Online conversations on the botched Kenyan elections have been raging for days since violence erupted after voting. ChatterBox, the algorithmic aggregator on [tag]AfricanLoft[/tag] has been helpful (at least to me) in monitoring the “chatter” on post-election violence. Today’s update at 5:45AM lists as #1 the discussions on “Ushahidi”, the web tool created to record the incidence of violence in the country.. In fact, the top three items on ChatterBox are articles on the [tag]Kenyan elections[/tag].
Ushahidi – which means “witness” in Swahili – is a collaborative effort of the Kenyan bloggers, it is built by David Kobaya, a Kenyan programmer. The tool is a simple google map mash which will be driven by users who have witnessed instances of violence and can record such events. As it is with participatory media, [tag]Ushahidi[/tag] usefulness will depend on how often data are inputed into the system and their accuracy.
The emergence of Ushahidi marks another era in the use of social media in Kenya. Citizen participation in news coverage and aggregation has been tested and effectively used in Mzalendo – a web site created to monitor the Kenyan parliament. Ushahidi takes this concept further by allowing anyone with Internet access to document events of violence in their neighborhood; this is an excellent use of web technology in civic matters. And the idea emerged, collaboratively, from bloggers pained by the extent of irresponsibilities of their political leaders.
Contrasting the Kenyan Digerati with their Nigerian counterpart; it is apparent that the latter hasn’t been very active in the use of simple web-based technologies in driving civic and political issues. Yet, they populate and aggregate on several channels and domains on the Internet where they – or we, since I belong to this group – postulate and lament on issues of national relevance.
Yes, we have collectively clamored for justice occasionally when we feel so grieved – as was the case following the death of Osamuyia Aikpitanhi during his forced deportation from Spain, or during the Nigeria proclamation campaign, which was later profiled on the BBC. I’m sure there are other examples.
However, those instances as laudable as they are, have now become landmarks of little significance. In this fast-paced, quick-changing environment of the Internet, there is need for more sustained collective efforts that go beyond just being merely reactionary to national issues.
Nigerians need champions who will take the bull by the horn, and create useful web tools as the Kenyans did with Mzalendo and Ushahidi.
Do we have events and circumstances that demand the use of such tools? Absolutely yes!
The Kenyan Mzalendo can be replicated in [tag]Nigeria[/tag] given the limited of information on activities in National legislature and on our representatives. I have raised the topic on this blog ( here, here and here) and have asked for input. Although the response hasn’t been encouraging the idea is still on the table, and will come to live someday.
We have instances of lethal road traffic accidents occurring almost daily – those events can be documented using a simple google map mash-up like Ushahidi. I’m convinced a documentation of the locations and severity of such accidents makes advocating for workable interventions easier when dealing with law and policy makers.
How about the Niger Delta? The conflagration has continued for years, bloggers have ranted and will continue to rant, yet there is no dedicated and Nigerian-created domain documenting the environmental degradation of the land nor the activities of the oil companies, good or bad.
I can’t remember who made a statement some years back, that given the monotonic manner of discussing Nigerian issues – where everyone and anyone just rant and rant about what is not right, there will come a time when the bulk of web information written on Nigeria by the Nigerian online pundits will be dominated by one theme: cry of woe!
Even if it is ingrained in our collective DNA to always “cry” and “complain”, we should also muster the mental capacity to engage in social and collaborative ventures that ‘breathe live into our cries’- either in the virtual world and real life – beyond the individualized rants of woe – or vitriol, that is becoming too familiar.