Robert Kunga (@mwirigi) amplified the hashtag #FindFuel to help Nairobi motorists identify petrol stations that had stock amidst the shortage. He aggregated the tweets on the Motogari blog. Within an hour the tag was trending on the local scene, this was around 1430-1530hrs on 3rd May.
Most people in the Kenyan tech scene are familiar with Ushahidi at least from a functional point of view. Having realised what Robert was trying do, an Ushahidi instance would perfectly fit the problem. Recently Ushahidi launched Crowdmap which is a hosted version of the platform and allows users to quickly deploy Ushahidi within a matter of clicks. Within 15 min we had a functional deployment of Ushahidi (http://findfuel.crowdmap.com), which was released to the public at about 1600hrs, after a bit of administration, and tweaks we had a fully functional service by 1730hrs identifying areas where fuel was available and where fuel was not available. With a lot of help from Robert Kunga (@mwirigi), Phares Kariuki (@kaboro) and pointers from Ahmed Maawy (@ahmedmaawy), we had a running solution within a short period of time.
The morning of 4th May proved to be significant as the gravity of the crisis took effect. Twitter was increasingly being used to share information on fuel availability. The Ushahidi instance was able to aggregate this data from Twitter as well as data supplied directly to the instance via web forms. A friend of mine ran out of fuel in Lavington and I was quickly able to identify a petrol station around Hurlingham that had fuel available to enable me to rescue him. This is just one example of how such tools and technology available to us can solve practical problems. I did not have to drive throughout the city in search of the precious commodity all I had to do was access the system and identify a petrol station near me that had fuel.
It is clear that technology is increasingly becoming pervasive in Kenya. Albeit Twitter still being used by early adopters and slowly permeating to mainstream society in Kenya, Kenyans seem to be ‘peculiarly’ innovative in the way they use technology. Furthermore what better way to solve a local problem with a local solution as Ushahidi has strong Kenyan roots.
Increasing connectivity and communication channels have clearly brought about a more informed Kenya. End users and consumers now have the power to leverage such tools to their advantage. Furthermore, it is clear that Kenyan internet users have high propensities to share information, the case of #FindFuel hashtag is a clear example of how Nairobians can come together to achieve and tackle problems common to them regardless of the differences amongst themselves. The wisdom of the crowd is no longer a fad in this part of the world, it is a reality and its high time enterprises, organisations and governance structures realise this.
I was asked by Loise Wachira of CNBC Africa about the future of #FindFuel. To be honest, #FindFuel was a self organised collaborative effort that solved a temporal problem. Will it still be useful in the future apart from the crises being forecasted. Perhaps it can be used to scout for the cheapest fuel outlets since despite a regulated market there is some disparity in market prices of up to KES 2.00 in Nairobi. There are also threats by a large oil marketer to increase fuel prices by about KES 5.00. All in all it is the community that will decide where #FindFuel goes.
The case of #FindFuel is a clear example of how social media can add value to the developing world. Social media is not an elitist fad but a useful value platform to society. #FindFuel fed information to traditional media mainly radio stations, which retransmitted the information to the public. Furthermore collaboration and structural features (loose and tight connections with different cliques) strongly contributed to this initiative. Nonetheless it’s a clear testimony that WE are Smarter than ME!
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