The world was shocked to learn about Kyrgyzstan’s second revolution within five years. The country’s anger resulted in the ousting of two presidents, and the 2010 revolution was followed by interethnic violence in the south of the country – making 2010 a challenging year. Some doubted whether Kyrgyzstan could remain independent and sovereign.
At the time, UNDP sent experts to the country to assess the situation and provide technical support. Jens Wandel visited the UNDP office in Kyrgyzstan to learn about our projects including our support to the elections.
He asked me if I had heard about Ushahidi, a free, and open source software for collecting, visualizing and mapping information. Ushahidi is Swahili for “witness” or “testimony” and was used for the first time in the 2007 Kenyan elections.
Since then, I have become addicted to the idea, especially since it coincides with our plans to use information and communication technology in our work to support democratic governance.
Since Jens arrived just before the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections, we didn’t have time to properly explore how the platform had been used, and ways to adapt it to the Kyrgyz reality.
Later, we learned that Ushahidi had already been used in Kyrgyzstan several years ago by a local NGO that recruited local election observers. However, they used the available software without adapting it to local circumstances and didn’t coordinate their activities with other partners.
I consulted local software developers and not only did they know about Ushahidi, but they also knew about the first time it was used in Kyrgyzstan and had a clear idea how to adapt the open source software to moderate activity on election day.
The beauty of the concept is that the final product would become a universal platform focused not only on electoral violations, but on other issues such as natural disasters like the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.
The next step was also quite challenging: Could I convince my colleagues and our national partners that this is a useful and inexpensive way of exposing electoral violations during elections day?
Some of my colleagues were skeptical, mostly because of the complexity of information and communication technology. There were some doubts that local civil society would buy into the concept and participate.
In the end, proponents of the Ushahidi software prevailed and we hired a local group to develop the supplementary software and to moderate the process on election day.
Another requirement was to ensure strong coordination at all stages between the developers, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), and key NGOs that would be providing information on violations to the system.
About 3,000 text messages with information on electoral violations were verified and posted online. More than half the violations were observed and reported in Osh and Bishkek, the biggest cities in Kyrgyzstan, and there were more than 27,000 hits with an average duration of about two minutes.
Kyrgyz NGOs gained experience with the Ushahidi platform and adapted it to the country’s needs. We saw firsthand that the platform can be used to monitor and increase the transparency of elections.
The CEC not only supported the idea and monitored the site, but also used some of the information for their own purposes.
Well, the statistics shown are quite impressive, however, the main question is this:
What is a non-expensive way of making sure that information from the website reaches each potential voter right way? Especially to the first voters, to demonstrate that the electoral process must be and can be transparent, and any violation will be recorded and shared with the community?
What do you think?