Tag Archives: Uganda

Making All Voices Count Using SMS and Advanced Computing

Local communities in Uganda send UNICEF some 10,000 text messages (SMS) every week. These messages reflect the voices of Ugandan youths who use UNICEF’s U-report SMS platform to share their views on a range of social issues. Some messages are responses to polls created by UNICEF while others are unsolicited reports of problems that youths witness in their communities. About 40% of text messages received by UNICEF require an SMS reply providing advice or an answer to a question while 7% of messages require immediate action. Over 220,000 young people in Uganda have enrolled in U-report, with 200 to 1,000 new users joining on daily basis. UNICEF doesn’t have months or the staff to manually analyze this high volume and velocity of incoming text messages. This is where advanced computing comes in.

UNICEF U-report

IBM recently partnered with UNICEF Uganda to develop an automated system to classify incoming text messages. (If this sounds familiar to iRevolution readers it is because my team and I at QCRI are developing a similar platform called Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response, or AIDR. While our system is first and foremost geared towards classifying tweets, it can also be used to filter large volumes of SMS). The automated platform classifies incoming text messages into one (or more) of the following categories: water, health & nutrition, orphans & vulnerable children, violence against children, education, employment, social policy, emergency, u-report, energy, family & relationships, irrelevant and poll.

IBM analysis

IBM created machine learning classifiers that are 40% more accurate than a keyword based approach for automate classification. The predictive quality of the individual classifiers ranged from a low of 69.8% for family & relationships and a high of 98.4 for water-related issues. See full list of results in table above. Note that the IBM platform is limited to English-based text messages but the team is looking to provide multi-lingual support in the future.

UNICEF is using this system to automatically route classified tweets to the appropriate departments. For example, UNICEF recently received a surge of text messages about nodding disease and responded by sending out a series of mass SMS’s to communities living in the affected region. These text messages provided information on how to recognize symptoms and ways to get treated. The feedback loop also includes government agencies and ministries. Indeed, all Members of Parliament and Chief Administrative Officers receive SMS updates based on the automated classification platform.

U-report is now being deployed in Zambia, South Sudan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi. I plan to get in touch with the team at IBM to learn more about these deployments and explore where we at QCRI may be able to help given our related work on AIDR. In the meantime, many thanks to my colleague Claudia Perlich for pointing me to this project. To learn more about IBM’s automated system, please see this paper (PDF).


#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.

Crisis Mapping Uganda: Combining Narratives and GIS to Study Genocide

This new peer-reviewed paper in The Professional Geographer is worth reading, especially if you’re new to crisis mapping. Authors Marguerite Madden and Amy Ross combine qualitative data of personal narratives with GIS technologies to “explore the potential for critical cartography in the study of mass atrocity.”

The authors use Northern Uganda, where millions have been affected by physical violence, as a case study. Their research yields the following conclusions:

  • Satellite images confirm the disruptive impact of forced relocation on economic activity, which resulted in greater levels of mortality than overt violence of LRA attacks.
  • Points, lines, and polygons delineated in Google Earth can be uploaded in ArcGIS to analyze the spatial patterns of huts and changes in IDP camps over time.
  • GIS data appear to have potential in documenting crimes that fall within the category of crimes against humanity.
  • Qualitative data may fail to demonstrate the extent and systematic nature of violence. GIS techniques may be able to provide the widespread and systematic criteria necessary for a conviction on crimes against humanity when individual life experiences are too difficult to document in sufficient numbers.
  • GIScience technologies appear to have less value in determining the crime of genocide. To reach a legal finding of genocide, the intent of the perpetrators must be established. GIS technologies alone, it seems, fail to provide solutions to this difficulty.

Marguerite and Amy cite the following research, which may be of interest to those looking for further reading in this area:

Kwan, M., and G. Ding. 2008. Geo-narrative: Extending geographic information systems for narrative
analysis in qualitative and mixed-method research. The Professional Geographer 60 (4): 443–65.

I wonder whether Marguerite and Amy have thought about exploring a collaboration with the EC’s Joint Research Center (JRC). The latter has developed automated change-detection methods for refugee/IDP camps, and if I remember correctly, they are looking for ways to validate their analysis using ground truthing.

Many thanks to my colleague Andrew Linke of Colorado University for sharing this paper with me.

Patrick Philippe Meier