Nairobi, a global leader in using data informatics and mapping quality of life

Hilary Nicole Zainab Ervin, Nairobi Community Manager
Nairobi, 9 March 2015

Following the disputed Presidential elections of 2007, Kenya experienced widespread civil conflict, ethic violence, and sexualized violence. Seeking to document human rights abuses being carried out and provide a record of those who had fallen, an ad hoc group of technologists, lawyers, and journalists hacked out an online mapping tool able to receive and locate SMS and social media reports in real-time. Ushahidi, which means "witness" in Swahili, provided individuals across the country the opportunity to document what was happening within their communities. Since its early development, this unique crowdmapping software has been used around the world to provide information to disaster responders responding to natural disasters, media outlets seeking to track human rights abuses, and communities working to document corruption and bribery, among many others.

Seeking to avoid a recurrence of violence, Ushahidi deployed Uchaguzi, meaning "election" in Swahili, to allow citizens, voting monitors, and officials to document campaigning, provide witness, and share the experiences of varied geographic and ethnic communities engaged in the process. In 2010, Kenya headed towards a constitutional referendum, and instead of being passive, citizens actively prepared not only to vote, but also to document events within their communities. The platform was again deployed to track the 2013 Presidential elections, with much success. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks at the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood, Ushahidi began mapping blood donation centers where concerned citizens could provide a critical and direct relief service to those affected.

Urban diagnostics and slum appraisals have also benefited tremendously from community mapping efforts. When the Map Kibera project launched, it was a revolutionary idea by a dedicated group of slum residents to provide their neighbors, city planners, and community workers with a geography of life in one of Africa's best-known unplanned communities. Building on the success achieved through these projects, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) undertook similar efforts in the Mathare informal settlement. The visualizations provided by these collaborative efforts have assisted residents and development workers in improving clean water and sanitation access, security through increased lighting, and community engagement and a sense of ownership.

As Linnet Kwamboka, Founder and Director of DataScience Ltd, points out, without the tools and mechanisms to interpret and transform data into usable information, its application and use can be limited. Addressing this, DataScience Ltd. provides data intelligence services that allow ordinary citizens, government agencies, and development organizations to use analytic methodologies that are relevant to their context. Working as an intermediary, DataScience assists in building a more informed society by serving as a mediator, taking on the role of interpreting and transforming the large raw data sets into engaging and informative content that can be digested by a wide cross-section of the population.

Nairobi is home to a wide diversity of ad hoc groups and large-scale organizations dedicated to using new technologies and information services to meet the challenges of corruption, development, and urbanization. Many of the tools developed out of collaborative efforts in the capital have been disseminated throughout the country and around the world, with widespread and positive impacts.

Photo: Erik (HASH) Hersman

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