The story of Ushahidi starts with the 2007 Presidential Elections in Kenya. Mwai Kibaki was running for reelection against Raila Odinga. There was strong evidence that Odinga was the preferred candidate and that he was going to win. However, in a controversial move Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Kibaki was accused of electoral manipulation and riots broke out through out the country.
Following the announcement all live broadcasts where shut down by the Ministry of Security, casting a veil over the incident and leaving the people suffering and disoriented. It was this action that lead to the birth of Ushahidi. Ushahidi was an independent effort to aimed to gather reports for eyewitness sources and place it in google maps. It allowed for people to get around the mainstream media blackout and find out the scope and details of the violence.
Ushahidi means testimony or witness in Swahili .The way it works is that it gathers reports sent by civilian ”journalists” through SMS, MMS, or email. This is then filtered by Ushahidi personnel and put on a map. The Ushahidi organization was been active in a few other incidences. During the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Patrick Meier, one the key people behind Ushahidi gathered a group of people to map the thousands of reports being sent to them from the disaster areas. Their map was used by rescue teams and helped save hundreds of lives. They were also active during the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, they traced the outbreak and spread of the virus.
Ushahidi is also a downloadable software that can be used by a number of different groups. As a result of this it has been used for several journalistic purposes around the world. It was used to trace the 2009 election in India. With India being the largest democracy in the world it was important to be able to keep track over the election on both a national and local scale to prevent misconduct. As opposed to the Kenya elections, India was actually able to use Ushahidi to make sure such incidents would not happen. The software has also been used by Al Jazeera to report violence on the Gaza Strip. Here we an case of a traditional media organization using new media tools to improve their reporting capabilities.
Ushahidi has several benefits over traditional media tools. Whereas it can be dangerous and expensive to send a lot of on-location journalists around the world to report different events, Ushahidi makes it possible to let the people in the news story report directly to the organisation. Traditional journalists are also limited with time and space, they can’t be everywhere all the time but Ushahidi provides a fast and efficient method of reporting stories that spans over a large area and a long duration of time. Finally it provides a level a transparency, being able to show thousands of perspectives that traditional media is unable to provide.