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Mobile Activism: Make Text, Not War

Map of KenyaWhen waves of political violence swept through Kenya after the December 2007 presidential election — marred by widespread allegations of vote rigging — human rights advocates in the country turned to cell phones to help stem the violence.

PeaceNet, a coalition of Kenyan NGOs, partnered with Oxfam GB to create a text messaging “nerve center” that served as a vital tool for conflict management and prevention by providing a hub for real-time information about actual and planned attacks between rival groups. The text messages were then relayed to local “peace committees” that deployed mediators and took other immediate action to stem the violence.

This example of “mobile activism” was one among 11 case studies featured in the report “Mobile Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use,” released in April 2008 by the UN Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Technology Partnership. The report examined nonprofit and advocacy groups active in the fields of public health, disaster relief and environmental conservation, with the goal of spurring the dialogue about the promise and challenges of innovative uses of mobile technology to help meet international development goals. The full report is available here.

 

Text Messages Received by the PeaceNet/Oxfam "Nerve Center" About Election-Related Violence in Kenya
(January 2008)

  • "Over 400 people with no food or water holed in Huruma PCEA church in Eldoret for three days. Help needed immediately."
  • "We have been alerted that it is not safe tonight, in Bamburi, Utange, home area. We are asking 4 security here please."
  • "I humbly ask for security in the church we are in, Elgon view, Eldoret as we have heard of the killings in the Kiambaa church."
  • "People evicted from their homes in Saboti, are starving no basic needs, food, blankets, etc. People are camping at Kiungani, Kiminini and Sikhendu Kitale."
  • "People fleeing to Kitale from Gitwamba (very serious) torching of houses, lootings, etc.
  • "RED CROSS if possible, should assist."
  • "The situation in Narok south is bad. People have camped at the catholic church in Mulot and there are fears that they may be attacked tonight.”
 
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