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Business - Written by on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:09 - 3 Comments

Crowdsourcing on Mobiles: Reporting the Crisis from Madagascar

As I write this blog, a potentially violent crisis is emerging in Madagascar, as the military ceded control of the African country to opposition leader Andry Rajoelina today.  Just two hour ago, the US Department of State ordered all non-emergency workers out of the country amidst fears that previous protests from January, where over 100 people were killed, could be re-sparked.

In the initial round of protests on January 26th, when traditional media reports were unavailable to and from many regions, social media played an important role in information relays.  Now, crisis reporting is made even more transparent with an open platform developed by Ushahidi.  Ushahidi (meaning “testimony” in Swahili) was first developed to report on violence during the 2008 Kenyan election, using a collaborative base of citizen journalists to map crisis information and gather insights.  The platform has also been in used in Gaza and Congo.

Here, you can see the Madagascar-specific site, where citizens can check the Google Maps mashup to learn where crises are occurring (and have occurred previously).  They can also view a listing of all reports, submit their own (via internet or mobile) and receive SMS alerts on their mobiles about any developments in their locality. 


The functionality and ability of citizens to text-in and receive updates (with a proper verification process) can go a long way to reduce harm in crises.  Also, in many of the developing regions where such crises are most prevalent, the mobile is an ideal channel for this information.  At the end of 2007, there were 280 million mobile subscribers in Africa, representing a 30% penetration rate.  In Congo, for instance, there are only 10 000 fixed-line telephones, but over 1 million mobiles.  If you want to read on about mobile penetration in Africa, check out this article that appeared in The Guardian in January.

In a study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiaitve on last year’s post-election violence in Kenya, Ushahidi’s data was compared to the information released by bloggers and traditional media.  Not only is Ushahidi able to get infomation out quicker, but in many cases, it helped with reporting information that was “off the grid”.  Whereas bloggers and news media often focus on the same areas and echo one another, Ushidi allowed coverage of a much broader area.  Here’s a more in-depth blog from last October that covers this and other findings in more detail.

Twitter, microblogging and citizen journalists may be excellent tools for crisis reporting.  But to take it a step further, platforms like Ushahidi, which can properly aggregate the information and feed it back to those who need it, greatly improves the potential for rapid aid deployment and optimal use of response resources.


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Mar 19, 2009 5:11

Ushahidi is a very well known platform to combine internet and mobile technology. The use of the platform in the case of the recent Madagascar crisis shows how more often such a tool will be used and can be useful. I have been reporting different times about their activities as you can read at http://talksharelearn.wordpress.com/?s=ushahidi&searchsubmit=Find+%C2%BB

Apr 19, 2009 17:53

–> Further the killings of Protesters in Madagascar on 28 March 2009


A huge demonstration at Ambohijatovo Park on 28th March 2009 : 8 killed and 30 odd seriously injured

So far, we have always believed that there was no scale of barbarity, but what has occurred today in Antananarivo proved us wrong. While more than 50 000 peaceful demonstrators gathered in the Ambohijatovo park (whic is not a no-go area), a recurring event since Andry Rajoelina seized power by force, mutinous soldiers obeying Rajoelina’s orders made no bones about using live munitions and shooting at the surrounded crowd who were only asking for the return of the constitutional order and for the respect for democracy. In fact, this autocratic power is showing day after day its true face reflecting the image of the would be president who can exert his authority only by using force.

At the moment we are writing these lines the death toll is appalling : 8 dead, two of them were Members of Parliament.
As members of the Association of Malagasy patriots we hold that those killings are a further proof of the nature of that power in keeping with Andry Rajoelina who used weapons and henchmen to carry out his coup.
We also call for France to stop using an ambiguous language for it is deeply involved in those misdeeds, as proof, French elements were seen by the crowd in the scuffles, pursuing, with some mutinous military collaborating with that power, the demonstrators.
Therefore, we strongly blame France in its involvement in these troubles in Madagascar and we urge the French media to show lucidity and fairness : oddly enough they were not present during today’s demonstration whereas they covered other troubles shaking Antananarivo re’cently or in the past..
We do make it a principle that, henceforward, we will give a specific wide airing to the events in Madagascar.
Given the seriousness of the events which have taken a heavy toll of human life,certainly the Malagasy people cannot put up with such provocations and those attacks on unarmed civilians will result in making the Malagasy people angrier, and theirs claims for the return of legality and for the respect for democracy more radical.
After wielding power for one week, the only achievement of the puppet government is to cause thousands and thousand of Malagasy to take the streets in Antananarivo, leading to today’s crisis. Unsurprisingly, the meeting, which has become a daily happening, is gathering more and more people ; since las Thursday school and university students, and civil servants have joined the peaceful and nonviolent movement.
In a context of general defiance, not to mention the non-recognition by most of the world’s Governments, except France, and by international Organisations of this regime guilty of a democratic hold-up, and with a general strike looming ahead as soon as next week, the only possible solution is the standing down of the would-be president Andry Rajoelina, and the return to power of a democratically elected president, Marc Ravalomanana. If France wants to do the Malagasy people a good turn, let her repatriate her peculiar protégé Andry Rajoelina, who is a French national.
In any case, we do take exception to the biased and unfair way in which the events in Madagascar have been dealt with, so far by the media. We are convinced that the French people do not realize what their leaders are up to in Africa. We believe that Mr Sarkozy’s recent visit to Niger and DRC are disguised way to make amends in the eyes of the French people and to ease his conscience about the terrorist acts being carried out in Madagascar.

john bogen
Oct 19, 2009 3:18

Oct 19th

Now many dark months later the French are back in Madagascar in a big way. They want their colony back and are well on the way to making it happen.

And even now there is nothing or very little in the French press or blog world. How can the French people remain silent?

Will the ex-colonial power never admit and come to terms with their past and more importantly the present?

It may be that most people in France don’t know the suffering their governments international policies inflict on the world. But isn’t there an open press in France? Why is there no discussion? Where is the outrage?

The cost in terms of the suffering of the Malagasy people is evident everyday. No work, no food, no freedom, crime on the rise, brutal police & army actions, and forests disappearing along with our future…

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