Respect where it’s due…

It’s election time. It’s a vast country, with plenty to go wrong (and much that doesn’t) and a growing range of news sources. So how do you keep up with election news that’s rolling and breaking and at other times just not happening?

I’d like to think that it’s East Africa’s contribution to social media, the Ushahidi driven Uchaguzi Tanzania Decides, with its map of events, many ‘verified’ and a cycle that’s almost live.It’s Ushahidi after all… i-hub Nairobi… surely they know what they are doing?

I was enthusiastic and submitted a report giving, to the best of my knowledge, an account of something that might what happened, when it might have happened, where it may have occured (to Mtaa level) and whether it was reliable or not.

It went on the site, was classed as unverified (as I expected, as I had told them it was hearsay). A couple of hours later, it was changed to ‘verified’ and I found this report:

residents of Kigamboni say that last week (week beginning 18 October),CCM branch officials were passing from house to house looking for CCM members and asking for both their CCM membership card and their NEC voter’s card. Photocopies were reportedly made of those before being returned.

What this leaves out is that what I heard was hearsay – something I made clear in my submission. I thought the source was reliable but hearsay is hearsay. It also leaves out the much more accurate location that I gave.

Two messages from me about this and 48 hours later I’ve heard nothing from them. Sure, they’re busy but  what election monitoring service isn’t during an election? And in a week or so, its infrastructure will have been disassembled and there’ll be nobody to reply anyway. So it’s now or never.

My own report is not terribly important. But how it was handled is and how the Uchaguzi people present themselves is also important. I can find no information on the site indicating how reports are verified. Through deliberate noodling around the web (and yesterday’s Sunday News, hard copy) I see they are working with a cadre of trained NGO people, but also take reports from ‘the crowd’ (that’s me) and also ‘trusted sources’. But which reports are from where? On what basis are reports edited?

None of these questions are answered on the site. Add in my experience, and I’m afraid that Uchaguzi Tanzania Decides goes in the virtual bin. Which is OK, as we’re getting pretty good coverage on TV and radio while twitter and text messages spice things up.

What’s a lot more worrying about the project is the involvement of Jamii Forums. The self-styled “home of great thinkers” provides a popular and valuable space for political discussion and debate, hand wringing and mud slinging. I like it.

But the dogs in the street know that it is effectively an online branch of Chadema (the mainland’s most prominent opposition party). So the Uchaguzi Tanzania Decides home page was linking to this on the eve of the election (a sample pro Chadema text message for readers to send out,  if you’re not literate) and this (more sample pro Chadema text messages).

The only other source of information that the site links to is Jamii – which it laughably classifies as ‘mainstream media’.

Which, if any, of the organisations involved in this project are not aware of this issue? That’s not a rhetorical question. An answer would be useful.

And respect to Jamii Forums for pulling off this stunt. Quite a manoeuvre!


12 responses to “Respect where it’s due…

  1. There you go again, bursting our wee bubble of self-satisfaction and shining the horribly bright light of accountability on civil society. Excellent 🙂 Let us indeed account for ourselves.

  2. Uchaguzi

    “UCHAGUZI is a collaborative initiative between TACCEO, Tanzania; HIVOS, Netherlands; Haki Elimu , Tanzania; the biggest Tz national ICT community Jamii Forums, Tanzania; TWAWEZA, CRECO, Kenya in association with USHAHIDI and SODNET, Kenya as technology & strategy partners.”

    As pointed out in the About Us, UCHAGUZI was a collaborative initiative between several organizations. As the deploying organization, SODNET would like to clarify that USHAHIDI offered its technology and provided the much needed technical support to make this initiative possible,
    Again, SODNET as the strategy partner is responsible for the deployment.
    For those who are familiar with USHAHIDI, the institution has a clear policy. They rarely deploy the software, but support individuals and institutions that do.

    The UCHAGUZI strategy and the use of the technology was meant to leverage on the power of USHAHIDI Software that visualizes the voices of citizen’s through mobile, web and media based tools.

    The strategic use of UCHAGUZI (an USHAHIDI Instance) for Election Monitoring in the region in support of traditional election monitoring had its ground breaking moments, but also its flaws.

    The platform was meant to triage crowd information, verified by election monitors who are required by law to take an “Oath” and then amplified to the NEC in case of the mainland and ZEC for Zanzibar.

    The instance we may add, had challenges too.

    The work that we do is done by trust and while we may have misgivings about civil society, it still remains one of the few institutions for collective action.

    We laud the monitors for the tireless work, some having gone days without sleep in the belief that perhaps citizen’s agency begins by making little contributions that make small changes;
    amplifying a concern of violence and security forces acting;
    enabling a registered voter whose name was missing in the register to vote
    or simply providing a channel for a citizen to express their mood of celebration or dissatisfaction.

    What USHAHIDI does is provide the means, a channel for those of us in the corners of the Swahili streets, those of us who are not in the mainstream, but in the margins to articulate what we perceive as a counter hegemonic history, a narrative that perhaps, when weaved with those of many others in the peripheries, will begin to draw the contours of a world that respects the voices and concerns of those who are deemed powerless.

    UCHAGUZI, thanks to the brilliant minds of the creators of USHAHIDI offered us that possibility,
    and while our footsteps may have faltered, the priority concerns, though few, were amplified and responded to.
    and if the collective efforts of the tireless volunteers and civil society made life abit easier and better for a voter on October 31, 2010;
    then perhaps we may have contributed to a new imaginary;
    After all its about people, each voice matters.
    What was done was not without limitations, we are made mistakes,
    we called some, we missed some.

    The platform we hope will provide a possibility for a renewal of how civil society interact with citizen’s and how state responds to the demands and needs of citizens at election times,
    It may also offer a channel for citizens to monitor elected officials keep their campaign promises.

    Perhaps Change or transformation is about taking risks;
    it may not be about doing different things, but about doing things differently.
    Elections have been monitored for many years, Uchaguzi attempted to add the voice of citizen’s in addition to that of election observers, but also extend the role of the citizen beyond simply casting a vote, but also to protect their vote. For more on this, visit UCHAGUZI

    And this would perhaps not have been possible without trust;

    Its about USHAHIDI trusting organizations like ours and others to use their platform in creative ways, Its about SODNET trusting local organizations in Tanzania and their belief that each voice whether opposition or ruling party need to be heard,
    Its about NEC/ZEC taking UCHAGUZI calls and allocating human or security resource in response to those voices.

    And whether or not the dogs have acquired new intellectual baselines,
    perhaps we must re-find the belief in the goodness of people, however naïve or inconsistent with present paradigms such a thinking maybe;
    that perhaps this belief will begin capture the imagination of a world that seeks to find new moorings.
    As SODNET, we do it in these modest ways, but as the birth of a child or transformation, the process is without pain or flaws.

    We will do it again;
    We will gladly take the risk in trusting and believing in the goodness of people. Next time, it may be Uganda and definitely Kenya.

    Whether trusted sources of crowd, each voice, in their myriad forms are expressing an aspiration, thanks to USHAHIDI Software, the conversations based on citizen’s concerns can begin to echo through the cracks of mainstream media.

    Uchaguzi has a long way to go. There are many valuable lessons to be learnt from UCHAGUZI Tanzania. We hope that we will take all the flowers and the rocks
    and use them as mortar to strengthen the foundations of other UCHAGUZI deployments.

    Philip Thigo (Strategic Partnerships, SODNET) & John Kipchumbah (Innovations & Knowledge Management, SODNET)

    • Thanks Philip and John. I guess my piece could have recognised all of the effort and good will involved. I do so now.

      But I’m still not clear how reports are verified or why Sodnet, Hivos, et all. chose to partner with Jamii (an outfit I really do like. I wasn’t being facetious). Re systems, all it would have taken would be a simple page outlining procedures for gathering and verifying information. For your work that type of information is crucial – transparency and accountability cut both ways. Also, elections can be tense times so it is vital to be open about these things. I hope you will consider such information in future use of ushahidi in future elections.

  3. Sanne van den Berg

    The point made about transparency is to the point. It’s no good fighting lack of transparency and not abiding by it yourself. Hope you will follow future improvements in our learning process, which will include better transparency.

    To answer the verification question for now: we verify with our monitors and trusted sources on the ground by calling them. E.g. for your Kigamboni message, the volunteers will have called the local monitor to confirm. These are trained people that we trust from TZ civil society partners. If the monitor is unable to confirm, we can contact the source itself (i.e. you in this example). In this case, your message could apparently be verified without getting back to you. Though I agree some kind of feedback to any sender would be good to include (thanks for message), we also have to deal with limitations (budget, manpower, technology) as best as we can. Some messages may never be verified (you will see the percentage verified on our site) for various reasons: time pressure vs. importance of that message, not getting through to source etc.

    Sanne van den Berg
    Coordinator ICT election watch

  4. thanks for your comment Sanne. I hope for future deployments there be a clear outline of the process involved. It really is important And also a description of the scale and who is involved on the ground. Incidentally, I had lunch with a neighbour yesterday who described to me the efforts of ‘wana-human-rights’ to defend some drunk who was being slapped around by FFU at Maweni Primary School polling station. Well done to them: that’s not just sending a text. Above and beyond the call of duty, I’d say!

  5. I guess they chose Jamiiforums as it is the best way to get numerous feeds from latest events on ground. Some threads running there are commentary, while some are reports part of which are rumours. So for a portal like UCHAGUZI TZ which needs such aggregate reports, JF satisfies this task. Apart from JF where else can you get discussions from the public about the elections? Perhaps Mwananchi online?

    • Joji, isn’t Jamii the home of anonymous conspiracy and inspired leaking mostly with an opposition bent? I thought the use of Ushahidi/uchaguzi was how they planned to get news of events on the ground? The site presented JF as mainstream media. It’s a discussion board with almost entirely anonymous contributors with almost entirely unsubstantiated points to make. Not quite mainstream. Is a list of pro Chadema text messages an example of ‘latest events on the ground’? On the eve of an election? And linked to from an election monitoring site?

    • btw. thanks for your comment Joji. this has become a very popular post. I’m surprised how few are commenting (given who is reading it….)

  6. JF was sorta main source for news, updates, rumours, just to name a few. Sadly, most of the posts/comments sounded like (or turned out to be) propaganda; no supporting data or evidence whatsoever. But we didn’t have a choice and ended up stuck in there for 2-3 days.

    I have had this discussion with at least three people already, all with different views. My take: JF mods have to understand the ‘responsibility’ they have and serve the Tanzanians in the best way possible. On the other hand – I guess – they can do whatever they want, cant they?

    Nitamalizia kwa kusema, propaganda is dangerous in a society where people cannot think for themselves critically. (Only a handful of people on JF were persistently asking for numbers/data/evidence.)

    PS: Read this article when you have time:

    Btw, I reckon 2015 shall have more drama!

  7. I am just glad the UCHAGUZI thing is over!

  8. Pingback: Reflections on TZ Elections on Ushahidi, looking to Uganda « Labda Hata Mimi

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