Lagos, Nigeria: One group of developers called Wangonet — an acronym for West African Non-Government Organisation Network — is working on an application that records information sent by SMS, email or via Internet from mobile phones to plot a map of problem areas. The application will be used during polling in Nigeria in an effort to stamp out electoral fraud.
The Nigerian project was inspired by Ushahidi, an online mapping website first developed in Kenya to map post-electoral violence in 2008, and later used around the world including to help emergency teams after the Chile earthquake and floods in Pakistan.
“We believe by arming a new generation of Nigerians with social media and networking tools … the 105 million Nigerians under the age of 35 might be motivated to directly engage and interrogate the system,” said Wangonet founder Tunji Lardner.
Ushahidi means “testimony”, and Lardner and others hope the new technologies can be deployed to provide just that, recording and reporting irregularities on voting day. The platform uses “crowdsourcing” — pulling together and organising data from public users.
Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as the continent’s top mobile market and the country of 150 million people is estimated to have the largest online audience in Africa.
A civil society group hoping to encourage youths to take an active role in Nigeria’s polls, estimates there are more than 1.6 million Facebook users in Nigeria and tens of thousands communicating by BlackBerry Messenger, an instant messaging system the security services struggle to tap. A poll by the group using its website, email, blogs, Twitter and Facebook, showed 83 per cent of respondents planned to vote.
It is not just activists who have recognised the power of social networking sites and new technology. Former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who plans to contest the polls, has a website providing links to his Facebook and Twitter accounts and allowing BlackBerry users to scan a barcode for updates on his campaign progress (www.voteibb.org).
If online friends are any measure, Babangida faces an uphill struggle. His Facebook page has just over 10,000 fans, compared to more than 195,000 for President Jonathan.