China and the importance of a robust civic society during a crisis

The importance of a robust civil society can be invaluable during a time of national crisis as shown by the current events in China.

China has found itself in the unusual position of being showered with international praise, both for its reaction to the disaster and the openness with which it has allowed the details to be reported. In the past when the government was under-resourced and overwhelmed by natural calamity, and was quick to bury the evidence of their incompetence – but the openness has given them access

The NYTimes reports that from the moment the earthquake struck on May 12, the Chinese government dispatched soldiers, police officers and rescue workers in the type of mass mobilization expected of the ruling Communist Party. But an unexpected mobilization, prompted partly by unusually vigorous and dramatic coverage of the disaster in the state-run news media, has come from outside official channels. Thousands of Chinese have streamed into the quake region or donated record sums of money in a striking and unscripted public response.

Here is a story of one such concerned citizen from the NYTimes.

Hao Lin had already lied to his wife about his destination, hopped a plane to Chengdu, borrowed a bike and pedaled through the countryside in shorts and leather loafers by the time he reached this ravaged farming village. A psychologist, Mr. Hao had come to offer free counseling to earthquake survivors.

He had company. A busload of volunteers in matching red hats was bumping along the village’s rutted dirt road. Employees from a private company in Chengdu were cleaning up a town around the bend. Other volunteers from around China had already delivered food, water and sympathy.

“I haven’t done this before,” said Mr. Hao, 36, as he straddled his mountain bike on Saturday evening. “Ordinary people now understand how to take action on their own.”

If we put this in the African context, social media and mobile technology has shown how important it is to enable citizen journalism in the time of crisis. The recent violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa highlighted the need for a better flow of information during such times – The Ushahidi engine, a tool that was built to document post-election violence in Kenya, is now being used to track reports of xenophobia in South Africa at a site called United for Africa.

The Ushahidi team just won first place at the NetSquared Challenge. Eric, Ory, Juliana, David and the team are looking to further develop the platform, spread the word and explore how the platform can be implemented in future crisis situations.

Want to help? Want to know more? Be sure to follow Ushahidi at these places:

Ushahidi Facebook group
Ushahidi Twitter

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