Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Africa’s open data revolution hampered by challenges

    Gilbert Nakweya

    04/08/17

Speed read

  • Open data revolution in Africa faces challenges such as limited investment

  • Addressing open data challenges could help Africa achieve the SDGs

  • Africa needs to preserve and use data for planning and innovations

[NAIROBI] Sub-Saharan Africa has numerous data revolution challenges such as little capacity and investment, thus limiting demands for using data to boost sustainable development.

According to the inaugural Africa Data Revolution Report (ADRR), there is minimal or non-existent collaborations among data communities regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa's Agenda 2063.

The report was presented last month (17-21 July) during a panel discussion at the second Africa Open Data Conference held in Accra, Ghana.

“The stumbling blocks that impede progress of the data revolution for sustainable development must be addressed.”

Serge Kapto, UNDP


The report cites issues such as legal and policy frameworks, infrastructure, technology and interactions among key actors as challenges that confront data ecosystems of ten African countries studied: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland and Tanzania.

The ADRR was jointly published by the Economic Commission for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Wide Web Foundation and Open Data for Development Network (OD4D).

“Open data is Africa's biggest challenge,” says Nnenna Nwakanma, a senior policy manager at the US-headquartered World Wide Web Foundation, noting that open data revolution is key to Africa achieving the SDGs.

Nwakanma tells SciDev.Net that data revolution is built on access to information, the web, and to content, citing open data’s benefits such as governments functioning more efficiently, businesses innovating more and citizens participating in governance and demanding accountability.

Serge Kapto, a policy specialist on data from the UNDP, says that frameworks such as the African charter on statistics and the strategy for harmonisation of statistics in Africa adopted by the continent have laid the groundwork for an African data revolution.

“The report also points out that data is inherently as much a political as a technical issue,” Kapto notes. “Therefore, the stumbling blocks that impede progress of the data revolution for sustainable development must be addressed on both political and technical levels.”

Kapto adds that Africa is well positioned to reap the benefits of the data revolution for sustainable development and leapfrog technology to serve national and regional development priorities.

But, he explains, much work remains to be done to fully take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the data revolution for achieving development plans. The report affirms the need for strengthening national statistical institutions to support governments’ policies and measure their impact, and coordinate growing and evolving national data ecosystems driven by fast-paced easily accessible technological innovations.

Muliaro Wafula, the director of Information, Communication and Technology Centre of Excellence and Open Data at Kenya-based Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, says that Africa can benefit a lot if data was valued, used and preserved.   

“Data storage remains a challenge for governments and research institutions,” Wafula tells SciDev.Net, adding that the continent generates a lot of valuable data but does little to preserve and use it to support planning and innovations.
  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.