there is also a web form to report to on-line.
4. The Independent Electoral and boundaries commission Whistle Blowing Portal, where people can report via web any issue competency of the Director Risk and Compliance
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. They also have an election hotlines for issues, complaints or inquiries: 0711035606 / 0711035616
5. SiSi Ni Amani. Sisi Ni Amani Kenya has worked with local peace groups to set up an SMS-based programming available to subscribers through USSD code *762#. Subscribers are able to dial in for free from any Safaricom line to subscribe and receive SMS from SNA-K. The project aims at looking at rumors spreading via SMS and have a team of “peace-keepers” on the ground responding timely to it by directly addressing the problem.
6. And finally the actual formal national emergency services aka, Kenya Police: 0800 720002 and the ambulance service: 0700395395 or 0738395395, which also has a web-form reporting system.
7. And lastly the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights toll free hotline for election monitoring: 0800721410
So, let’s be clear here: I am all for more transparency and for multiple channels of communication. Especially in emergencies, the more people are ready to respond, the better it is. Now, the problem is exactly this one: are all of these people really ready to respond?
I have been looking and reading all the pages of those organizations and what strikes me is that, apart from SiSi Ni Amani, which is a system that has been working for almost 3 years now, and it is not a reporting system really, but more a prevention tool; the Kenyan police, which I believe everyone knows what it does; and Amani 108, which is using a very predefined system of Peace Monitors, all the rest of the projects here have very vague explanations of what is that they will be doing with the information they want to collect. Will they respond? Will they have responders on the ground? Will they only monitor for the sake of transparency and accountability?
But other questions are really coming out from this picture is: DO WE REALLY NEED ALL OF THOSE PROJECTS??? Do we really need 3 maps, 7 phone numbers, and several web-forms? Is that really such a crazy bad idea to have one coordinated number/web-form that could then have in the back-end multiple responders and organizations working together?
I mean, seriously, what the hell should a Kenyan do today when something happens? Send 7 SMSs and compile a bunch of web-forms for each event they see? They should all go around with a list of the specific topics that they should report on and which platform they go to?
This would look like something like this: “If you are in Mathare send a report to 0726300400 and to 3002 and to 108, but only after you have alerted the police at 999 or 112. But if it is something related to human rights violations, and more in particular IDPs, then remember to also text 0800721410. If the issue is related to violations competency of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission then you should text 0711035606 / 0711035616, but if you get a rumor via mobile phone you probably should send a text to 8762 just in case SiSi Ni Amani is also working in your area. Oh, and by the way, keep safe and keep reporting to us. If you still have any credit in your mobile phone or if by the time you send us a message you did not ended up being killed!”
Now, I do know that coordination and partnerships are not easy things to do and set up, and that all of those organizations have been meeting on a regular basis before the elections. I also do know that they talk to each other and know what everyone else is doing. But on the other side I believe that the messages being sent out to the actual people that are supposed to benefit from those systems is vague, misleading and possibly dangerous. If technology is supposed to make our lives easier, than I am not sure we are really getting there.
Just a week ago GSMA launched their SMS Code of Conduct. I believe this document is still far from being complete and from addressing all the issues related to the use of SMSs during emergencies. But it is a great starting point, and a very necessary one. Looking at it though, I cannot not shake my head and think that there is still a long way to go from the “Code of Conduct” the piece of paper, to the reality of a Code of Conduct.
Some guidelines in that document COULD BE a good starting point for all of those Kenyan organizations and projects mentioned in this report are namely: