On Display: Online mapping, spatial data and geo-referenced information in Kenya and Ushahidi-updates in Africa

In Kenya some new interactive platforms and initiatives visualize and connect spatial data to other forms of data in most innovative ways:

Virtual Kenya

Virtual Kenya is designed to provide improved access to spatial data and mapping technology to allow more Kenyans to use and interact with spatial data in their educational and professional pursuits. This will be accomplished by providing online access to publicly available spatial data sets and by offering users a number of interactive tools and learning resources for exploring these data. Users will be able to view, download, publish, share, and comment on various map-based products. The ultimate goal of Virtual Kenya is to promote increased data sharing and spatial analysis for better decision-making, development planning and education in Kenya, while at the same time demonstrating the potential and use of web-based spatial planning tools.

Initially, the platform will feature maps and information based on Nature’s Benefits in Kenya: An Atlas of Ecosystems and Human Well-Being (“the Atlas”), originally published jointly in 2007 by the World Resources Institute together with the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and the International Livestock Research Institute. The Atlas overlays geo-referenced statistical information on human well-being with spatial data on ecosystems and their services to yield a picture of how land, people, and prosperity are related in Kenya. Since its publication, data and charts from the Atlas have been downloaded regularly from the WRI website, and its online Geographic Information System (GIS) data sets are being used to produce new maps.

Virtual Kenya was implemented by Upande Ltd. Upande focuses on providing services which address problems related to location, direction and destination, with a strong focus on online mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Upande is also involved in developing the ALRMP baseline prototype application for the Ministry of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands. The company also worked for the African Union Inter African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) to create a single-stop bank of information on animal resources in Africa with a web map for the dissemination of knowledge on animal health, animal production and livestock marketing and trade. Also not online is the E-commerce web map page for SORALO (South Rift Land Owners Association) and ATAGRA (Amboseli Tsavo Group Ranch Association), Group Ranch Associations based in the Maasai Mara and Amboseli ecosystems to boost tourism outside of the conventional parks by making information on hotspots searchable to the world. Upande also offers consultancy in Google Map, OpenStreetMap (OSM), OpenLayers, Mapserver, Geoserver and Geonetworks.

Map Kibera

Map Kibera has produced the first complete free and open map of Kibera. In November 2009, local young people used OpenStreetMap techniques. This included surveying with GPS, and digitization of satellite imagery and paper based annotation with Walking Papers. In April 2010, Map Kibera started two media and local news reporting groups formed to elaborate on information in Kibera. Kibera News Network uses handheld Flip video cameras to record local news and stories and edit videos to post on Youtube and share in the community. To support Map Kibera Erica Hagen and Mikel Maron founded the GroundTruth Initiaive. They aim on using digital story-telling, open data and geographic information for greater influence and representation for marginalized communities.

Voice of Kibera

Voice of Kibera uses Ushahidi software to map local stories and reports onto the Kibera map, and serve as a local information hub. This citizen reporting project is an initiative of Map Kibera. Voice of Kibera aims to give collective global voice to Kibera residents by aggregating local citizen reports, Kibera community media and other relevant news and information.

Kenya Open Data

The goal of opendata.go.ke is to make core government development, demographic, statistical and expenditure data available in a useful digital format for researchers, policymakers, ICT developers and the general public. Includes e.g. high quality national census data, government expenditure, parliamentary proceedings and public service locations. There are maps to start exploring, interactive charts and tables for a deeper understanding, and raw data for technical users to build their own apps and analyses.


The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) was established in Nairobi, Kenya, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union. It is an inter-governmental organization and currently has 18 contracting Member States in the Eastern and Southern Africa Regions. Its vision is to be a centre of excellence in the provision of Geo-Information and Information Technology applications in Africa and beyond.

Further virtual maps

  • AfricaMap is housed at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University
  • websites with individual maps or with collections of maps in ilissAfrica


Many new Ushahidi-sites have been started since my first Blog post from March 2011 “On Display: Crowdsourcing with Ushahidi – the social and political relevance of the interactive web“:


  • Peace Building Office of the Republic of Liberia.
  • Liberia’s Early-Warning and Response Network (LERN)
  • Liberia Elections 2011 – live Ushahidi election monitoring website
  • compare also Ushahidi Liberia as a non-profit tech company that customise free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping in Liberia.


  • Violence Against Children project – Plan Benin uses Ushahidi to map reports of violence against children in Benin. Children, youth and even adults can use SMS to send in reports on violence against children. The goal is to both collect information about the forms and occurrences of violence as well as to strengthen local and national capacity in participating countries to respond to violence against children. It is hoped that the information collected can also serve to shape programs and budgets dedicated to ending this harmful practice.



  • The National Association of NGOs in Zimbabwe (NANGO) has launched a social service delivery campaign in Harare for residents to speak on problems they are facing in their neighborhood.


  • BantuWatch – platform that allows citizens and civil society to monitor and report incidences around the electoral process in 2011.

South Africa:


  • HARASSmap – a system in Egypt for reporting incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging.


  • Moroccans are participating in election monitoring on Marsad.ma (Marsad, in Arabic, means Observatory).

Please add more innovative sites with spatial data as comments on this article!

On Display: Crowdsourcing with Ushahidi – the social and political relevance of the interactive web


Via Crowdsourcing the internet supports the management of crises and of democratic procedures (cf. list of projects). People experiencing natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or, recently, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, report their personal record, e.g. via SMS, to a website, where these are grouped and visualized in a map. Now, aid organisations get to know precisely, where their help is needed most, where they can find victims, what basic materials are lacking (water, food, fuel, …) etc. On the other hand, the people themselves can find shelter and help. Another possible examples is the “Atlanta crime map” serving people and city authorities alike. Crowdsourcing can also empower citizens in the protection of democracy by enforcing transparency, accountability and efficient electoral service delivery. The participation of the masses is crucial for its success.


The above mentioned interactive maps are realised with the Ushahidi-software. Ushahidi is a non-profit company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. The platform was developed as a tool to easily crowdsource information using multiple channels, including SMS, email, Twitter and the web. The company is an example for the potential of web developers at the so-called periphery in Africa, it started in Kenya and the Ushahidi-App for the Android-Marketplace e.g. was developed by a developer in Ghana.

Examples from East Africa

“Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the elections in 2007. The roots are in the collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists during a time of crisis. The original website was used to map incidents of violence throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. The incidents were grouped in classes like Riots,  Deaths,  Property Damage,  Government Forces,  Civilians,  Looting,  Rape and Peace Efforts. Together with local Kenyan NGO’s each incident was verified. The website had 45,000 users in Kenya (it is not active anymore).

In 2010 Kenya voted on a proposed new constitution and Ushahidi in partnership with local political networks was deploying an election monitoring system called Uchaguzi (“election” in Swahili). Uchaguzi provided web and mobile-based channels for citizens and civil society to report on electoral offences such as intimidation, hate speech, vote-buying, polling clerk bias, voting mis-information etc.  The reports were then sent to the electoral authorities or security personnel for action.

The Site “Tracking the Eastern Congo Conflict”  monitors the renewed conflict in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since autumn 2008. Beside the reported incidents official and mainstream news about this political conflict can be found (like new from the European Media Monitor) on the website.

Beside Ushahidi

There are many more initiatives which can be subsumed as “Gov 2.0“. The most prominent is Wikileaks, others like CrisisCommons gain momentum. They show the potential of participatory governance and of moving cities and communities towards a more sustainable future.

Another recent example for innovative solutions coming from Africa is JamiiX. It is a messaging management system developed by the Cape Town-based Reconstructed Living Labs (RLabs) team, originally to help them counsel drug addicts on the Cape flats. JamiiX was developed to more effectively manage multiple conversations from different Social Media and Instant Messaging platforms. It allows eight counsellors to have 300 IM conversations in one hour, massively increasing their ability to assist those who need help. In 2010 it was released for third-party use . The name comes from a combination of the Swahili word for social, “jamii”, and eXchange, to mean social exchange.

The interactive web supports humanitarian and democratic activities in a very useful way. This is one way how the masses can help to make things a little better.