As Kenya prepares for a presidential election next Monday, it’s trying to prevent a recurrence of the last such poll, in December 2007, when more than 1,000 people were killed in postelection violence. Last time, technology helped incite that violence. This time, the hope is that technology will help prevent a similar outburst. Last time around, a text message came on Dec. 31, 2007, four days after a presidential election that many people in the Kalenjin tribe thought was rigged. The text message said that the most powerful Kalenjin figure in the government, William Ruto, was killed. This wasn’t true. But the rumor went viral, from cellphone to cellphone. “That was around in the morning, and by 5, people were moving with their properties, the houses were being torched, and you’re just seeing smoke,” says a man named Alex, who asked that his last name not be used. Alex was in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where gangs of youths with gas canisters and machetes attacked their ethnic rivals. Now Alex is part of a private research project called Umati that scours social media for potentially dangerous speech — speech like that 2007 text message, which he says wasn’t just some falsehood. It was written to incite. “It was hate speech, because whatever was being written there, on the text message, it was for people to react against certain kind of people,” he says.
So now when Alex or his teammates find a text or a tweet they’re worried about, they report it to a network of bloggers, activists and tech geeks overseen by Daudi Were.
“We’re talking about going beyond monitoring a vote; we’re calling on citizens to protect their vote,” Were says.
Were directs a project called Uchaguzi, or election, in Swahili. Among other things, it connects on-the-ground reports with law enforcement officials.
In its inaugural run during the 2010 constitutional referendum, a voter sent a text message to the project that said simply: “Young men congregating with machetes outside a polling station in Molo.”
Molo is 125 miles away from the capital, Nairobi. But Were says that within 15 minutes, “two trucks full of policemen turned up at that polling station, acted as a deterrent. The young men went away.”
Full Article: Fearing Election Turmoil, Kenyans Seek A Tech Solution : NPR.