I blogged about Sudan before, but neglected the country for quite a while (if only here in the blog), although many important things happened there over the course of the past months. Among them a nationwide election. I will not write about it here; if you're interested and want to read up on the topic, Wikipedia is a good starting point.
What I want to cover here is a project that I've been keeping tabs on for quite a while now: It's called Ushahidi - Swahili for "witness" - and is, actually, a non-profit software company based in Kenya. It's goal is to develop software for collaborative information collection and visualization. Initially, the platform was created after Kenya's 2007 presidential election when violence erupted all over the country. Ushahidi used a crowdsourcing approach to gather information about when and where violent acts were committed. People could send in information by email or text message, and thes reports were subsequently placed on a map. Watch the video for a general overview of what Ushahidi does:
Now, Ushahidi can be used for many different things, from tracking crisis events to mapping snowball fights. There are services like Crowdmap that make it possible to set up an Ushahidi instance within minutes, or Swiftriver to filter and manage realtime information from a variety of different channels. The project has become a veritable success story. And this is where I want to get back to events in Sudan. On January 9, 2011, Southern Sudan will hold a referendum on whether or not it will secede from Northern Sudan.
Many observers fear that there will be controversy about the results, media censorship, even the return of civil war after five years of relative calm. Sudan Vote Monitor, a project of the Sudan Institute for Research and Policy, will soon reopen and accept reports of violence and other incidents. In an announcement today, they provide reasons why one should report to Sudan Vote Monitor even though many other initiatives are monitoring the referendum, too: Easy accessibility, real time reports, and aggregation of information. Since the site was blocked in Sudan for a couple of days during this year's elections, it will be revealing to see if this will happen again in two weeks.
Everyone interested in the referendum in Southern Sudan should try to follow the reports on Sudan Vote Monitor and become a follower on Twitter.
Of course, other initiatives exist. The Enough Project by the (left-leaning) Center for American Progress aims to end genocide and crimes against humanity, especially in Sudan. Its most famous activist is arguably George Clooney. He also supports the idea of using satellite based surveillance to monitor troop movements in Southern Sudan during the referendum. According to an online article in TIME, the website www.satsentinel.org will go live tomorrow (though it really doesn't look like it because the domain is for sale right now for a little over 50 €) while the satellite will take up work on Thursday. Let's wait and see ...