Liberia: Ushahidi to monitor elections

Unity Party campaign poster

Campaign poster for the presidential elections in Liberia, October 2011.

Liberians will go to the polls on 11 October 2011 to vote for a new house of representative, a new senate and – most importantly – they’ll decide who will be the president for the next six years.  Ushahidi has set up a website to monitor the elections.

This is going to be the first time I’m in a country where Ushahidi is used to monitor elections. And while I’m skeptical about its usefulness as a tool for (first) responders in an emergency situation, I think that it can be a very useful tool to monitor elections or in development contexts.

I’m looking forward to seeing what reports Ushahidi will have from Nimba County and Sanniquellie, where I’m based, because I think that in Liberia Ushahidi has to deal with a number of challenges in order to be able to give a comprehensive picture:

  • Many people don’t have mobile phones or no credit or no electricity to charge their phones. This has an impact on how many people will be able to send reports to Ushahidi
  • SMS are not widely used by Liberians
  • Very, very, very few people have access to the internet
  • The monitoring project has not been promoted very well. I only found out about this weekend – from an ICT-interested expatriate.

All of this limits the size of the crowd that Ushahidi can draw on and I would be interested to see a demographic breakdown of the people who submit reports.

Update 11 October 2011: It turns out that Ushahidi is working with 11 organizations in Liberia who are submitting reports to the web platform. These include local organizations, organizations specialised on monitoring elections and UNMIL. While this limits the size of the crowd it probably means that the reports are more accurate and more topical. Particularly the inclusion of UNMIL is interesting because UNMIL is in charge of providing security in the country in case anything goes wrong.

Update 13 October 2011: Please read my follow-up post on how I experienced Ushahidi’s performance.