Data Revolution – The Reality for African Countries

By Aroob Syedah Iqbal |
IBM, the American multinational technology and consulting firm, reports that 2.5 quintillion (10^18) bytes of data are being generated everyday through search engines, social media check-ins, internet purchases and much more. The data being generated is at such an unprecedented rate that an estimated 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone.
While the digitised developed world is enthralled by the enormous amounts of data generated and the opportunities opened up by this data, developing countries are still grappling with a lack of complete data for development efforts. This lack of data in developing countries and the possibilities for data collection opened by digitisation has called for a ‘Data Revolution’ to be put at the forefront of the new global development agenda.
The need for a data revolution is at the heart of the international community’s conceptualization of the United Nations (UN)-led Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Together with a global framework of indicators for monitoring progress towards the SGDs, emphasis is placed on establishing mechanisms that facilitate collection of local dis-aggregated data annually. This high quality data is expected to facilitate implementation, accounting, and tracking of the development goals at international levels.
However, this global movement towards better data can easily fail without the committed support of national governments. Following the UN call for a Data Revolution, the African Union Council of Ministers adopted the African Data Consensus in Addis Ababa in March 2015 to ‘Africanise’ and nationalise the data revolution. The Consensus recognises and emphasises the unique contextual realities of Africa.
In Uganda, a 2014 study by Development Research and Training (DRT) into the potential impact of open data to resource allocation for poverty eradication found that though there are multiple actors within the data ecosystem, they work in silos not complementing each other’s efforts. While the overarching goal for all the actors is increasing transparency of and access to available data for improved decision-making and ultimately for poverty eradication, the established and emerging open data actors were found to be “polarized, fractured, sharing different and conflicting agendas and in some cases, not even aware of one another’s existence”.
An earlier 2011 study by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) which was based on basic tenets of open data readiness (knowledge, attitudes and practice) concluded that Uganda was ready to implement Open Government Data (OGD) with appropriate support and guidance. However, there remained the need to create systems and infrastructure to converge all government data into a single location. There was also the need for a shift in attitude towards open data use and the development of appropriate regulations and standards that conform to OGD initiatives.
Accordingly, as part of the 2015 annual Civil Society (CSO) fair in Uganda, a session was convened to discuss how Ugandan stakeholders can collectively leverage experiences and contribute to the regional and international data revolution and the SDGs debate. The session, organised by DRT and moderated by CIPESA, also sought stakeholders’ input on how to operationalise the open data revolution in Uganda. For its part, DRT is leading a pilot project in two districts – Katakwi and Kitgum – to connect all stakeholders involved in data collection and development efforts in the two districts and create an open-resource toolkit on the available data. According to DRT, this collaboration between the different stakeholders is imperative to actualise the data revolution in Uganda. Other initiatives, both by government and civil society such as Know Your Budget, Ask Your Government Uganda and Open Data Uganda, among others are supporting greater openness and information access for citizens.
But Michael Niyitegeka – an independent consultant and a panelist at CSO fair session – noted how the data community in Uganda was currently focused on the generation of data, without putting in place appropriate structures for the processing, analysis and dissemination of relevant and useful data for decision-making processes. He also emphasised the importance of digital literacy for the country to realise the data revolution.
“Even though the Africa Telecom Outlook Report, 2014 estimates that 30% of the continent’s population is expected to own smartphones by 2017, the ownership of these devices does not imply the ability for citizens to engage with social media networks or information platforms to utilise data for efforts to improve their livelihoods or holding their leaders accountable,” said Mr. Niyitegeka.
In agreement, Dr. Florence Tushabe, a Lecturer at the Uganda Technology and Management University, also a panelist of the session, noted that “to be able to fully contribute to and benefit from the data revolution, Uganda will need the technical and human expertise it currently lacks to collect and then analyse the data.” She added that there is a need also to test locally, the hypothesis that data availability directly informs citizens’ decision-making processes and improves accountability as envisaged by the data revolution theory of change.
With only 10% of Uganda’s population connected to the national electricity grid and an adult literacy level of 73%, achieving the data revolution requires investment not only in data collection, but also in the capacity to demand and analyse that data by citizens. Capacity building is also required for civil society organisations to appropriately leverage data analysis for advocacy and engagement efforts for development. For the policy makers, the analysis would inform development interventions and investments.
Aroob Syedah Iqbal is an AidData Summer Fellow currently stationed at CIPESA. She is pursuing a Masters in Global Policy Studies at the University of Texas, Austin – USA.

Africa Counts RoundTable Comes to Kampala

Open Data for improved resource allocation and effective service delivery in Uganda was the theme of the latest Africa Counts roundtable held in Kampala, Uganda on March 13, 2013. Organised by Development Initiatives (DI) and Development Research and Training (DRT), it was the fourth in a series of forums aimed at increasing opportunities for “cross-country, cross-sector and multi-stakeholder” engagements that involve citizens in decision making processes on development issues across East Africa.
The forum explored avenues through which open data can be leveraged to influence resource allocation and effective delivery of public goods and considered potential challenges to the operationalisation of an open development platform in Uganda and possible means of dealing with them. Furthermore, it argued the case for the inclusion of ‘open data’ as a stand alone goal in the post-MDG agenda.AfricaCounts
DRT’s Paul Onapa commended the government of Uganda for having in place constitutional guarantees to the right to information, as well the Access to Information Act of 2005.
However, he said, despite having a robust legal framework, access to public information remained limited. “Public data and information management schemes are still largely paper based (available in bulky hard copies and/or online PDFs) and largely aggregated. In addition, this information is scattered in various government departments and only available to a few with adequate contacts,” said Onapa.
He added that open data, with its foundation modelled on digital technology and the internet, offers an opportunity to create a “one-stop portal/platform” where citizens can access, download, and analyse information on matters that affect them, particularly basic services and issues of value for money. With this knowledge, citizens can then meaningfully participate in improving public services.
His remarks were supported by Al Kags of the Open Institute, who stated that a “switched on, participating citizenry” is key to the success of open data as a mechanism for transparency and accountability. The Open Institute has been involved in open government initiatives in Kenya, such as Code4Kenya and
Panellists Professor Abel Rwendeire of the National Planning Authority and Margaret Kakande from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development) acknowledged the potential of open data to ensure effective resource allocation and service delivery. However, Kakande pointed to a number of challenges being faced by government bodies in embracing open data, such as a lack of legal frameworks on data disclosures.
Edward Ssenyange of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and CIPESA’s Lillian Nalwoga highlighted ways in which citizens’ participation in open data initiatives can be enhanced: placing emphasis on capacity building in the use of ICTs, robust multi-stakeholder engagement (particularly with mainstream media), advocating for key government institutions’ commitment to openness, authenticity and relevance of data.
Currently, a civil society led Open Data platform has been created by the Uganda Open Development Partnership (see OpenDev.Ug and Data.Ug). A key objective is to share development information – on agriculture, education, health, roads sub-sector, etc – and on financial flows including all resource flows to Uganda (aid, domestic revenues, humanitarian assistance, remittances, etc). Making the information accessible and useable by various stakeholders – citizens, government officials, donors, civil society, media and private sector is another objective. CIPESA and DRT are among the founders of the Uganda Open Development Partnership.
Previous Africa Counts roundtable forums include The prospects of East Africa’s natural resource finds (July 2012, Nairobi, Kenya), The state of social protection in East Africa (October 2012, Nairobi, Kenya) and Progress in the Kenya Open Data Initiative (November 2012, Nairobi Kenya).
Outcomes of the Kampala forum will be used to develop targeted messages to inform policy and to stimulate public demand for openness in the conduct of data/information sharing in Uganda.

Open Development: The Engine for Uganda’s Advancement

Press statement to commemorate the International Right to Know Day
Kampala 28th September – Today is the International right to know Day. The International Right To Know Day began on September 28, 2002, in Sofia, Bulgaria at an international meeting of access to information advocates who proposed that a day be dedicated to the promotion of freedom of information worldwide. The goal of RTK Day is to raise global awareness of individuals’ right to access information and to promote access to information as a fundamental human right. It seeks to highlight the benefits of open, transparent and accountable governments.
On 11-12 September, representatives of diverse civil society organizations (CSOs), government, development partners, private sector, academia and citizens, met at Hotel Africana in Kampala for the Open Development Stakeholders Workshop with the objective of Understanding the Open Development landscape and issues in Uganda, and proposing a programme focus, strategy and design.
Open development is where organisations are using Information technologies, among other information sharing channels, to provide and share information. Open Data enhances transparency and accountability about resources that are available to be invested in development, how those resources are invested and what results they achieve. In the end, all the stakeholders involved in this information sharing chain benefit from this mutually reinforcing ecosystem.
Recognising the positive steps that the Uganda government has taken in Promoting transparency and good governance as enshrined in the Constitution and other regulatory and policy frameworks, the delegates nevertheless underscored the importance of putting in practice the several statutory pronouncements that government has into the access to information act, the constitution, and other government documents. The workshop further highlighted the importance of civil society, development partners and private sector opening up as well; as these efforts work better when all stakeholders with sharable information pull their efforts together.
The conference ended with the establishment of the Uganda open development collaboration and the partners agreed to establishment of a web portal where all sorts of development information; on Agriculture, Health, education, energy, will be displayed so that anyone who needs the data can access it. It will espouse robust data collection, access and use techniques as well as a feedback mechanism that allow interface with the producers and users of information.
The conference also ended with a call to action to all stakeholders to fast track openness as a way of promoting transparency and accountability, thereby improving development outcomes:
The call was to:
(a) The Uganda government to:

  • review and repeal policies, regulations, legislation and practices that are restrictive or inconsistent with the above provisions and with regional and international open data standards and that interfere with access to information and development;
  • prioritise the development of capacity and awareness, among stakeholders to facilitate open development, access to and dissemination of data and information;
  • sign on to, and apply the principles of, the Open Government Partnership;
  • ensure transparency of, and access to, public information;
  • ensure that the process of data access involves a wide cross-section of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, private sector, and development partners;
  • develop and support partnerships with civil society organisations on specific open development initiative.

(b) Uganda’s development partners to:

  • Openly share information on funding availability and disbursements in line with the provisions of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI);
  • Promote collaboration and networking with civil society organisations and governments in promoting open development;
  • Recommit to adoption of the Paris principles on aid effectiveness and the Accra protocol;
  • Support efforts that are aimed at promoting transparency of all resources, including budgets, aid, resources about extractive industries, and about private flows.

(c) Civil society organisations in Uganda to:

  • Adopt transparency principles as stipulated in the Civil Society Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM);
  • Strengthen support and collaboration to develop a network of ogranisations that actively advocate for and implement open development;
  • Create and use clear feedback mechanisms of engagement in identifying and addressing citizens needs;
  • Facilitate community and or citizen documentation of evidence on what works (or not);
  • Facilitate partnerships with development partners and government;
  • Encourage the development of technologies and applications that innovatively engage citizens and promote community participation in governance and account ability;
  • Participate actively in positively influencing uptake of open data and open development policy and governance issues at national, regional and international level.

(d) The private sector, think-tanks and academia in Uganda to:

  • Encourage research and innovation creating applications that can promote Open development in Uganda through innovative applications; Create partnerships and collaborations in developing open data platforms;
  • Invest in the process of developing open development and open data processes;
  • Contribute to analysis of primary data for ease of access to citizens; and
  • Explore opportunities for making communication products accessible and at reason able cost to users, in particular communities.

In the spirit of the international right to know day, and in support of the above
proclamations, therefore, partners:

  1. Agreed to collaborate in an Open Development Initiative that brings together stake holders in data access, analysis, and use, as well as developers of applications;
  2. Reiterated the need for a multi stakeholder approach to open development building on previous and current experiences and expertise, to minimize duplicating efforts, promote effective resource utilization, and enhance coordinated partnerships; and
  3. Recognized that openness at the national, regional and global levels is essential for development, democratisation and empowerment.

For further information, Contact 
1. Beatrice Mugambe – Development Research and Training (DRT) 
[email protected] 
2. Richard Ssewakiryanga – Uganda National NGO Forum 
[email protected] 
3. Lillian Nalwoga – CIPESA [email protected] 
4. Charles Lwanga-Ntale – Development Initiatives: 
[email protected] 
Read the full statement here.