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!