The Case for Open Land-Data Systems


Tim Hanstad at Project Syndicate: “Last month, a former Zimbabwean cabinet minister was arrested for illegally selling parcels of state land. A few days earlier, a Malaysian court convicted the ex-chairman of a state-owned land development agency of corruption. And in January, the Estonian government collapsed amid allegations of corrupt property dealings. These recent events all turned the spotlight on the growing but neglected threat of land-related corruption.

Such corruption can flourish in countries that are unprepared to manage the heightened demand for land that accompanies economic and population growth. Land governance in these countries – institutions, policies, rules, and records for managing land rights and use – is underdeveloped, which undermines the security of citizens’ land rights and enables covert land grabs by the well connected.

In Ghana, for example, the government keeps land records for only about 2% of currently operating farms; the ownership of the remainder is largely undocumented. In India, these records were, until recently, often kept in disorganized stacks in government offices.

Under such circumstances, corruption becomes relatively easy and lucrative. After all, when recordkeeping is nonexistent or chaotic, who can confidently identify the rightful owner of a parcel of land? As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International put it in a report a decade ago, “where land governance is deficient, high levels of corruption often flourish.” This corruption “is pervasive and without effective means of control.”

Globally, one in five people report having paid a bribe to access land services. In Africa, two out of three people believe the rich are likely to pay bribes or use their connections to grab land. Uncertainty about land rights can also affect housing security – around a billion people worldwide say they expect to be forced from their homes over the next five years.

Inevitably, the marginalized and vulnerable are the worst affected, whether they are widows driven from their homes by speculators or entire communities subjected to forced eviction by developers. Weak land rights and corruption also fuel conflict within communities, such as in Kenya, where political parties promise already-occupied land to supporters in an attempt to win votes.

But there is reason for hope. The ongoing revolution in information and communications technology provides unprecedented opportunities to digitize and open land records. Doing so would clarify the land rights of hundreds of millions of people globally and limit the scope for corrupt practices….(More)”.

Bridging the data-policy gap in Africa


Report by PARIS21 and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF): “National statistics are an essential component of policymaking: they provide the evidence required to design policies that address the needs of citizens, to monitor results and hold governments to account. Data and policy are closely linked. As Mo Ibrahim puts it: “without data, governments drive blind”. However, there is evidence that the capacity of African governments for data-driven policymaking remains limited by a wide data-policy gap.

What is the data-policy gap?
On the data side, statistical capacity across the continent has improved in recent decades. However, it remains low compared to other world regions and is hindered by several challenges. African national statistical offices (NSOs) often lack adequate financial and human resources as well as the capacity to provide accessible and available data. On the policy side, data literacy as well as a culture of placing data first in policy design and monitoring are still not widespread. Thus, investing in the basic building blocks of national statistics, such as civil registration, is often not a key priority.

At the same time, international development frameworks, such as the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063, require that every signatory country produce and use high-quality, timely and disaggregated data in order to shape development policies that leave no one behind and to fulfil reporting commitments.

Also, the new data ecosystem linked to digital technologies is providing an explosion of data sourced from non-state providers. Within this changing data landscape, African NSOs, like those in many other parts of the world, are confronted with a new data stewardship role. This will add further pressure on the capacity of NSOs, and presents additional challenges in terms of navigating issues of governance and use…

Recommendations as part of a six-point roadmap for bridging the data-policy map include:

  1. Creating a statistical capacity strategy to raise funds
  2. Connecting to knowledge banks to hire and retain talent
  3. Building good narratives for better data use
  4. Recognising the power of foundational data
  5. Strengthening statistical laws to harness the data revolution
  6. Encouraging data use in policy design and implementation…(More)”

Tracking Economic Activity in Response to the COVID-19 using nighttime Lights


Paper by Mark Roberts: “Over the last decade, nighttime lights – artificial lighting at night that is associated with human activity and can be detected by satellite sensors – have become a proxy for monitoring economic activity. To examine how the COVID-19 crisis has affected economic activity in Morocco, we calculated monthly lights estimates for both the country overall and at a sub-national level. By examining the intensity of Morocco’s lights in comparison with the quarterly GDP data at the national level, we are also able to confirm that nighttime lights are able to track movements in real economic activity for Morocco….(More)”.

Smart weather app helps Kenya’s herders brace for drought


Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Sitting under a low tree to escape the blazing Kenyan sun, Kaltuma Milkalkona and two young men hunch intently over the older woman’s smartphone – but they are not transfixed by the latest sports scores or a trending internet meme.

The men instead are looking at a weather alert for their village in the country’s north, sent through an app that uses weather station data to help pastoralists prepare for drought.

The myAnga app on Milkalkona’s phone showed that Merille would continue facing dry weather and that “pasture conditions (were) expected to be very poor with no grass and browse availability.”

One of the young men said he would warn his older brother, who had taken the family’s livestock to another area where there was water and pasture, not to come home yet.

Milkalkona, 42, who lives and sells clothing in the neighbouring town of Laisamis, said she often shared data from her phone with others who did not have smartphones.

“When I get the weather alerts, I usually show the people who are close to me,” she said, as well as calling others in more distant villages.

Extreme and erratic weather linked to a warming climate can be devastating for Kenya’s pastoralists, with prolonged droughts making it difficult to find enough pasture for their animals.

But armed with up-to-date weather information and advice, herders can plan ahead to ensure their livestock make it through the region’s frequent dry spells, said Frankline Agolla, co-founder of Amfratech, a Nairobi-based social enterprise that developed the myAnga app.

The app – its name means “my weather” – goes further than the weather reports anyone can get from the meteorological department by interpreting them and making recommendations to herders on the best way to protect their livelihoods.

“If there is an imminent drought, we advise them to sell their livestock early to reduce their losses,” said Agolla in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation….

The app is part of Amfratech’s Climate Livestock and Markets (CLIMARK) project, which the company aims to roll out to more than 300,000 pastoralists in Kenya over the next five years, with funding and other help from partners including the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation and the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council.

The app sends out weekly weather information in English, Swahili and other languages used in northern Kenya, and users can see forecasts for areas as small as a single village, Agolla said….(More)”.

Narratives and Counternarratives on Data Sharing in Africa


Paper by Rediet Abebe et al: “As machine learning and data science applications grow ever more prevalent, there is an increased focus on data sharing and open data initiatives, particularly in the context of the African continent. Many argue that data sharing can support research and policy design to alleviate poverty, inequality, and derivative effects in Africa. Despite the fact that the datasets in question are often extracted from African communities, conversations around the challenges of accessing and sharing African data are too often driven by non-African stakeholders. These perspectives frequently employ a deficit narratives, often focusing on lack of education, training, and technological resources in the continent as the leading causes of friction in the data ecosystem.

We argue that these narratives obfuscate and distort the full complexity of the African data sharing landscape. In particular, we use storytelling via fictional personas built from a series of interviews with African data experts to complicate dominant narratives and to provide counternarratives. Coupling these personas with research on data practices within the continent, we identify recurring barriers to data sharing as well as inequities in the distribution of data sharing benefits. In particular, we discuss issues arising from power imbalances resulting from the legacies of colonialism, ethno-centrism, and slavery, disinvestment in building trust, lack of acknowledgement of historical and present-day extractive practices, and Western-centric policies that are ill-suited to the African context. After outlining these problems, we discuss avenues for addressing them when sharing data generated in the continent….(More)”.

Looking to Learn from African Civic Tech Initiatives


About: “The African Civic Tech Case Studies is a project aimed at building and creatively disseminating an aggregation of African case studies on civic tech practices and lessons from various contexts with the aim of promoting sustainable urban development by providing a platform for peer learning and collaboration. The case studies were identified based on thematic areas that included: urbanisation and cities, partnerships with government, supporting livelihoods and entrepreneurship, strengthening voice and inclusion, food security, threats to democracy, gender issues and creative industries. The project identified a rich array of initiatives which all offer interesting insight into what the growing civic tech movement is offering and how.

Government Systems

We found that civic tech initiatives are steadily infused as tools to advance and shape governance systems across the continent. These tools range from mobile applications to web data portals responding to various issues such as corruption, food security, and women development to name just a few. A good example is Sema, an SMS chatbot that facilitates feedback about public institutions and public service delivery in Uganda.

Tracka is another great example, demonstrating how citizens are using technology to engage government. Tracka is a platform designed to enable citizens to follow up on government budgets and projects in their respective communities to enhance service delivery by the Nigerian government at all levels.

Voice and Inclusion

While these civic tech innovations responded to a variety of issues, innovations addressing voice and inclusion emerged prominently across the regions. The increasing demand for these citizen feedback platforms can be attributed to the lack of transparent citizen-government engagement in most of the African democracies. An example to this is Yogera, a tool from Uganda used to report service delivery issues with the aim of reaching out to government officials and giving a voice to the citizens. Odekro, a platform from Ghana, is another example that responds to voice and inclusion by informing and empowering Ghanaian citizens on the work of parliament through open data analysis. South Africa also has a similar civic engagement platform called GovChat that enables citizens to engage with their voted government officials.

It is important to note that not all civic tech in Africa is focused on government issues though; entrepreneurial exploits responding to the prominent agricultural sector in the continent were also occupying the civic tech space. Two great examples are Farmerline, an organisation helping West African farmers by connecting them to markets and financial institutions using their mobile app Mergdata, and in East Africa there is m-Omulimisa, an enterprise that leverages technology to improve access to agriculture related services for farmers….(More)”.

Surveillance in South Africa: From Skin Branding to Digital Colonialism


Paper by Michael Kwet: “South Africa’s long legacy of racism and colonial exploitation continues to echo throughout post-apartheid society. For centuries, European conquerors marshaled surveillance as a means to control the black population. This began with the requirements for passes to track and control the movements, settlements, and labor of Africans. Over time, surveillance technologies evolved alongside complex shifts in power, culture, and the political economy.

This Chapter explores the evolution of surveillance regimes in South Africa. The first surveillance system in South Africa used paper passes to police slave movements and enforce labor contracts. To make the system more robust, various white authorities marked the skin of workers and livestock with symbols registered in paper databases. At the beginning of the twentieth century, fingerprinting was introduced in some areas to simplify and improve the passes. Under apartheid, the National Party aimed to streamline a national, all-seeing surveillance system. They imported computers to impose a regime of fixed race classification and keep detailed records about the African population. The legal apparatus of race-based surveillance was finally abolished during the transition to democracy. However, today a regime of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and centralized cloud computing has ushered in a new era of mass surveillance in South Africa.

South Africa’s surveillance regimes were always devised in collaboration with foreign colonizers, imperialists, intellectuals, and profit-seeking capitalists. In each era, the United States increased its participation. During the period of settler conquest, the US had a modest presence in Southern Africa. With the onset of the minerals revolution, US power expanded, and American capitalists and engineers with business interests in the mines pushed for an improved pass system to police African workers. Under apartheid, US corporations supplied the computer technology essential to apartheid governance and business enterprise. Finally, during the latter years of post-apartheid, Silicon Valley corporations, together with US surveillance agencies, began imposing surveillance capitalism on South African society. A new form of domination, digital colonialism, has emerged, vesting the United States with unprecedented control over South African affairs. To counter the force of digital colonialism, a new movement may emerge to push to redesign the digital ecosystem as a socialist commons based on open technology, socialist legal solutions, bottom-up democracy, and Internet decentralization….(More).”

How Cape Town Used Behavioral Science to Beat Its Water Crisis


Article by Ammaarah Martinus and Faisal Naru: “In March 2018, the metropolitan government of Cape Town, on South Africa’s Western Cape, announced that it had avoided “Day Zero”—the day the dams supplying the city would have reached 13.5 percent capacity, the point at which the water supply to most of the city would be turned off. Earlier in the year, the city had been forecast to hit Day Zero on April 22, 2018.

Fortunately, it didn’t come to this. The city managed to develop a successful water savings campaign which stopped the taps from running dry in Cape Town. Had this not occurred, residents would have had faced severe restrictions on water use and their daily habits would have been upended. For instance, they would have had to visit water collection sites to service their basic needs. 

The city’s bold and comprehensive communication strategy around Day Zero, which focused on changing behaviors and implementing clever nudges, was a big part of the success story. Here’s how it unfolded….(More)

Timeline: Cape Town’s Water Crisis

Essential Requirements for Establishing and Operating Data Trusts


Paper by P Alison Paprica et al: “Increasingly, the label “data trust” is being applied to repeatable mechanisms or approaches to sharing data in a timely, fair, safe and equitable way. However, there is a gap in terms of practical guidance about how to establish and operate a data trust.

In December 2019, the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence convened a working meeting of 19 people representing 15 Canadian organizations/initiatives involved in data sharing, most of which focus on public sector health data. The objective was to identify essential requirements for the establishment and operation of data trusts. Preliminary findings were presented during the meeting then refined as participants and co-authors identified relevant literature and contributed to this manuscript.

Twelve (12) minimum specification requirements (“min specs”) for data trusts were identified. The foundational min spec is that data trusts must meet all legal requirements, including legal authority to collect, hold or share data. In addition, there was agreement that data trusts must have (i) an accountable governing body which ensures the data trust advances its stated purpose and is transparent, (ii) comprehensive data management including responsible parties and clear processes for the collection, storage, access, disclosure and use of data, (iii) training and accountability requirements for all data users and (iv) ongoing public and stakeholder engagement.

Based on a review of the literature and advice from participants from 15 Canadian organizations/initiatives, practical guidance in the form of twelve min specs for data trusts were agreed on. Public engagement and continued exchange of insights and experience is recommended on this evolving topic…(More)”.

Africa has a growing food security problem: why it can’t be fixed without proper data


Simon Roberts and Jason Bell at the Conversation: “The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown measures have had a huge negative impact on producers and consumers. Food production has been disrupted, and incomes have been lost. But a far more devastating welfare consequence of the pandemic could be reduced access to food.

A potential rise in food insecurity is a key policy point for many countries. The World Economic Forum has stated this pandemic is set to “radically exacerbate food insecurity in Africa”. This, and other supplier shocks, such as locust swarms in East Africa, have made many African economies more dependent on externally sourced food.

As the pandemic continues to spread, the continued functioning of regional and national food supply chains is vital to avoid a food security crisis in countries dependent on agriculture. This is true in terms of both nutrition and livelihoods. Many countries in Southern and East African economies are in this situation.

The integration of regional economies is one vehicle for alleviating pervasive food security issues. But regional integration can’t be achieved without the appropriate support for investment in production, infrastructure and capabilities.

And, crucially, there must be more accurate and timely information about food markets. Data on food prices are crucial for political and economic stability. Yet they are not easily accessible.

study by the Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development highlights how poor and inconsistent pricing data severely affects the quality of any assessment of agricultural markets in the Southern and East African region….(More)”