In Kabul, a group of under 25s created an app that warns of dangerous situations

In Kabul, a group of under 25s created an app that warns of dangerous situations

In Kabul

In Afghanistan, a team led by 26-year-old businesswoman Sara Wahedi has created an app that sends real-time notifications on emergencies and dangers in the capital now in the hands of the Taliban

Telebans patrol Kabul. Photo by Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images As the situation in Kabul becomes increasingly dangerous and there are at least 90 victims after the double kamikaze attack on August 26 outside the airport of the Afghan capital, as reported by CNN, and claimed by the Isis K, a branch of the Islamic State, city dwellers rely on an app to stay up to date on shootings, traffic problems, blackouts and other emergency situations. Created by 26-year-old Sara Wahedi, Ehtesab is a platform managed by a team of under 25 Afghans who are responsible for sending live notifications day and night on what is happening in the capital. All without explicitly mentioning the Taliban, in the hope that the app can resist and successfully spread across the country.

Available from March 2020 for Android and iOs, Ehtesab was actually born in 2018, when its founder Sara Wahedi witnesses a bomb attack in central Kabul. Over the next twelve hours, the government imposes a curfew and the city runs out of electricity. “Nobody knew when she would return or when the roads would be clear of the military. The authorities were not helpful "explained the young entrepreneur in an interview:" From that moment I began to reflect on the idea of ​​reliability and the dissemination of information. I started writing the word 'reliability' in many different languages, up to 'Ehtesab' ".

A "reliable" system

Ehtesab precisely means 'reliability' in Dari and Pashto, the two languages ​​most used by the Afghan population. After having this idea, Wahedi leaves his post in the government, where he was in charge of social policies for former president Ashraf Ghani, to found his first startup together with the Afghan company Netlinks, which invested 40 thousand dollars in the project. More than twenty young people from the country begin to collaborate with her, including many women and members of the Hazara ethnic group, historically persecuted by the Taliban.

With the fall of Kabul, the whole team has abandoned their offices to work from remote, while Wahedi personally took care of hiding the identity of her collaborators and helping them to remove all traces of their digital past. At the moment, attempts to rescue the staff have failed, while Wahedi, who spent her teenage years as a refugee in Canada, is in New York to attend Columbia University.

The taking of Kabul

Sunday, August 15th was supposed to be the day of the launch of the new version of the app for iOs, but the priorities changed quickly. First, a constant stream of new information on the advance of the Taliban. Then, says Wahedi, “as soon as they reached the city center, everything stopped. Nobody posted anything online, we couldn't communicate. People have deleted their messages or turned off their phones. When the Taliban reached the president's office, we realized that from that moment on we would have to do it ourselves ".

To date, the reports continue to arrive through private WhatsApp groups, content posted on social networks or directly from the app, which allows users to record and send short videos. Each member of the Wahedi team monitors a specific event - traffic, explosions, the situation at the airport - and checks the news they receive. Once the reports were confirmed by the Ministry of the Interior - "when it still existed", comments Wahedi - and the staff were free to specify the details of the situation.

Change of communication

" Now instead we use words and phrases that indicate an emergency. For example, a roadblock can be synonymous with danger, but we cannot explicitly say this. If someone accuses us of going against the government, we can say that we have simply reported a roadblock and that's it, since it is a problem for people's mobility. This is our strategy, "she explains.

The 26-year-old's plan is to build a system on a national scale, which also includes the sending of text messages. In a New York Post article, Wahedi states that one of her biggest sources of inspiration is Citizen, the public safety app used in many US cities, including New York and Los Angeles. His methods, however, are much more controversial than those of the Kabul app. Citizen staff gathers most of the information by listening to radio reports of 911 from every neighborhood in the city, as well as paying ordinary citizens to film homicides, fires and accidents live.

For now, Ehtesab recalls much more Nexta Live, the Belarusian counter-information Telegram channel founded by two 20-year-olds - including Roman Protasevich, arrested after a plane hijack last May - which collects anonymous reports, as well as drawing from a database of trusted sources.

“Afghans are very attracted to entrepreneurship and the world of startups,” says Wahedi. To get closer to the industry, many learn Java and Python thanks to tutorials on Youtube and share their ideas on a Facebook group dedicated to the startupper community called CodeWeekend.

“The Taliban themselves appreciate this type of Western technology. We see them using Twitter and other social media. For this reason, I do not believe that access to social networks and the internet will be prohibited ", explains the founder of Ehtesab:" If the Taliban decide to decimate the city, we will not be able to do anything about it. But if the Taliban do what they say they want to do, if their government is really different, then our work [in Ehtesab, ed.] Can continue ".

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Afghanistan Startup security Islamic state telecommunications telephony Terrorism WhatsApp globalData.fldTopic = "Afghanistan, Security, startup, Islamic State, telecommunications, telephony, Terrorism, WhatsApp "

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