Tag Archives: Invisible

#UgandaSpeaks: Al-Jazeera uses Ushahidi to Amplify Local Voices in Response to #Kony2012

[Cross-posted from the Ushahidi blog]

Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 campaign has set off a massive firestorm of criticism with the debate likely to continue raging for many more weeks and months. In the meantime, our colleagues at Al-Jazeera have repurposed our previous #SomaliaSpeaks project to amplify Ugandan voices responding to the Kony campaign: #UgandaSpeaks.

Other than GlobalVoices, this Al-Jazeera initiative is one of the very few seeking to amplify local reactions to the Kony campaign. Over 70 local voices have been shared and mapped on Al-Jazeera’s Ushahidi platform in the first few hours since the launch. The majority of reactions submitted thus far are critical of the campaign but a few are positive.

One person from Kampala asks, “How come the world now knows more about #Kony2012 than about the Nodding Syndrome in Northern Uganda?” Another person in Gulu complains that “there is nothing new they are showing us. Its like a campaign against our country. […] Did they put on consideration how much its costing our country’s image? It shows as if Uganda is finished.” In nearby Lira, one person shares their story about growing up in Northern Uganda and attending “St. Mary’s College Aboke, a school from which Joseph Kony’s rebels abducted 139 girls in ordinary level […]. For the 4 years that I spent in that school (1999-2002), together with other students, I remember praying the Rosary at the School Grotto on daily basis and in the process, reading out the names of the 30 girls who had remained in captivity after Sr. Rachelle an Italian Nun together with a Ugandan teacher John Bosco rescued only 109 of them.”

The Ushahidi platform was first launched in neighboring Kenya to give ordinary Kenyans a voice during the post election-violence in 2007/2008. Indeed, “ushahidi” means witness or testimony in Swahili. So I am pleased to see this free and open source platform from Africa being used to amplify voices next door in Uganda, voices that are not represented in the #Kony2012 campaign.

Some Ugandan activists are asking why they should respond to “some American video release about something that happened 20 years ago by someone who is not in my country?” Indeed, why should anyone? If the #Kony2012 campaign and underlying message doesn’t bother Ugandans and doesn’t paint the country in a bad light, then there’s no need to respond. If the campaign doesn’t divert attention from current issues that are more pressing to Ugandans and does not adversely effect tourism, then again, why should anyone respond? This is, after all a personal choice, no one is forced to have their voices heard.

At SXSW yesterday, Ugandan activist Teddy Ruge weighed in on the #Kony2012 campaign with the following:

“We [Ugandans] have such a hard time being given the microphone to talk about our issues that sometimes we have to follow on the coat-tails of Western projects like this one and say that we also have a voice in this matter.”

I believe one way to have those local voices heard is to have them echoed using innovative software “Made in Africa” like Ushahidi and then amplified by a non-Western but international news company like Al-Jazeera. Looking at my Twitter stream this morning, it appears that I’m not the only one. The microphone is yours. Over to you.

Real Time LRA Crisis Map Tracks Mass Atrocities in Central Africa

My colleagues at Resolve and Invisible Children have just launched their very impressive Crisis Map of LRA Attacks in Central Africa. The LRA, or Lord’s Resistance Army, is a brutal rebel group responsible for widespread mass atrocities, most of which go completely unreported because the killings and kidnappings happen in remote areas. This crisis map has been a long time in the making so I want to sincerely congratulate Michael Poffenberger, Sean Poole, Adam Finck, Kenneth Transier and the entire team for the stellar job they’ve done with this project. The LRA Crisis Tracker is an  important milestone for the fields of crisis mapping and early warning.

The Crisis Tracker team did an excellent job putting together a detailed code book (PDF) for this crisis map, a critical piece of any crisis mapping and conflict early warning project that is all too-often ignored or rushed by most. The reports mapped on Crisis Tracker come from Invisible Children’s local Early Warning Radio Network, UN agencies and local NGOs. Invisible Children’s radio network also provides local communities with the ability to receive warnings of LRA activity and alert local security forces to LRA violence.

When I sat down with Resolve’s Kenneth Transier earlier this month, he noted that the majority of the reports depicted on their LRA crisis map represent new and original information. He also noted that they currently have 22 months of solid data, with historical and real-time data entry on-going. You can download the data here. Note that the public version of this data does not include the most sensitive information for security reasons.

The Crisis Tracker team also provide monthly and quarterly security briefs, analyzing the latest data they’ve collected for trends and patterns. This project is by far the most accurate, up-to-date and comprehensive source of information on LRA atrocities, which the partners hope will improve efforts to protect vulnerable communities in the region. Indeed, the team has joined forces with a number of community-run protection organizations in Central Africa who hope to benefit from the team’s regular crisis reports.

The project is also innovative because of the technology being used. Michael got in touch about a year ago to learn more about the Ushahidi platform and after a series of conversations decided that they needed more features than were currently available from Ushahidi, especially on the data visualization side. So I put them in touch with my colleagues at Development Seed. Ultimately, the team partnered with a company called Digitaria which used the backend of a Sales-force platform and a customized content management system to publish the in-formation to the crisis map. This an important contribution to the field of crisis mapping and I do hope that Digitaria share their technology with other groups. Indeed, the fact that new crisis mapping technologies are surfacing is a healthy sign that the field is maturing and evolving.

In the meantime, I’m speaking with Michael about next steps on the conflict early warning and especially response side. This project has the potential to become a successful people-centered conflict early response initiative as long as the team focuses seriously on conflict preparedness and implement an number of other best practices from fourth generation conflict early warning systems.

This project is definitely worth keeping an eye on. I’ve invited Crisis Tracker to present at the 2011 International Conference of Crisis Mappers in Geneva in November (ICCM 2011). I do hope they’ll be able to participate. In the meantime, you can follow the team and their updates via twitter at @crisistracker. The Crisis Tracker iPhone and iPad apps and should be out soon.