How is open data making a difference in Africa? This week’s Africa Open Data Conference (AODC) in Ghana aims to find out. Ahead of the conference, which is centered on data for sustainable development, we’ve taken a look at the state of open data across sub Saharan Africa in this year’s Open Data Barometer.
While there are some signs of progress, our Barometer shows that most countries in the region have a long way to go to make open data a serious tool to improve governance, development, innovation and inclusion.
The region lags behind the rest of the world in both implementation and impact of open data. No country ranks in the global top 30, and sub Saharan African countries fill seven of the bottom 10 spots on the ranking. Almost half of the 25 countries we assessed in Africa have a score lower than 10 out of 100.
Why? Overall the region has very little open data, with just two of the 375 datasets we analysed being truly open. The data that is available is generally outdated, hard to access and of poor quality. Meanwhile, governments remain heavily dependent on third-parties for delivering open data initiatives, meaning that lasting capacity and skills are not being built within governments themselves.
Stalling and backsliding
The Barometer findings reveal that in a number of countries, open data efforts are at a standstill. Due to a lack of funding, Nigeria, Mozambique and Mauritius are not delivering on their previous commitments to ensure open data sustainability and proper data management. Moreover, all three are yet to implement necessary right to information reforms. Even regional champions score poorly on openness of datasets. For sector-based data, only Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have any open data, with a single dataset each. In Nigeria, datasets for health and education that were previously fully open are no longer openly licensed or machine readable. Because of weak performance on policies and opening up data, the impact of open data on citizens’ lives and public service delivery is limited. This means governments are missing an opportunity to use open data to increase social inclusion and drive economic growth.
Signs of progress
Kenya, making incremental improvements across a broad range of indicators, has climbed seven places to 35 in the global ranking and remains the regional champion. Others such as Tanzania and Burkina Faso have also progressed, especially in the implementation of sector-specific datasets. All three countries have also improved their open data initiatives, civil society engagement and support for innovation. Ghana jumped 11 places, making up some of the ground it lost in the previous edition.
We’ve also seen some strong civil society-led initiatives such as Tracka in Nigeria, a tool letting citizens track and give feedback on government budget and spending data. Meanwhile in Kenya, the Hunger Safety Net Program has designed an interactive dashboard to display information on cash transfers to support vulnerable people. Tanzania’s Big Results Now (BRN) programme provides three open data dashboards on water, health and education on the country’s national Open Data Portal. Yet, with the vast majority of data still not open, these civil society efforts can only go so far.
The way forward
We must demand governments start walking the talk on open data. While local and civil society led initiatives are making a difference, they are not enough to deliver the Conference’s vision of open data for sustainable development. To see real impact, African leaders must open the data people want and need, and make sure it is high quality data people can use.
Specifically they must:
- Take ownership of open data programmes and rely less on third-parties for delivery.
- Decentralise open data across all agencies and departments.
- Adopt the Open Data Charter to ensure open data practices are embedded beyond political mandates.
- Consult citizens and intermediaries when prioritising which open data to publish first.
- Improve quality of government data, which is usually incomplete, out of date and fragmented.
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