Ushahidi:A story of innovation in online crisis monitoring

Ushahidi means «testimony” in Swahili language. It is a platform developed by Ory Okolloh, a 32 y.o. female Kenyan blogger and a Harvard law graduate, living in Johannesburg, South Africa.

It sprang out of her efforts to do something about the rigged national elections in Kenya in 2007 which sparked riots that led to 1,500 people killed and ½ mill people displaced while news could not come by. Using a simple e-mail address, contacts with both parties and her blog on Kenyan politics, she was able to post information on the developing story. After the incident, she asked whether any techies would be interested in building a mash-up platform that would allow monitoring of relief efforts and crisis incidents around the globe (mainly Africa) using Google Earth maps. The response she got from three people led to the first Ushahidi platform operating within three days. It is important to note that she cross-checked every bit of information she got through the platform for reliability and accuracy before allowing it to go through the system.

As described in the site, the platform now developed is a free and open source project that “crowdsources crisis information… a platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response”.

The Ushahidi Engine –which by the way uses a free software named FrontlineSMS which facilitates SMS/computer sync – has already been used for major events around the globe like:

  • To track the “Swine Flu” incidents around the world
  • Vote Report India, a collaborative citizen-driven election monitoring platform for the 2009 Indian general elections.
  • Al Jazeera uses Ushahidi in their War on Gaza website covering the activity happening in Gaza in January 2009.
  • South Africa: Used to map xenophobic attacks perpetrated against non-South Africans


And for those that follow TED Talks closely, here is Erik Hersman’s talk about Ushahidi and its first application in the Kenyan crisis.

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