Una Hakika: An app prevents conflicts by dispelling rumours in Africa

By doing this, the app Una Hakika, meaning Are you sure? in Swahili, helps prevent conflict between various ethnic tribes

Published: 19th September 2016 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th September 2016 01:38 PM   |  A+A-

By doing this, the app Una Hakika, meaning Are you sure? in Swahili, helps prevent conflict between various ethnic tribes

History bears witness to the fact that most wars and conflicts have often been ignited by rumours. The kinds  that have led nations and communities to feel threatened and thereby retaliate, leading to bloodshed and irreparable loss. Be it people of different tribes, religious groups or warring nations, parties in conflict rarely communicate directly. On the other hand, information about their conflict is constantly being spread by others. And any gap in information is filled by rumours, which often have dangerous consequences.

If there’s one question that could stop this circle of war, rumours and revenge, it would be to ask oneself Una Hakika? — Swahili for ‘Are you sure?’ Christopher Tuckwood, a young Canadian and graduate of Disaster Management realised that if people could stop and ask themselves this question when they hear rumours and then take action to verify them instead of letting potential misinformation spread further, a lot of conflicts could be avoided.

In 2013, Christopher and his team went to Kenya’s Tana Delta, just after a series of massacres between the Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups which killed around 170 people, displaced thousands and disrupted life for almost everyone in the area. They found that rumours were an influential factor in creating the atmosphere of distrust, fear, and hatred that enabled violence. By creating Una Hakika, they introduced a responsive information service accessible to almost everyone. Subscribers are able to report rumours anonymously and free of charge. They can do this via channels such as SMS, voice calls, social media, their website, and  network of community ambassadors. The staff then verify the report by reaching out to trusted sources. Third step is to broadcast the verified facts back to the communities through the same channels.

When asked why he specifically chose the Tana Delta region, Christopher says, “It is an underdeveloped and neglected part of Kenya where majority of people are very poor despite living on fertile and resource rich land. The Orma are semi-nomadic pastoralists so the majority of their lives revolve around caring for their herds of cattle. The Pokomo, on the other hand, are mostly settled farmers. These two different lifestyles tend to bring them into conflict over land usage and access to water, which turns worse when pastoralists graze cattle on farms and farmers retaliate by harming the cattle and other such incidents. These small transgressions or even their rumours can raise tensions which grow into conflicts.” One of the biggest advantages for the project is that majority of people own basic mobile phones and have the means of communication needed to participate.

Misinformation management systems such as these can be applied in a variety of contexts, beyond violence prevention and peacebuilding. These include governance, disaster management, economic development, and public health work. For example, the response to the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa was hindered by rumours. In some cases, health workers were even killed while visiting Ebola-affected areas as some people believed the rumour that they were coming to spread the virus, not stop it. “With Una Hakika we have actually done some such work in the case of a cholera outbreak in the Tana Delta earlier this year. Cholera is completely preventable but people need accurate information,” says Christopher.

He adds that India has development and public health challenges as well, where misinformation management would be beneficial.

Reach Out: www.unahakika.org

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