Open Data for Africa
Open data has the potential to take African development to new levels of success. The time has come for every African nation to provide the opportunity for citizens to understand more about their world. African governments have withheld information for too long. Honest data, even if it shows negative trends, is better than concealed data. Informed discussion between all levels of society is important. Truly sustainable development (which Africa greatly needs) simply isn’t possible without accurate data and targeted community involvement.
There’s no continent that needs Open Data more than Africa.” – Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications in Kenya
It’s not just open data that is needed, but good open data. That is, data stored in a non-image, non-proprietary format (ie. CSV instead of Excel or an image scan). Visualizations and user interfaces must be designed with the everyday citizen in mind.
Making data available is just the first step. Ensuring the entire population has knowledge of the information is another challenge. Limited Internet access, scarce electricity, and language barriers act as roadblocks to open data once it does exist. In addition, intermediaries are needed to summarize datasets. Illiteracy is still very much an issue in developing nations.
Critics denounce the lack of information to fight corruption (ie. officials’ wealth declarations have yet to be released), but the net result of open data is undeniably positive in the long term. As José M. Alonso of World Wide Web Foundation points out, you need to put transparency and accountability at the core of open data to create meaningful change.
A list of open data initiatives/programs in Africa makes it clear that more nations are learning the importance of the availability of knowledge. Not only does it improve trust between government and citizen, but it contributes to economic growth and international prestige. Note that many African open data initiatives fall under ‘open government’.
Kenya Open Data Initiative:
- makes a large amount of public government data accessible to the people of Kenya
- hundreds of searchable datasets and views
- launched July 2011 as the first open government data portal in SSA and a developing country
- has led to other events like Open Data for Development Camp
Open Data Tunisia:
- provides data from ministries and agencies under the Prime Minister
- aims to improve the business climate, attract foreign investment, and support scientific research
- launched 2012
Morocco Open Data Portal:
- allows Moroccans to access government information freely
- publications from 2010-2011
Open Government Tanzania:
- still in Beta stage, the official website plans to show how the government spends public money
- citizens can share and discuss how the government can better serve the people
- not data-heavy
Transparency Sierra Leone:
- encourages interaction and collaboration between citizens and the government
- citizens may ask questions and read about government projects. In return, the government can be expected to implement suggestions and remain honest about how the nations’ resources are spent
Ghana Open Data Initiative:
- will make government more transparent, improve efficiency and spark off innovation from the demand side for applications to be developed to better serve the citizenry
- in collaboration with World Wide Web Foundation, the initiative should go live by December 2013
African Development Bank Group’s Open Data for Africa:
- intended for global policymakers, analysts, researchers, business leaders, and investors
- allows for managing of development results in African countries
- fosters evidence-based decision-making, public accountability, and good governance
Transparency and Open Information Egypt:
- task force made up of civil society, academics and public officials to be discussed in 2011
- plan will be created based on Kenyan and South African initiatives
Rwanda will soon roll-out the Open Government Platform founded by the United States and India.
A 2012 study conducted by CIPESA finds Uganda is ready to implement Open Government Data.
Media & Makers Juba 2012 Open Knowledge & Sustainable Media Forum aims to bring open data to South Sudan.
Open Data and Democracy Initiative (South Africa):
- “community of citizens, activists, technologists, journalists, and entrepreneurs dedicated to developing and applying practical open technologies and promoting open data as a means to efficient governance, increased transparency, improved service delivery and the empowerment of South African citizens.”
- held a hackathon to demonstrate the ability to solve problems using technology and raise interest within the local community
- hosts 24 datasets
Open Access Database for Uganda:
- combines a comprehensive listing of current and historical data on the economy, migration and tourism, government expenditure, population, poverty, crime, ICT, transport, and other topics
- local support provided by Celes International Limited
- a start-up driven to retell the Nigerian budget and public data
African Open Data in the News
September 2012 seems to be the month for talk of Open Data. Three highlights include:
The World Wide Web Foundation will be maintaining an “Open Data Index” that ranks many global nations based on data related to press freedom and overall censorship, education, gender, and government openness in sharing data. They have added a specific set of 14 indicators directly targeted at measuring open data worldwide ranging from whether the government has an open data initiative in place to broad existence of applications atop that data to wide use of open licenses. South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana lead African nations.
The Open Knowledge & Data Festival, known as “OKFestival“, runs from September 17-22, 2012 and is producing an impressive amount of discussion. Topics covered include open democracy, transparency, open research, and data journalism. There was even a live broadcast between the event in Finland and African innovation hubs.
Also in mid-September 2012 came an article by Chris R. Albon, director of the Governance Project at FrontlineSMS. He asked: Are Innovation Hubs the Future of Open Government In Africa? He finds, that although Kenya’s iHub program has not become the “Facebook of open government,” the innovation processes it supports have created an environment for technology to benefit the community.
Note: This list hopes to accurately represent active and planned African government Open Data initiatives. Many open data projects and apps have been left off in the interest of time.