NAIROBI, July 9, 2011—Athman Ali, a young ICT wizard, demonstrates how easily Kenyans can now get information at their finger tips, about the location and quality of schools, clinics and other public facilities, using the Internet and mobile phones.
Andrew Munde, a scientist from the International Livestock Research Institute, showcases the link between data on livestock vulnerability in Kenya’s arid areas and an innovative insurance scheme that compensates farmers for livestock losses during harsh times.
The power of data, using the web and mobile phone applications, is rapidly transforming the lives of citizens in Kenya’s rural and urban areas by empowering them to make choices on critical issues such as where to take their children to school, the nearest clinics offering immunizations, and government spending on vital, local infrastructure such as water and electricity.
Enabling citizen participation
Kenya’s drive to become a knowledge economy and empower its citizens through open data moved a notch higher July 8 with the official launch of an open government web portal, www.opendata.go.ke. The site enables the public to access several large government datasets, including the national census, and statistics on government spending at national and county levels.
“The Government data website will be particularly useful to policy makers and business persons who require timely and accurate information in formulating policies and making business decisions,” said President Mwai Kibaki, who clicked the button on July 8 in Nairobi to launch the portal. “It will also be helpful to scholars and students undertaking research work in various areas of the public sector.”
Moreover, the portal will enable citizens to hold the government accountable for the use of public resources, Kibaki said, underlining his government’s commitment to facilitate the free flow and access to information as a critical requirement for the creation of an open society in line with Kenya’s new constitution.
Data for development
Kenya’s open data, one of the first and the largest government data portals in Africa, provides unlimited access to researchers, web and software developers, journalists, students, civil society and the general public via the Internet and mobile phone platforms. An estimated 11.5 million Kenyans, over 28 percent of the population, use the Internet while 25 million, or over 80 percent of the adult population, uses mobile phones.
Ali, a recipient of an April 2011 World Bank Apps for Development Competition award for creating innovative software applications, is one of several young ICT whizzes who is manipulating data to communicate easily with the public on important development issues—public policy, distribution of resources, education and health care, equity and others. Through Ali’s application, users can generate maps and other visualizations and directly download underlying data for their own uses.
The data on the Kenya government portal is drawn from several sources, including the ministries of Finance, Planning, Health and Education, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, and the World Bank. It is powered by Socrata www.socrata.com and other partners including private web and software developers.
The Bank, which is supporting Kenya’s ICT developed through a US$114.4 million Transparency and Communications Infrastructure Project, launched its open data in April 2010, providing free, open and easy access to statistics and indicators about development for all users through a its portal data.worldbank.org. Knowledge, together with finance and strategic partnerships, are the key elements of the Bank’s engagement in Africa, which supports job creation and global competiveness.
“Open data will help to bring about open development, and this in turn, over time, will result in higher social, political and economic returns for the country—increasing job creation and accelerating Kenya’s transformation to a knowledge economy,” said Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. The Bank’s open data, he said, has awakened “open development” and since the launch last year, users of its development data have increased four-fold.
Kenya, a leader in ICT for development
Kenya has established a powerful lead in ICT and mobile applications, including the M-pesa mobile money transfer system. With the launch of its government open data site, Kenya joins the Open Government Partnership—a new global movement to be launched by the governments of the United States and Brazil in July 2011. Kenya’s officials leading the ICT initiative, including Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary for Information and Communications, have been invited to the event at the White House.
According to Ndemo, more government agencies are expected to upload data on the new portal and the information will be updated regularly to remain relevant. This will increase the transparency and accountability of the government to its citizens and influence issue-based politics. A Freedom of Information bill is also in the pipeline.
The government, through the Kenya ICT Board, will give grants to support the development of useful and relevant, innovative high-impact web and mobile applications to enhance the use of data on the new portal.