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FOKO: Ushahidi Comes To Madagascar

Rising Voices grantee FOKO's members were at the forefront of the recent coverage of Tropical Storm Eric, Cyclone Fanele, and the recent protests and political turmoil in Madagascar by local citizen journalists of Madagascar.

Ethan Zuckerman provides a background of the recent political crisis in Madagascar:

Andry Rajoelina is the mayor of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. He’s a radio DJ, a media entrepreneur and has been an increasingly fierce critic of Marc Ravalomanana, the president of the country. On December 13, the president closed Rajoelina’s television station – Viva TV – because it broadcast an interview with exiled former leader Didier Ratsiraka. (Ravalomanana defeated Ratsiraka in a controversial election in 2002 – regulations required a run-off election, which was never held – and the country suffered six months of struggle before Ratsiraka fled to France.)

The closure of Viva TV has been condemned internationally, and it provoked Rajoelina to increase the stridency of his critique. About two weeks ago, Rajoelina declared himself in charge of Madagascar and demanded that the President step down. The President, not unsurprisingly, fired the mayor and continued to govern… but the country has been wracked with increasingly violent protests, including one in which protesters burned a government television station killing as many as forty. (Photo of Andry Rajoelina by Ariniaina)

Fierce violence ensued and it has bitterly affected Madagascar. The FOKO Bloggers did their parts of reporting this to the world where only the state media was reporting censored news. Joan Razafimaharo writes in FOKO project blog:

During the past two weeks, the bloggers of the Foko network have taken fully charges of every aspect of the Citizen Media project. Twitter was the object of everyone’s interest when we advised to connect their Facebook accounts to this micro-blogging tool.

One of our prioriry was to bring more and more news from the provinces. Not only because of the very little place they take on mainstream media but also to share to the world the cultural diversity and great potentials of each regions.

Although the Foko bloggers were safe and sound, the FOKO members were devastated by a news that a reporter for the Radio Television channel RTA was among the victims of the shooting that took place on Saturday, February 07, 2009 (termed as red Saturday). His name was Ando and he was known to Foko bloggers as he had interviewed them earlier. Lomelle and Pakysse paid tribute to him via their blog posts.

Ando
Ando became a dear friend to bloggers

There were security concerns and the bloggers faced many challenges to report the news. Joan writes in the FOKO Blog Club Blog:

- No cybercafés were open during the riots ( ESSVA school and Tamatave Barikadimy University were closed as well), so it keeps them from updating their blogs and uploading contents;

- Security concerns were also the main reasons behind not going outside during these kinds of events.
….. but Solofo from FBC Vakinankaratra didn’t wait long to report on Antsirabe post-riots and brought us images of a devastated town.

Patrick was active too but took a little more risk by taking pictures in the middle of the manifestations. Pictures which are nowhere to be seen on the internet but on his Flickr album!

Radio VIVA said that news from internet are stupidity and VIVA listeners should not care about those. Ariniaina responds:

I tell you man that bloggers are not paid like you to tell what your boss wants you to tell. Bloggers are journalists who try to relate only truth, only what they really see and what they really hear.

Their activities were also noticed by the International media.

Most of commentors appreciated their work and bloggers like  Lomelle got even noticed by a major French TV channel praising the activism of alagasy blogosphere.

France24
(Lomelle on France24)

Bloggers from the capital Antananarivo are still actively reporting on the events happening on different key spots of the capital. Joan reports:

Ariniaina and Cyber Observer have joined forces to relay on the news using different Citizen Media tools  such as Twitter (http://twitter.com/dadandry, http://twitter.com/ariniaina) and their daily updated blogs.

Please follow the links :

And the important news is that FOKO is using Ushahidi, the powerful citizen media platform to report on this crisis.

Ushahidi, which means ”testimony” in Swahili, is an open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile. It was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The new Ushahidi engine has been deployed in some other conflict regions to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them. Lova Rakotomalala writes about Ushahidi and its implementation in Madagascar:

The importance of information generated by the citizen media has already been proven during the post-election violence in Kenya, xenophobe movement in South Africa or the crisis in Gaza with Al-Jazeera.

The benefits of Ushahidi platform are:

1) free software with data download that allows anyone with access to a cell to contribute.
2) Focus on the location.
3) Verification of the facts reported. Elimination of the opinions and rumors.
4) possible if anonymity is preferred.
5) Add photos, videos and hyperlinks in options.

It (FOKO) is therefore collecting the testimonies of each region by internet or by SMS and then checked in two stages, the veracity of the reports.

One of the dangers of civil participation in the creation of information on the Internet is the possibility of conscious disinformation, spreading of rumors or simple misunderstandings. (machine translation)

Foko Ushahidi
Foko Blog Club has called everyone in Madagascar to contribute to the FOKO Ushahidi project.

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