Ushahidi to 'monitor' Uganda's 2011 elections

Monday November 22 2010

By Esther Nakkazi

Free and open source platforms such as Kenya’s Ushahidi and mobile phone-based text messages will be used to monitor the 2011 Uganda presidential elections.

“There are many opportunities for Uganda to deploy the Ushahidi tool in the upcoming elections,” Ushahidi finance manager Limo Taboi said at a meeting in Kampala last week.

According to Mr Taboi, the Ushahidi tool makes the overall process more transparent but there should be commitment from the entire electoral process.

So far, the Ushahidi tool has been used for election monitoring in Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and during Kenya’s recent constitutional referendum.

It was also used during the oil spill in Mexico, to prevent gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will be used in the Sudan referendum.

 The Democracy Monitoring Group (DEMGroup), a consortium of civil society organisations committed to contribute to freer, fairer, transparent and credible elections has indicated it will use IT and Ushahidi to monitor elections.

“This time we shall use IT tools to provide systematic, timely information on the electoral processes to the public.,” said John Mary from DEMGroup.

This will allow the public to help in monitoring elections by sending a short text messages to a given number, in this case 6090 at a cost. The messages will then be tagged and displayed on a hotline website (www.ugandawatch2011.org).

Previously, DEMGroup would get reports from election monitors a month later, at the time the information would be useless.

“Observers from the field will send in their reports to be tabulated by DEMGroup. We hope the figures will tally with what the electoral commission gets,” DEMGroup IT specialist Wilfred Nsubuga Mukalazi said.

“We shall use Ushaguzi Uganda but it will be very different from Ushaguzi Kenya and Tanzania,” said Sanne van den Berg, Hivos co-ordinator of ICT election Watch.

In the recent Tanzania elections, Uchaguzi was used alongside mobile phones. Election monitors in the field used mobile phones to send messages in predefined codes to the monitoring centre.

But they also got data from random people — unverified sources — although these had to be screened and verified before putting them up through monitors in particular locations.

Although thousands of messages were received in a day, the team picked out the most urgent and serious, which were sorted and sent out to the police, local peace networks and the electoral commission.

The group also produced an actionable report and a state of the nation report that gave an instant image of the country. The reports were passed on to the media and police for action.

But experts said merely making reports may not be the answer for free and fair elections, there has to be feedback from the community.

“Monitoring can only be done with collaboration between governments and NGOs. If you cannot prove it and get feedback and transparency, it does not mean anything,” Bo Göransson, the chairman of the board of Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions.

“We should use numbers to push for change. Governments take it serious if you have a big complaints base. The more people that feed into the system the bigger the action, impact and the ability to respond, share reports with the media,” said Sanne van den Berg.

“We are trying to make sure the community gets our feedback from radio, TV and the mainstream media. Not everyone can use the Internet but most people can access the phone and our sms through the Internet,” said Mr Nsubuga.