Bringing peace to violent areas by text.By Poptech
Project URL: poptech.org/peacetxt
When Kenyans turned out in record numbers to vote for their fourth president in March 2013, the situation was understandably tense. The previous election had been marked by outbreaks of communal violence and ethnic cleansing. Security was ratcheted up: nearly 100,000 police officers were at polling stations. Yet still often unfounded rumours of violence and intimidation caused fear and panic.
How do you spread something as elusive as calm in such a volatile situation, when the rumour is as much a part of the problem as violence itself?
An inspirational Kenyan non-profit, Sisi Ni Amani (We Are Peace) might have part of the solution: a novel text message broadcast system called PeaceTXT. To understand how it works, take two examples from the day that Kenyans voted. At 9.57am on polling day when people in Mombasa were being urged not to vote because of reported clashes between the security services and the Mombasa Republican Council, Sisi Ni Amani texted community leaders: “Let us not be left behind. Let us take pride in our right to vote and to vote peacefully. Peace is you and me.”
Minutes later when rowdy youths overpowered police at a polling station in Dandora Phase 4, one of the semi-lawless informal settlements on the edge of Nairobi, Sisi Ni Amani texted local activists: “When we maintain peace, we will have joy & be happy to spend time with friends & family but violence spoils all these good things. Tudumishe amani Phase 4.”
Through the day a stream of texts spread peer-to-peer so people could encourage one another to defend their right to vote, based on accurate information. Thanks in part to those texts, citizens calmly asserted their collective power.
PeaceTXT is the product of an innovative collaboration brokered by PopTech, the social innovation conference, bringing together: CureViolence, a programme to tackle violence in inner-city Chicago; Ushahidi, which creates open source interactive maps widely used in crises; Medic Mobile, which specialises in using mobile phones to change health behaviour; and the Praekelt Foundation, a builder of open source, scalable mobile technologies and solutions, to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in poverty.
PeaceTXT shows how mobile technologies can be used to support peaceful, civic activism in even the most violent places.
Image 'Poptech Fellows 2009' courtesy of Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter
Last updated: 09th of May, 2014