By JAMES RATEMO in Nairobi
Kenya’s launch of an open data website has attracted international limelight and the country has earned position on the global map of open society.World Bank Country Director Johannes Zutt on Friday said Kenya becomes the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to avail government open data as he urged other African countries to follow suit.
Mr Zutt said Kenya has already entered into a special relationship with US government and other governments that have adopted ‘open governance’ and next week Dr Ndemo shall be at the White house for a special meeting on open society.
The meeting shall bring together governments that have adopted open data policies and other civil society stakeholders.
Countries running open data government portals include US, Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, India among others and the trend is spreading fast worldwide.
Mr Zutt said Kenya’s open portal will lead to savings in government work and improved service delivery.
“This move will fuel innovation and lead to booming development in the ICT sector. Open data leads to open knowledge and all Kenyans will have access to the information about problems facing Kenya and seek ways to solve the problems,” said Mr Zutt.
The information on the portal is from published Government Data from the ministries of Finance, Planning, Local Government, Health, Education and Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Launching the portal on Friday in Nairobi, President Mwai Kibaki directed Ministry of Information and Communication to ensure Internet connectivity cost for end users is lowered.
The President said with Kenya hooked up to international fibre optic cables, Internet connectivity charges should drop even further for Kenyans to enjoy the benefits of online presence.
President Kibaki tasked Information Minister Samuel Poghisio to move with speed, converse with stakeholders to lower the cost.
“Kenyans are not yet enjoying full benefits of fibre optic connectivity…the optic fibres were meant to deal with these issues (of cost) but that has not happened,” decried the President.
The President spoke on Friday when he launched a government open data website (www.opendata.go.ke) that aims to boost transparency in governance and empower citizens with relevant information.
Kenya is currently hooked to two international marine fibre cables (SEACOM and TEAMS) that has seen a 90 per cent drop in connectivity charges for the big players but the citizens are yet to enjoy the benefits.
Through the portal, government has released several large datasets, including the national census and statistics on government spending at national and county level to enhance transparency in governance and access to information.
“The portal shall enhance accountability and improve governance in our country. Citizens will be able to able to keep track of government delivery and hold leaders accountable in use of public resources,” said Mr Kibaki.
He said the website will facilitate successful implementation of the new constitution as it will empower citizens to fully participate in the process from an informed perspective.
Currently much of the public data is in hard copy and other static formats that make their use and manipulation near to impossible.
Worse still, to access such data one had to seek clearance from permanent secretaries of relevant ministries or buy it from the Government printer after going through a bureaucratic clearance process.
Welcoming the President’s directive, Alex Gakuru, Chairman, ICT Consumers Association of Kenya said Internet Service Providers have been making a kill as end users still pay heaviliy for connectivity.
“It was heartening to hear the President repeat, twice, that despite various optic fibres connecting Kenya, Internet consumers are not enjoying lowered prices. In 2006 we browsed the Internet at one shilling per minute yet the country never had any fibre optic cable. Now we are connected to the cables but still paying as high as two shillings per minute, decried Mr Gakuru.
Mr Gakuru said sustained high Internet prices would be a serious threat to widespread utilization of of the launched open data portal which is aimed at serving all citizens.
In an interview with Nation, Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary, Dr Bitange Ndemo said the data, now available to researchers, web and software developers and the general public is in a flexible, user-friendly format that will allow users to view and compare information at national, province and county levels.
“By creating a knowledge society, you create a knowledge economy…we do not want to lag behind as we watch other countries releasing data to their people for profitable use…we have not even scratched the surface in terms of data, we are working o datacenters which was our last piece of infrastructure development,” said Dr Ndemo
To ensure useful and relevant applications are built, Dr Ndemo said the Ministry of Information and Communications will give grants to support the development of innovative high-impact web and mobile applications.
Through the Kenya ICT Board, the Ministry will make a Call for Proposals for ideas on how to use government data. The Call for Proposals is open from July 8 – August 8; the best proposals will receive $50,000 each (for companies) and $ 10,000 (for teams and individuals) and at least 30 grants will be awarded in 2011.