When violence broke out in 2007  during the Kenya’s elections,  one blogger, Ory Okolloh, wrote about the disruption she witnessed that December.  But after fleeing Nairobi, she wondered if it would be possible  to map  the region she was reporting from.  With help from other members of the blogosphere, Ushahidi was developed.

Swahili for “witness”, Ushahidi allows text messages, tweets, and emails to be mapped by time and location.

Global Voices discussed how the program was used to help monitor last weeks elections in Namibia and provided one example of a report they received.

“Last Friday evening between 20hoo and 21hoo in Eveline Street in the Goreangab suburb of Windhoek, fighting started between a group of 15 Swapo party and 7 RDP supporters after the former singing ‘We are Nujoma’s soldiers’ removed a RDP poster from a municipal light pole. Members of the Wanaheda Police precinct rapidly intervened and no further incident occurred that evening.”

Ushahidi isn’t the only nonprofit group using maps to do good.  Other nonprofits, governmental and human rights agencies have also started using the innovative technology.

But Utne Reader writes that according International Network of Crisis Mappers (INCM), founder Peter Meier, “these organizations are notoriously bad at sharing data” which is the reason he created INCM, to connect people and organizations using maps.  The article goes on to state, “When a natural disaster strikes or violence breaks out in a country, a map can change the nature of that crisis. The simple act of getting people in front of a map and asking for input can build consensus between warring parties. Maps can also ensure that humanitarian resources are used more effectively and get to the people who need them more quickly.”

In the Global Post Jen Ziemke, the co-founder of the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net), describes Ushahidi as “one of the best examples of next-generation crisis platforms.”


Evictions in the Mau Forest

November 20, 2009

Daniel M. Kobei, an Ogiek leader, told New York Times reporter, “Tell Obama and his men to help us.  It’s not that we’re special, but this forest is our home.”

The Ogiek are Kenya’s traditional forest dwellers and honey hunters, living off the land in Mau Forest. Unfortunately, however, the Ogiek will now be in search of a new land as the government looks to remove settlers from the region, close to 25,000 people.

The hope is to conserve the delicate ecosystem of the forest.  The Environment News Service writes that the forest provides Kenya and the region with  ‘river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation’.

But due to heavy deforestation and a regional water crisis, the government plans to clear the forest in order to plant millions of trees.

But at what cost to those living there?

The Standard writes,

“The possession of a parcel of land, even if tenuous or without legal backing, is the only access to capital for most. Losing it, as well as the harvest on it, will reduce many to destitution. Thus, it is imperative they get help from the Government and organizations like the Kenya Red Cross Society.”

According to the Daily Nation, the Kenyan government started delivering food aid last week for squatters evicted from the Mau Forest such as maize, beans and vegetable oil.

The sudden interest in environmentalism by the Kenyan politicians is breeding suspicious for those that once called the Mau Forest home.

“The government wants that forest for economic reasons, not conservation reasons,” said Towett Kimaiyo, an Ogiek leader. “The only people who are going to benefit are the saw-millers.”

Do you think that the settlers in the Mau Forest should be compensated, with or without a title deed?  What about the Ogiek who have lived on the land for centuries and have proven to take care of the region?

With strict anti-smoking campaigns and tobacco laws now becoming common place in North America and Europe, the tobacco industry has found a new place to focus their attention- Africa.

Advocates are concerned with the recent upward trend in smoking on the continent.  The American Cancer Society and the Global Smokefree Partnership fear that more than half of African countries will double tobacco use within 12 years if the epidemic is not put to a stop.  Many warn the highest increase will be among developing countries.

There are less stringent laws on advertising in many African countries, many of which are geared at youth or the less educated, and hark back to old cigarette ad’s which portray smoking as sexy, cool, and a sign of success.

In this short special from This World, one journalists attempts to uncover how the British American Tobacco is attempting to target the youth in Africa and are more than aware that  “new smokers enter the market at a very early age, in many cases as early as 8 or 9 years.”

And sadly, there is less education on the effects of tobacco or even secondhand smoke in many regions. In an article by Red Orbit, they suggest that in Abuja, Nigeria, for example, 55 percent of students are unaware that secondhand smoke is harmful to health, and smoke-free laws protect just 1 percent of the population.  A new report ‘Global Voices: Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smoke free Air’ has raised alarm that 90 percent of Africans are exposed to second hand smoke.

But not all countries are taking the epidemic lightly. Kenya, Niger, and Mauritius are just a few that have recently passed some-free laws. But, it has proved not to be so easy in many other places.  Dr Twalib Ngoma, president of the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), said in an article by the BBC that while many governments in Africa have signed up to legislation on tobacco, it is difficult to enforce those laws.

“We have legislation in Tanzania… but enforcement of that legislation is not easy. Tobacco companies are all too powerful. They lobby and lobby and lobby.”

In the same BBC article,  Adam Spielman, a tobacco industry analyst with Citigroup, says that the African market is only at 10% or less of the profits of the biggest companies, the demand is growing and companies see that demand as an opportunity to boost prices.

“If a consumer is addicted to tobacco, then it is possible to put prices up and they will go without lunch.”

However, some are concerned how the decline in tobacco will effect the economy in many countries who depend on the revenue tobacco garners each year.  In the Scientific American, Evan Blecher, a tobacco control economist with the ACS in South Africa, notes:

“There are some costs associated with declines in consumption,” including loss of livelihood for tobacco farmers and increased smuggling… “although these costs are outweighed by the benefits.”

There is fear that too many are focused on the current AIDS, tuberculosis, or malaria endemics on the continent to take notice of what many see now as a tobacco epidemic, which has a potential to claim many of the 60 to 80 million projected smokers on the continent.

It can be hard for most Americans to imagine their day without a cell phone. We’ve come to rely on them for everything from the Internet to listening to music.  But to communities in the developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa cell phones have come to mean a lot more.

The telecommunications industry in Africa is the fastest growing in the world with more than 300 million users. And the people are taking advantage of the technology to boost everything from business, economy, and even healthcare.

A report from World Focus explains how some small business owners are thriving with the growing availability of cell phones.

“Before he had a cell phone he used to have to go to each individual dealer to find the best price for his fish.  Now all he does is he uses his cell phone.  He calls around.  He does it quickly.  Ends up getting a much better price than he did before.  He estimates that he makes 10 times more than before the time of the cell phone.” (1:35-1:53)

Now, cell phones are even allowing people in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa easy access to mobile banking.  The new service lets members send money via text.

“Let’s say for example you want to withdraw cash. Well, Somebody sends money to your cell phone.  That money sits on the cell phone number.  You then take the cell phone, hand it to one of the people at the shops.  They look at it; verify the money is there.  You enter a PIN number and they simply give you the cash.” (4:06- 4:23)

The service is even available to those in remote villages or those without a bank account, which amounts to approximately 80% of the African population according to the Global Post.

The CEO of a Ghanaian ATM manufacturer said about the leaders of the new cell phone banking,

“These guys are going to be more powerful than Google, more powerful than Microsoft, within the locality in which they operate.  Already, telecoms move more money than the banks…. These guys are going to be kings.”

Global Post

Another area that has taken advantage of the widespread use of cell phones- healthcare.

As the BBC reports, last year one program helped polio patients in Kenya last year.  A doctor from the Kenyan Health Ministry said,

“In 2006 after 21 years of absence of polio in Kenya…We used EpiSurveyor to basically control our supplies, monitor which areas needed to be vaccinated and the quick flow of information helped us in achieving very good results.”


Cell phones are even being used to combat the sale of counterfeit medications. One application allows consumers to text a medication’s label code to the drug manufacturer to ensure the legitimacy of the medication.  The UN World Health Organization estimates that 30% of prescriptions are counterfeit in developing countries.

But there are still limitations on the growth of cell phone usage.

IT News Africa reports how politically appointed regulators are having a negative impact on the industry. According to Safaricom’s chief executive officer Michael Joseph,

“In South Africa you have a regulator who keeps on interfering with the market all the time. As a result you have a huge market where there are only three operators… the situation had made the country to have the highest call charges in the continent.”


Other concerns include local conflict in many countries and high taxes on users and operators.

Still, industry leaders are excited about mobile phones in Africa, seeing it as a chance to leapfrog technology and introduce more people to the Internet.