Filed under: Development 2.0 Governance

Ushahidi comes to Kyrgyzstan

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?

  • Clare Romanik

    It’s great that Kyrgyzstan is leading electoral innovation in Central Asia. Perhaps SMS can be used to share information quickly about violation points. Getting real numbers on violations is a much more effective deterrence than anecdotal evidence. More of these tools should be used to re-align the asymmetric information between government and its citizen-customers.

  • Anne Kahl

    This is a brilliant post and really shows the potential of using technology – in particular mapping and crowd sourcing – as part of UNDP’s work. BCPR is working on an initiative on how to integrate technology in our work on conflict prevention. Please do keep me posted on any similar initiatives and also contact me if you think we can be of any assistance:

    Kind regards,

  • Erkinbek Kasybekov

    Dear Clare,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree, SMS messaging can be very powerful tool, taking into account a full coverage of Kyrgyzstan by mobile communication network. I think, further discussions with mobile providers may result in good strategies how to, technically, send SMS to multiple recipients within reasonble costs.

    Best regards,


  • Marija Novkovic

    This is very exciting! Congrats for your efforts in contributing to fair and transparent elections.

    Were the text messages sent by NGO activists or voters themselves? Were the sender’s personal information available to the platform owners?



    • Kairat

      @Marija, anyone with cellphone was able to contribute – NGOs, voters, activists etc.

    • Erkinbek Kasybekov

      Dear Maria,

      Actually, the SMSs have been predominatly sent by independent observers, who were running their activities during pre-election period and on election day. However, the system has been accessible to voters as well. Moderators would recieve a message and undertake some verification actions before posting it on-line. With kind regards, Erkinbek

  • Very nice work, thanks for sharing! We’d love to cross-post your piece on the Ushahidi blog.

    All the best,
    Patrick (Director of Crisis Mapping @Ushahidi)

  • Thanks Patrick – that would be fantastic!

  • Thanks very much, Erkin, here it is!

    Thanks again for writing and sharing this!

    All the best,

  • Erkinbek Kasybekov

    Dear Patrick!

    Thank you very much for posting it, I am looking forward to hearing from other colleagues as well.

    With kindest regards,


  • Anonymous

    Dear Erkin,

    You are fortunate that you have appreciative colleagues who understood your vision well. We in Nepal
    too think crowdsourcing is a silver bullet when it comes to addressing a myriad
    of governance failures, and have been working to develop it locally. We are just
    hoping that we find at UNDP Nepal someone who shares your enthusiasm, and in-depth
    understanding of Ushahidi and its usage. 

    Warmest regards from Kathmandu

    Local Interventions Group

  • Erkinbek Kasybekov

    Dear Pranav,
    Thank you for your open feedback. There are, very often, too many competitive priorities in the development agenda. That is why it is also good to find allies among your colleagues both in UNDP and, national partners. In this case, one does not feel her/himself alone, and it is much easier to convince others with team efforts. I wish you good luck with you Ushahidi try in Napal.

    Kind regards,Erkin