The ubiquitous Internet platform in Africa has given rise to a new set of non-state actors responding to protracted conflicts through the use of new media technology. As a departure from a state-centric approach to addressing conflict in Africa, this interdisciplinary study explores the contribution of the public in responding to armed conflicts through citizen journalism. To unearth non-violent African digital innovations, this research explored the Ushahidi platform, which emerged as a response to Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence. Using a qualitative method, data was gathered through unstructured in-depth interviews. The data was analysed using thematic analysis. The data showed the transformative role the Ushahidi platform played during Kenya’s electoral violence through crisis-mapping, the early warning multi-agent consortium, a constitutional referendum, and election monitoring. Evidence also emerged regarding the pioneer work of Ushahidi in other non-violent technological involvements in addressing crisis in Kenya.
The rapid growth of the Internet in Africa has given rise to a new set of non-state actors responding to protracted conflicts with the use of new media technology. As a departure from a state-centric approach to addressing conflict in Africa, this article explores the contribution of the public in responding to armed conflicts through citizen journalism. This is in the light of the failure of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of many international peacebuilding interventions.1 These interventions tend to only scratch the surface of the conflict dynamic, in part due to their highly bureaucratic, technocratic, and rushed approaches.2 The argument of extant literature focusing on people-centred approaches to peace processes has uncovered one significant failure of most interventions: namely, that people are often excluded from participating in their own affairs.3 This critical component for lasting peace is hardly given due attention.
There are various ways in which people’s participations in their own affairs can enhance sustainable peace. Many scholars, such as John Lederach, Johan Galtung, and Picciotto, Olonisakin and Clarke,4 have emphasized the importance of people-centred approaches to conflict transformation for the achievement of sustainable peace. With the advent of the new media, there are non-violent people- and youth-led initiatives that respond to violent conflict in various ways. One of these is that of citizen journalism platforms where amateur reporters have moved from merely reporting on crisis and disaster to taking proactive steps in generating solutions.5 However, new media technologies are two-sided, in that they can also be used to instigate or escalate violence.6
It is against this backdrop that this article explores the phenomenon of the new media in peace processes by examining the contribution of citizen journalism to conflict transformation. It will do this by engaging with the case of Kenya’s ‘Ushahidi’, an online platform that engaged in crowdsourcing for crisis-mapping at the height of the 2008 post-election violence (PEV).
This article draws on in-depth interviews undertaken by the first author in Kenya in 2016 and 2017. The 28 respondents include the four founders of Ushahidi (all of whom had their own blogs prior to starting Ushahidi), six other prominent Kenyan bloggers, and five people trained in mainstream or traditional journalism (two of whom are still in the industry and three who have left). The remainder of those interviewed are members of civil-society organizations, government officials, and political activists, all of whom were involved in one way or another during the 2008 PEV.
The Emergence of Ushahidi in the Context of Kenya’s 2008 PEV
In 2008, the Kenyan community suffered fatal and gruesome post-independent political violence owing to election irregularities, resulting in over a thousand deaths and over 500,000 displaced people. The 2008 PEV in Kenya brought to the surface deep ethnic divisions among the public, rooted in socio-economic and political problems.7 Out of the concern of a group of Kenyan citizens to ‘do something’ emerged the citizen journalism platform, Ushahidi (a Kiswahili word for ‘testimony’), who sought to report on the extent of the violence when information became truncated due to the ban imposed on transmissions by Kenya’s broadcasting houses by the Ministry of Internal Security.8
The mass-media houses were alleged to have accelerated the violence by spreading “alarmist information,” which pitched the nation further into deep pandemonium. As a result of this development, four bloggers teamed up to create the Ushahidi platform to report, document, and provide information to the wider populace and the international community on the extent of the upheavals.9 This documentation resulted in a ‘mashup’ of information leading to a graphic representation of the crisis on Google Maps for the purposes of documentation, justice, and conciliation. Ushahidi has since then forged ahead to participate in the 2010 Constitutional Referendum and 2013 Election Monitory through its Uchaguzi project. It is also participating in a multi-agent consortium on early-warning systems.
The Ushahidi, in collaboration with other citizen journalists, thus created a powerful active reporting mechanism to crowdsource information on the extent and magnitude of the violence among the Kenyan populace.10 Additionally, Ushahidi broke new ground in partnering with international and local NGOs as well as delivering services through its open-source software to map crisis and disasters in various countries such as Chile, South Africa, the USA, Haiti, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan.11
Conflict Transformation and Constructive Change Processes
‘Conflict transformation’ refers to a holistic peace process that seeks to reduce structural and cultural violence by addressing its root causes through the bottom-up durable construction of long-term advocacy and strategic planning.12 Conflict transformation, according to Lederach, sees conflict as offering “life-giving opportunities” to create “constructive change processes that reduce violence, increase justice in direct interaction and social structures, and respond to real-life problems in human relationships.”13 Lederach proposes conflict transformation as a means of addressing some of the elements missing in other approaches to peace, including the lack of a bottom-up, durable construction of long-term advocacy and strategic planning, especially in relation to conflict management.14
Broadly, the composite elements of conflict transformation encompass relationship-building, construction of effective social structures, justice, respect for human rights, and non-violent forms of resistance. Conflict transformation focuses on the holistic reconstruction of human relationships and also places people at the centre of transformation, assuming their willingness to engage and move the conflict from a destructive to a constructive level. This upward movement is known as a ‘constructive change process’. Lederach understands this process as operating on four levels—personal, relational, structural, and cultural—in both rebuilding the human relationship affected and the failed institutions involved.15
On the level of the personal, conflict transformation entails minimizing the destructive effects of social conflict and maximizing the potential for the person’s holistic growth and well-being; on the relational level, it is about minimizing poorly functioning communication and maximizing understanding; on the structural level, it is concerned with identifying and uprooting the causes and conditions that create violent conflicts, in order to promote non-violent mechanisms for long-term peace and to foster the development structures needed for meeting basic human needs; and, lastly, on the cultural level, it is interested in identifying and understanding the patterns contributing to the rise of violence which in itself assists in creating mechanisms for constructive responses to conflict.16 Thus, conflict transformation is critically interested in the inclusion of people on all levels of the peace process. This article argues that the new media, with all their limitations and challenges, nevertheless offer a way for people to be included, particularly through citizen journalism, which offers an instrument for strategic participation in people’s own affairs.
The Twenty-First-Century Participatory Media
The advent of new media technology (NMT) in the new millenium has significantly altered the landscape of people’s participation in their socio-political affairs from mild to vibrant. Citizen journalism has become an effervescent platform where people generate power that disrupts the monopoly of the mass media, challenges repressive regimes, and coordinates for humanitarian assistance. Citizen journalism is based on the idea of ‘ordinary’ citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information.”17 Aided by the new technology, citizen journalism has morphed from mere reportage to coordinating for action and finding solutions to grievous situations.
Citizen journalism is widely recognized as playing an important role inresponding to, disrupting, and transforming socio-political spheres.18 Through citizen journalism, ‘ordinary’ citizens are able to share information, upload content, and engage in public dialogue.19 The new media have made collective action as well as individual participation in public affairs more prominent.20 As Philip Howard states,
technology alone does not cause political change […]. But it does provide new capacities and imposes new constraints on political actors. New information technologies do not topple dictators; they are used to catch dictators off-guard.21
As Watson and Wadhwa point out, citizen journalism has moved in a relatively short period of time from its infancy to becoming a ‘mature’ platform where citizen journalists engage in a multiplicity of roles, including conflict management.22 Aside from the eyewitness accounts of global events such as 9/11, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the 2005 London bombing, the African public has also utilized the new media to coordinate and organize protests and respond constructively to socio-political challenges. These are exemplified in the North Africa Arab Spring protests, the Kubatana.net reporting of the 2008 election irregularities in Zimbabwe, and the Ushahidi crisis-mapping of Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence.23 More so, the case of Ushahidi significantly reveals the contribution of citizen journalism platforms in dealing with violent conflict by introducing pragmatic innovations.
However, new media technologies are two-sided, in that they can also be used to instigate or escalate violence.24 Both the potential and the limitations of new media technologies will be discussed in relation to the case of Ushahidi in their response to the Kenyan 2008 PEV.
Ushahidi’s Response to Kenya’s 2008 PEV
When Ushahidi emerged from the concern of a few Kenyan bloggers to ‘do something’ about the violence ravaging Kenya in 2008, it stood out among the polarizing voices on the Internet. Muthoni Wanyeki, the Amnesty International East Africa Regional Director, illustrates the positive efforts of Ushahidi as she highlights the two trends of Kenyan netizens in the 2008 PEV.25 The first trend includes the ‘panicky diaspora’ who held distorted views on occurrences and citizens who cultivated a disruptive political agenda. These were polarized Kenyans who are over-‘ethnicized’ in their orientation. The second trend consists of the ‘progressive voices’ that sought to help fellow Kenyans and make a difference through humanitarian responses to and reflections on why violent conflict was raging. Wanyeki describes Ushahidi as being part of the second trend.
Prior to the establishment of Ushahidi, five of its founding members were already engaged in election monitoring and documenting socio-political events through their blogs (
Among the five pioneers of Ushahidi, two had an academic background and the remaining three had a background in technology. These five well-known bloggers in Kenya applied their blogging and technical experience to combining citizen journalism with high-tech geospatial information, promptly democratizing evidence and amplifying unheard and ignored voices. David Kobia, a software engineer and pioneer member of Ushahidi, recalls:
I think what made the Ushahidi possible in 2008 was that technology has become more accessible (e.g. Google API Map Mashup, Text Messaging and Twitter). It is not that Ushahidi did anything complicated. It is just the fact that we were one of the first groups of people to put all these things together in one platform and turn it into a way for the citizens to speak out, to kind of increase transparency and democratize information.26
Where Kenya’s civil-society organizations (CSOs) pressured the government to engage in dialogue in the wake of the 2008 PEV through ‘traditional’ face-to-face meetings, and facilitated Kofi Annan’s mediation efforts, there were other gaps that the Ushahidi platform filled. The first important gap was being there for the violence-stricken communities in a way that the Nairobi-based CSOs were not able to be. Ushahidi enabled people to share their stories as things unfolded. Ushahidi thus had a critical role to play in contributing not only to the narratives of how the conflict was understood but also to the narratives related to transforming the conflict.
Daudi Were, a renowned blogger and current Executive Director of Ushahidi, explains that through Ushahidi, the definition of who is considered an expert is brought into question:
So if conflict breaks out in the South Rift of Kenya, or the North Rift of Kenya or if conflict breaks out in Burundi, traditionally the experts are being the people with PhD in Peace Studies or people who are working for larger NGOs. And yes, they are experts and that expertise you get through learning. But there are also the expertise you get through the experience of being a member of that community or being a part of that community. A lot of our communities have inbuilt peace mechanisms that are sometimes overlooked by the other kind of experts. So what Ushahidi has done is found a way to use the 21st-century technology to tap into century old traditions around issues such as peace and allow an individual voice to be able to communicate that expertise to the peace process in a way that can have a disproportionate pot of impact.27
He goes on to explain that a platform such as Ushahidi increases the number of ways in which people can participate in ‘peace conversations’. It is able to focus attention on areas which may not be receiving attention from CSOs or the mainstream media.
An important contribution Ushahidi made was in challenging the monopolization of information and dispelling misconceptions about the magnitude of the conflict. Erik Hersman, the only Caucasian in the Ushahidi founding group, who grew up in both Sudan and Kenya, asserts:
If there was anything that the 2008 usage of Ushahidi in Kenya represented was this understanding that there is a new way to handle information around crisis and disasters that hasn’t been done before.28
The Ushahidi platform, according to Erik Herman, was able to dispel the misconception that all of Kenya was ‘burning down’ and instead bring attention to the actual ‘hotspots’ of violence.
Juliana Rotich, who later became the second serving Executive Director of Ushahidi, explains that she felt keenly connected to the idea of Ushahidi because it reflected her desire for a ‘better’ multi-ethnic Kenya beyond the polarization that emerged during the electoral violence. She said it allowed her to work with people who “saw things differently”:
We organized food drops, with other tech entrepreneurs … We took donations from around the world, we bought supplies and took them to refugees who were out in Jamburi Stadium and that gave me hope that we could emerge out of this dark period. So I wanted to be part of the light, not of the darkness. So the why is, I don’t want to let go of the idea that we can be better and technology and the Internet afforded me that opportunity and it afforded me connections and links to other people.29
From her home in Eldoret, where Rotich had been trapped during the electoral violence, unable to catch her flight back to Chicago, where she worked as a data analyst, she crowdsourced information for the mashup maps and fed it to the Ushahidi team in Nairobi. Rotich reported the conflict from Eldoret as well as handling the data entry into the Ushahidi platform, including verification of information that was coming in from citizens, and publicized the reports gathered. Information received was labelled for easy identification by title, location, date, and description. The Location Tagging was part of how the team was able to work with several organizations, especially the Media Focus for Africa, Red Cross, and Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU). The location tag indicated, through a dot on the map, the flash-point of violence, which facilitated swift deployment of assistance.
Some concerns directed at Ushahidi included the possibility that the crisis-mapping would have the unintended consequence of further victimizing Kenyans by alerting perpetrators of violence to where they were located. However, no evidence exists that this occurred. Further criticisms attached to the verification of information. Rotich confirmed that although it was difficult to collate and transfer information that was gathered into a useful ‘mashup’, Ushahidi carried out verification exercises as far as they could by confirming information from those on the ground in the little time available as the violence unfolded. Further, Ushahidi classified the crowdsourced reports as ‘verified’ and ‘unverified’ on the webpage to avoid confuse the public about the authenticity of the information coming from the platform in 2008.
These concerns notwithstanding, Ushahidi’s interest remained the gathering of as much information as possible and making it publicly available. Erik Hersman explains further:
the Ushahidi platform was more about actually gathering all that information that was coming from the people, from their blogs, from text messages, from emails, and from even news guys who could not report, who were not allowed to send their reports in. That was a way for us to centralize it and virtualize it.30
For the founders, it was surprising that collecting and disseminating information in this way could have such a large impact. David Kobia says:
Initially, I didn’t think Ushahidi would have that big an impact. I was happy we made something and we could record this information but it was quite shocking to see how much impact it had. Almost immediately we were contacted by guys in South Africa, saying they needed a way to record xenophobic violence that was breaking out … the immediate impact was having this data informing the Kenyan media and the world what was really going on and how bad the situation was at the time. Again Ushahidi had set out to have this information recorded for posterity, so there was a reference point. So, obviously, after the dust had settled, people have a mechanism, a way of looking back to timeline event: a way to perform a post-mortem. Not just policymakers but the average person finally had a way of looking into how things had played out and why they happened.31
Although David Kobia could not provide concrete evidence that Kenyan policymakers made use of the Ushahidi maps, he reflects on anecdotal evidence that some did so. Juliana Rotich went so far as to describe Ushahidi’s role in the 2008 PEV as the ‘fifth estate’ when the fourth estate (the mainstream media) became riddled with bias and compromise. Ushahidi, as the fifth estate, carried out online reporting, documentation and coordination and information-finding from the public. Her referring to Ushahidi in this way has some support in the literature, where scholars such as Cooper and Dutton32 have referred to the online community that has been audacious in holding the first to fourth estates accountable as the fifth estate. According to these scholars, the netizens have dismantled the conventional structures of who can report, who can critique, who has evidence to give, and who can transform the socio-political landscapes.
Rotich considers Ushahidi to have been an informational and revolutionary bridge that served the locals and the international audience during the 2008 PEV:
Tools like Ushahidi showed that there is this possibility of having a bridge because, with something that is based on the Internet, people locally and internationally can still access the same data. So, it could possibly act as a bridge. Right? Or at the very least act as an information platform for anybody who wants information about a specific event, a specific location and then more so to get data about where are the flashpoints what is going on wherein an almost near real-time basis. So that idea sort of took hold. At first, we didn’t think it was a novel idea but one of our friends, Ethan Zuckerman, who at the time was a researcher at Berkman Centre at Harvard—I had known him through Global Voices—said “look, you people are doing something unique, keep at it.” And February of 2008 he invited us—Erik and I made it to Istanbul for a conference on digital activism—and we presented our case on what we were able to do in Kenya.
Significantly, Ushahidi began to build a reputation at home and abroad on the effect of the new media revolution. Since the 2008 PEV, Ushahidi has continued to think outside the box in terms of ways to transform the political and governance arenas. Juliana Rotich elaborates on how changing the way information flows can change power dynamics:
Information flow could change, and that it is no longer just about the unidirectional mode of information flow, where information flows from ‘traditional media’ all the way down to you as a consumer. That you as a person, as a citizen on the ground, can also participate in raising your voice and saying ‘this is what I am seeing’ and for that information to be available on a platform and can inform someone else. So, I think the significance is that it changed or at least it showed that information flow can change from the bottom up, it doesn’t always have to be one directional; it can be bi-directional.33
As the case of Ushahidi suggests, the advent of the new media has increased public participation, and allows for a diversity of voices to be heard, challenging the single, dominant narrative. Ushahidi was able to present a fuller picture of the events as they unfolded during the 2008 PEV, and aggregate these into maps that were usable for immediate humanitarian response.
Since 2008, the Ushahidi platform has gone on to either initiate or participate in projects that have transformational value. One of these collaborative efforts is Umati, the hate-speech monitoring project in Kenya. Another project, the global initiative Making All Voices Count, enabled the amplification of the voices of people in public service. The project aimed at creating open and effective participatory governance through the launching of a ‘Global Innovation Competition’ to support innovations that would improve governmental accountability and responsiveness to citizens. In conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation, Ushahidi has also begun a Resilience Network Initiative to support and train community-based organizations in engaging effectively with their local government by using open-source software. Additionally, Ushahidi has ventured into an ecosystem project designed to cater for the planet. One of the projects launched in this regard is called Vital Sign, aimed at collecting big data and designing a monitoring system that assists agricultural decision-makers in protecting the ecosystem and increasing food production.
The Limitations of New Media Technology in Transforming Conflict
During the interviews, respondents had mixed perceptions of Ushahidi’s contribution to peace and conflict transformation. For example, Rasna Warah, a renowned Kenyan journalist and former UN staffer, stated the following:
It has quite a lot of attraction, you know, everybody was talking about Ushahidi. It has a very smart young group of people behind it and personally I think what it did was a mapping exercise. Basically, they mapped the trouble-spots in the country. But beyond that, I don’t know what they did. So, once you’ve mapped the violence, then what? What will that mapping lead to? Does it mean that more security officers are sent to that area or does it mean the Red Cross is now going to send their ambulances there? I couldn’t make the connection between the actual mapping of the problem and impact on the ground. For me, it is a mapping exercise, which does not mean it is not useful, but let’s just call it mapping and not a peace-building tool, because it is a technology, it is not a project. My criticism is that, so, now, after you’ve mapped, where does the information go? Is it going to the government, is it going to the NGOs, is it going to the community themselves? I think it is asking for too much for a technology to be the solution to a conflict. Technology itself can only do so much.34
While Rasna Warah’s concerns are critical, evidence gathered from the research participants has shown that Ushahidi’s mapping exercise assisted in facilitating humanitarian and security responses to the violence.35 Ushahidi crisis-mapping was used in deploying humanitarian assistance to ‘trouble-spots’ by organizations such as the Red Cross and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU).
Wambui Mwangi, a Kenyan intellectual, presents what she has observed as significant pros and cons of the NMT.36 One of the NMT cons that she observed is the use of the Internet by the government and international agencies as a form of surveillance to monitor people. She considers this an undesirable invasion of people’s privacy. Another debilitating con of the use NMT is what she referred to as the “misogynistic and sexist treatments” of women online, especially by Kenyan politicians and popular bloggers. For instance, a celebrity blogger, Robert Alai, who has been discredited by some interviewers as no longer independent in his political criticism of Kenyan leaders, believed that women who dress skimpily deserved to be shamed publicly. That was his Twitter response in 2013 to a wave of assaults on women because of how they dressed. A few well-known women such as Esther Passaris, a Kenyan politician who tried to call Robert Alai to order, was met with insults. Wambui Mwangi made clear that the cyber-shaming, bullying, misogynistic, and sexist treatment of women online has not been dealt with despite the efforts of e-pro-feminist platforms.
Another criticism is that not all marginalized groups and issues necessarily have a voice through NMT, and some are even further marginalized. For example, internally displaced Kenyans who had settled in Kiriandingo in Uganda had walked back to Kenya in October 2016 and occupied the Kenyan parliament, seeking the government’s attention to fulfil its resettlement plans.37 These people, including their young children, became refugees in Kenya and were whisked away brutally one night by hired security agents and abandoned in the Rift Valley of Nakuru. The government did not budge and the online community was not enraged. This example shows that NMT is not necessarily always the voice of the marginalized. For Yvonne Owuor, the acclaimed Kenyan author of Dust—a 2014 novel depicting the inimical history of violence in Kenya against the backdrop of the 2007 election states38—the primary mediator of conflict is human beings and the NMT is a mere passageway to amplify what is going on:
The capacity and willingness of each human being to delve into the truth and confront their own darkness rather than allocate that darkness to others, which is the tendency even with the new media right now. And that is where it starts, it starts with the human being and the platform will shape itself to the desire of that human being.39
She goes on to describe how social media have been ‘hijacked’ by intelligence and security forces, and by the government.
The government itself has hired bloggers; they have official bloggers who change conversations so it reflects badly on whomever they see as the opposition. And then we fall into line with more dominant, more organized, and more determined to frame, not just the narrative but to change the social media into their image and likeness. So unless there is an equal determination by a group of people who are willing to work into the truth, no matter what it says about them and their own illusion, it is not going to change. It will just evolve into what you see the newspapers are today: advertisement platforms and government mouthpieces.
Yvonne Owuor asserts that NMT is a neutral platform that can be used for the ‘good’ or for the ‘bad’. The fact that the government is deploying resources to have a voice on the Internet shows how influential it is understood to be. Irungu Houghton, the Associate Director of the Society for International Development (SID), cautions about the danger of unverified news, ‘electronic gossip’, and the re-assertion of divisive ethnic politics and bigotry:
With that power bestowed by the social media came great responsibility because the articulation that we bring to that space always has to be tempered with national values and national ethics. So we have also seen this media being used extremely badly to generate either cynicism or a sense of passiveness within citizens or to drum up negative ethnicity and hatred and this concept of ‘the other’. And I think this is the danger with technology. In the same hands, the phone can either be a megaphone, an amplifier to reach the country by an individual citizen. But on the other hand, it can also be a panga that you can use to slice somebody because they come from a different ethnicity or different gender or have a different sexual preference or they are in any way different to who you are.40
The concerns of Jessica Musila, the Director of Mzalendo, resonate with those of Irungu Houghton—that NMT is a powerful space that can build or destroy human relationships. Used constructively, collective solutions can be found; used destructively, further divisions are caused. She laments:
new media technology is both a convergent and divisive platform. It is interesting that the discourse on Facebook is becoming very antagonistic and now, on Twitter, people seek the information that they do not have. But at the same time there are also very many armchair political analysts.41
In spite of these many concerns, all the respondents agree that NMT holds ‘democratic power’ and enables increased inclusivity. Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan activist and politician, explains: “online is powerful for mobilizing, organizing, informing people on what is happening, updating people; and then you take the action offline.” In his view, action still largely takes place offline. Mwangi warns of the danger of over-estimating what social media do in terms of meaningful action, although he believes media activism can lead people toward action offline.
Peter Mwamachi, a peace officer who works on the National Steering Committee (NSE) on Peace Building and Conflict Management, challenges the notion of the new media’s value in fostering the values of civil and political peace:
What is it that [online platforms] are contributing to? Are they contributing to peaceful coexistence or are they actually a source of conflict? Because again, when you deal with early warning, it is very sensitive. So, if you unleashed information out there which is unverified, you find there is a possibility you have created some confusion and conflict. So, for me, it is all about their value addition and what their objective is.42
Analysis and Conclusion
Since the 2008 PEV, the Kenyan digital technology landscape has grown in relevance. As presented above, the Ushahidi platform and other initiatives by Kenyan citizen journalists and netizens have made innovative contributions to transforming the conflict in Kenya. Keeping in mind the limitations of NMT and the fact that it remains a tool that can be used by people for destructive or constructive purposes, the data nevertheless suggests that platforms like Ushahidi increase people’s participation in building peace.
As discussed in this article, conflict transformation is about relationship-building, the construction of effective social structures, justice, respect for human rights, and non-violent forms of resistance. More than this, it is about placing people at the centre of their own processes of constructive change. What the data unearthed is that at the heart of the various activities of Kenyans netizens and citizen journalists was the agency and participation of ‘ordinary’ people in their own political affairs and peace processes.
Joseph Bock describes the early-warning system Uwiano as playing a critical role in strategic peacebuilding in the way it combines open-source software with a crowdsourcing method to prevent the recurrence of violent conflict. Taking this assessment further, it can be inferred that the Ushahidi, as part of the Uwiano consortium, facilitates a space for processes of constructive change where strategic peacebuilding can materialize.
The increased access to information-gathering and -sharing has continued to empower Kenyans and amplify the concerns of marginalized communities. Not only that—the availability of open-source software to crowdsource reports of crises and disasters is bringing about immediate responses that are altering devastating outcomes. The multi-flow of information has made it difficult for leaders not to be aware of what citizens are facing and where they want lasting change.
Ushahidi has set the pace for the untapped potential of the NMT, including in challenging the monopolization of information and dispelling misconceptions about the magnitude of the 2008 PEV in changing the traditional notion of humanitarianism. These people-centred digital platforms are bridging the divide between the leaders and the led, albeit slowly. However, their engagement is having a palpable effect on the processes of constructive change towards which Kenya is ostensibly moving, amidst the fear that still permeates the climate.
Through the combination of what was possible online and what it led to offline, Kenyans netizens, including citizen journalists, were able to give voice to their own concerns and to those of many unheard and marginalized Kenyans in a way that contributed to peace. During Kenya’s 2008 PEV, ‘ordinary’ people found that digital technology allowed them to bear witness to, act upon, and respond constructively to the events affecting their lives.
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The Little Book of Conflict Transformation.
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Philip N. Howard, The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam (Oxford Studies in Digital Politics; Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011).
Hayley Watson & Kush Wadhwa, “The Evolution of Citizen Journalism in Crises: From Reporting to Crisis Management,” in Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives, ed. Einar Thorsen & Stuart Allan (New York: Peter Lang, 2014), vol. 2: 321–332.
Fackson Banda, Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa: An Exploratory Study; Last Moyo, “Blogging Down a Dictatorship”; and Bruce Mutsvairo & Simon Columbus, “Emerging Patterns and Trends in Citizen Journalism in Africa.”
Gerd Junne, The Role of Media in Conflict Transformation; Sean Aday et al., Blogs and Bullets; Mutsvairo & Columbus, “Emerging Patterns and Trends in Citizen Journalism in Africa”; and Ethan Zuckerman, “Citizen Media and the Kenyan Electoral Crisis.”
Interview with Muthoni Wanyeki, the Amnesty International East Africa Regional Director, 15 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with David Kobia, Ushahidi co-founder, 3 October 2015, Skype call, Nairobi.
Interview with Daudi Were, Ushahidi’s third Executive Director, 6 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Erik Herman, Ushahidi co-founder, 20 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Juliana Rotich, the second Executive Director of Ushahidi, 4 October 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Erik Herman, Ushahidi co-founder, 20 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with David Kobia, Ushahidi co-founder, 3 October 2015, Skype call, Nairobi.
Stephen D. Cooper, “The blogosphere and the public sphere,” in Cooper, Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate (Spokane WA: Marquette, 2006): 277–303; William H. Dutton, “The Fifth Estate Emerging Through the Network of Networks,” Prometheus 27.1 (March 2009): 1–15.
Interview with Juliana Rotich, the second Executive Director of Ushahidi, 4 October 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Rasna Warah, 27 October 2016, Nairobi.
Joseph G. Bock, The Technology of Nonviolence; Fackson Banda, Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa: An Exploratory Study.
Interview with Wambui Mwangi, 28 September 2016, Nairobi.
R. Rajab, “Kenyan IDPs from Uganda thrown out of Parliament buildings, dumped in Nakuru,” The Star (11 February 2016),
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Dust (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).
Interview with Yvonne Owuor, 6 October 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Irungu Houghton, 13 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Jessica Muslia, 30 September 2016, Nairobi.
Interview with Peter Mwamachi, 28 November 2016, Nairobi.
Aday, Sean, Henry Farrell, Marc Lynch, John Sides, John Kelly & Ethan Zuckerman. Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Studies, 2010).
Banda, Fackson. Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa: An Exploratory Study (Grahamstown, S.A.: Highway Africa, 2010).
Barlow, Aaron. “The Citizen Journalists as Gatekeeper: A Critical Evolution from the Public Journalism Movement,” in Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-Engaged Press, ed. Jack Rosenberry & Burton St. John III (New York: Routledge, 2010): 45–55.
Bock, Joseph G. The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention (Cambridge MA & London: MIT Press, 2012).
Bowman, Shayne, & Chris Willis. We Media: How Audiences Are Shaping the Future of News and Information, ed. J.D. Lasica (Reston VA: The Media Center at the American Press Institute, 2003).
Cooper, Stephen D. “The blogosphere and the public sphere,” in Cooper, Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers as the Fifth Estate (Spokane WA: Marquette, 2006): 277–303.
Donais, Timothy. Peacebuilding and Local Ownership: Post-Conflict Consensus-Building (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).
Dutton, William H. “The Fifth Estate Emerging Through the Network of Networks,” Prometheus 27.1 (March 2009): 1–15.
Galtung, Johan. “Introduction: peace by peaceful conflict transformation—the TRANSCEND approach,” in Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, ed. Charles Webel & Johan Galtung (London & New York: Routledge, 2007): 14–32.
Galtung, Johan. Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization (Thousand Oaks CA & London: Sage, 1996).
Gillmor, Dan. We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People (Sebastopol CA: O’Reilly, 2004).
Ginty, Roger Mac, & Oliver P. Richmond. “The Local Turn in Peace Building: A Critical Agenda for Peace,” Third World Quarterly 32.5 (2013): 763–783.
Goldstein, Joshua, & Juliana Rotich. Digitally Networked Technology in Kenya’s 2007–2008 Post-Election Crisis (Internet and Democracy Case Study Series, Research Publication 2008–2009; Cambridge MA: Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, 2008).
Howard, Philip N. The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam (Oxford Studies in Digital Politics; Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011).
Jeffery, Simon. “Ushahidi: Crowdmapping collective that exposed Kenyan election killings,” The Guardian (7 April 2011),
Jewitt, Robert. “The trouble with twittering: integrating social media into mainstream news,” International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 5.3 (2009): 233–240.
Junne, Gerd. The Role of Media in Conflict Transformation (2013),
Lederach, John Paul. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation (Intercourse PA: Good Books, 2003).
Makinen, Maarit, & Mary Wangu Kuira. “Social Media and Post-Election Crisis in Kenya,” Information and Communication Technology—Africa 13 (2008): 1–15.
Moyo, Last. “Blogging Down a Dictatorship: Human Rights, Citizen Journalists and the Right to Communicate in Zimbabwe,” SAGE 12.6 (2011): 745–760.
Mpofu, Shepherd. The Power of Citizen Journalism in Zimbabwe (2013),
Mutsvairo, Bruce, & Simon Columbus. “Emerging Patterns and Trends in Citizen Journalism in Africa: The Case of Zimbabwe,” Central European Journal of Communication 5.1 (2012): 121–136.
Mwiandi, Sheila. Moving Beyond Relief: The Challenges of Settling Kenya’s Internally Displaced (USIPeace Briefing; New York: USIP–United States Institute of Peace, 2008).
Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo. Dust (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).
Picciotto, Robert, Funmi Olonisakin & Michael Clarke. Global Development and Human Security (New Brunswick NJ: Transaction, 2010).
Rajab, R. “Kenyan IDPs from Uganda thrown out of Parliament buildings, dumped in Nakuru,” The Star (11 February 2016),
Thorsen, Einar, & Stuart Allan. “Introduction” to Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives, ed. Einar Thorsen & Stuart Allan (New York: Peter Lang, 2014), vol. 2: 1–12.
Watson, Hayley, & Kush Wadhwa. “The Evolution of Citizen Journalism in Crises: From Reporting to Crisis Management,” in Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives, ed. Einar Thorsen & Stuart Allan (New York: Peter Lang, 2014), vol. 2: 321–332.
Zuckerman, Ethan. “Citizen Media and the Kenyan Electoral Crisis,” in Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives, ed. Einar Thorsen & Stuart Allan (New York: Peter Lang, 2009), vol. 1: 187–196.
Herman, Erik. 20 September 2016, Nairobi.
Houghton, Irungu. 13 September 2016, Nairobi.
Kobia, David. 3 October 2015, Skype call, Nairobi.
Mwangi, Wambui. 28 September 2016, Nairobi.
Muslia, Jessica. 30 September 2016, Nairobi.
Mwamachi, Peter. 28 November 2016, Nairobi.
Owuor, Yvonne. 6 October 2016, Nairobi.
Rotich, Juliana. 4 October 2016, Nairobi.
Wanyeki, Muthoni. 15 September 2016, Nairobi.
Warah, Rasna. 27 October 2016, Nairobi.
Were, Daudi. 6 September 2016, Nairobi.