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Ushahidi basks in the limelight on US poll watch role

Americans cast their votes for president and local politics on November 8, 2016. Ushahidi is gathering data through email, social media and SMS. PHOTO | AFP
Americans cast their votes for president and local politics on November 8, 2016. Ushahidi is gathering data through email, social media and SMS. PHOTO | AFP 

When the US polls opened Tuesday afternoon Kenyan time, a group of Kenyan techies were watching the events from a Ngong’ Road office, monitoring online reports submitted by Americans for any signs of irregularities.

Ushahidi, a Kenyan-born technology firm, has hit global headlines for its role in monitoring American elections in what would appear like a rare case of the South watching the North.

The company last week launched the American election monitor tool to crowdsource information on the US elections via email, social media and SMS.

“Technology is a big equaliser. There is nothing really special about an African company monitoring American elections, it just shows that our technology is maturing,” said Ushahidi executive director Daudi Were.

The Business Daily talked with Mr Were on the phone a few hours after the polls opened on the American East Coast. Reports that were captured early on, he said, were mostly about logistical issues such as long queues but most indicators were positive.

As of 5:37pm Tuesday, 92 posts had been uploaded on the election monitoring website with most of them reporting that the elections were moving smoothly.

In an earlier statement, Ushahidi said this monitoring service had been launched amid “numerous worries expressed of voter suppression, intimidation, and misdirection”.

This is not the first time that the Ushahidi platform is being used to monitor American elections. In 2012, the company partnered with a group of American lawyers to track voter disenfranchisement.

They also helped map new electoral polling stations after Hurricane Sandy forced some of the locations to be moved right before the elections.

Ushahidi was born in Kenya in the heat of the post-election violence in 2007/2008. Kenyans tracked the violence via text and e-mail. This information was then uploaded onto an online map that helped provide a big-picture perspective on the chaos in the country.

Since then, Ushahidi has been deployed many times across the world to gather information on issues as varied as earthquakes to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

The platform has been used in 160 countries. During the 2013 Kenyan elections, Ushahidi collected at least 9,000 reports; 3,000 were referred to the authorities.

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