Data Governance and Policy in Africa

This open access book edited by Bitange Ndemo, Njuguna Ndung’u, Scholastica Odhiambo and Abebe Shimeles: “…examines data governance and its implications for policymaking in Africa. Bringing together economists, lawyers, statisticians, and technology experts, it assesses gaps in both the availability and use of existing data across the continent, and argues that data creation, management and governance need to improve if private and public sectors are to reap the benefits of big data and digital technologies. It also considers lessons from across the globe to assess principles, norms and practices that can guide the development of data governance in Africa….(More)”.

Public Policy and Technological Transformations in Africa

Book edited by Gedion Onyango: “This book examines the links between public policy and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technological developments in Africa. It broadly assesses three key areas – policy entrepreneurship, policy tools and citizen participation – in order to better understand the interfaces between public policy and technological transformations in African countries. The book presents incisive case studies on topics including AI policies, mobile money, e-budgeting, digital economy, digital agriculture and digital ethical dilemmas in order to illuminate technological proliferation in African policy systems. Its analysis considers the broader contexts of African state politics and governance. It will appeal to students, instructors, researchers and practitioners interested in governance and digital transformations in developing countries…(More)”.

Weather Warning Inequity: Lack of Data Collection Stations Imperils Vulnerable People

Article by Chelsea Harvey: “Devastating floods and landslides triggered by extreme downpours killed hundreds of people in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in May, when some areas saw more than 7 inches of rain in a day.

Climate change is intensifying rainstorms throughout much of the world, yet scientists haven’t been able to show that the event was influenced by warming.

That’s because they don’t have enough data to investigate it.

Weather stations are sparse across Africa, making it hard for researchers to collect daily information on rainfall and other weather variables. The data that does exist often isn’t publicly available.

“The main issue in some countries in Africa is funding,” said Izidine Pinto, a senior researcher on weather and climate at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. “The meteorological offices don’t have enough funding.”

There’s often too little money to build or maintain weather stations, and strapped-for-cash governments often choose to sell the data they do collect rather than make it free to researchers.

That’s a growing problem as the planet warms and extreme weather worsens. Reliable forecasts are needed for early warning systems that direct people to take shelter or evacuate before disasters strike. And long-term climate data is necessary for scientists to build computer models that help make predictions about the future.

The science consortium World Weather Attribution is the latest research group to run into problems. It investigates the links between climate change and individual extreme weather events all over the globe. In the last few months alone, the organization has demonstrated the influence of global warming on extreme heat in South Asia and the Mediterranean, floods in Italy, and drought in eastern Africa.

Most of its research finds that climate change is making weather events more likely to occur or more intense.

The group recently attempted to investigate the influence of climate change on the floods in Rwanda and Congo. But the study was quickly mired in challenges.

The team was able to acquire some weather station data, mainly in Rwanda, Joyce Kimutai, a research associate at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study, said at a press briefing announcing the findings Thursday. But only a few stations provided sufficient data, making it impossible to define the event or to be certain that climate model simulations were accurate…(More)”.

An algorithm intended to reduce poverty in Jordan disqualifies people in need

Article by Tate Ryan-Mosley: “An algorithm funded by the World Bank to determine which families should get financial assistance in Jordan likely excludes people who should qualify, according to an investigation published this morning by Human Rights Watch. 

The algorithmic system, called Takaful, ranks families applying for aid from least poor to poorest using a secret calculus that assigns weights to 57 socioeconomic indicators. Applicants say that the calculus is not reflective of reality, however, and oversimplifies people’s economic situation, sometimes inaccurately or unfairly. Takaful has cost over $1 billion, and the World Bank is funding similar projects in eight other countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

Human Rights Watch identified several fundamental problems with the algorithmic system that resulted in bias and inaccuracies. Applicants are asked how much water and electricity they consume, for example, as two of the indicators that feed into the ranking system. The report’s authors conclude that these are not necessarily reliable indicators of poverty. Some families interviewed believed the fact that they owned a car affected their ranking, even if the car was old and necessary for transportation to work. 

The report reads, “This veneer of statistical objectivity masks a more complicated reality: the economic pressures that people endure and the ways they struggle to get by are frequently invisible to the algorithm.”..(More)”.

Understanding the relationship between informal public transport and economic vulnerability in Dar es Salaam

WhereIsMyTransport Case Study: “In most African cities, formal public transport—such as government-run or funded bus and rail networks—has limited coverage and fails to meet overall mobility demand. As African cities grow and densify, planners are questioning whether these networks can serve the economically vulnerable communities who benefit most from public transport access to opportunities and services.

In the absence of formal public transport or private vehicles, low-income commuters have long relied on informal public transport—think tro tros in Accra, boda bodas in Kampala, danfos in Lagos—to meet their mobility needs. Yet there is little reliable data on the relationship between informal public transport and economic vulnerability in and around Africa’s cities, making it challenging to understand:

  • Which communities are the most vulnerable?
  • What opportunities and services do people typically attempt to access?
  • What routes do informal public transport operators follow?
  • What are the occupation and gender-related impacts?

Addressing these questions benefits from combining data assets. For example, pairing data on informal public transport coverage with data on the socioeconomic characteristics of the communities that rely on this type of transport…(More)”.

Digital Freedoms in French-Speaking African Countries

Report by AFD: “As digital penetration increases in countries across the African continent, its citizens face growing risks and challenges. Indeed, beyond facilitated access to knowledge such as the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to leisure-related tools such as Youtube, and to sociability such as social networks, digital technology offers an unprecedented space for democratic expression. 

However, these online civic spaces are under threat. Several governments have enacted vaguely-defined laws, allowing for random arrests.

Several countries have implemented repressive practices restricting freedom of expression and access to information. This is what is known as “digital authoritarianism”, which is on the rise in many countries.

This report takes stock of digital freedoms in 26 French-speaking African countries, and proposes concrete actions to improve citizen participation and democracy…(More)”

An Action Plan Towards a “New Deal on Data” in Africa

Blog by Charlie Martial Ngounou, Hannah Chafetz, Sampriti Saxena, Adrienne Schmoeker, Stefaan G. Verhulst, & Andrew J. Zahuranec: “To help accelerate responsible data use across the African data ecosystem, AfroLeadership with the support of The GovLab hosted two Open Data Action Labs in March and April 2023 focused on advancing open data policy across Africa. The Labs brought together domain experts across the African data ecosystem to build upon the African Union’s Data Policy Framework and develop an instrument to help realize Agenda 2063.

The Labs included discussions about the current state of open data policy and what could be involved in a “New Deal on Data” across the African continent. Specifically, the Labs explored how open data across African countries and communities could become more:

  1. Purpose-led: how to strengthen the value proposition of and incentives for open data and data re-use, and become purpose-led?
  2. Practice-led: how to accelerate the implementation of open data and data re-use policies, moving from policy to practice?
  3. People-led: how to trigger engagement, collaboration and coordination with communities and stakeholders toward advancing data rights, community interests, and diversity of needs and capacities?

Following the Labs, the organizing team conducted a brainstorming session to synthesize the insights gathered and develop an action plan towards a “New Deal on Data” for Africa. Below we provide a summary of our action plan. The action plan includes four vehicles that could make progress towards becoming purpose-, practice-, and people-led. These include:

  1. A “New Deal” Observatory: An online resource that takes stock of the the current state of open data policies, barriers to implementation, and use cases from the local to continental levels
  2. A Community-Led Platform: A solutions platform that helps advance data stewardship across African countries and communities
  3. “New Deal” Investment: Supporting the development of locally sourced solutions and nuanced technologies tailored to the African context
  4. Responsible Data Stewardship Framework: A framework that open data stewards can use to support their existing efforts when looking to encourage or implement grassroots policies…(More)”

Filling Africa’s Data Gap

Article by Jendayi Frazer and Peter Blair Henry: “Every few years, the U.S. government launches a new initiative to boost economic growth in Africa. In bold letters and with bolder promises, the White House announces that public-private partnerships hold the key to growth on the continent. It pledges to make these partnerships a cornerstone of its Africa policy, but time and again it fails to deliver.

A decade after U.S. President Barack Obama rolled out Power Africa—his attempt to solve Africa’s energy crisis by mobilizing private capital—half of the continent’s sub-Saharan population remains without access to electricity. In 2018, the Trump administration proclaimed that its Prosper Africa initiative would counter China’s debt-trap diplomacy and “expand African access to business finance.” Five years on, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Zambia are in financial distress and pleading for debt relief from Beijing and other creditors. Yet the Biden administration is once more touting the potential of public-private investment in Africa, organizing high-profile visits and holding leadership summits to prove that this time, the United States is “all in” on the continent.

There is a reason these efforts have yielded so little: goodwill tours, clever slogans, and a portfolio of G-7 pet projects in Africa do not amount to a sound investment pitch. Potential investors, public and private, need to know which projects in which countries are economically and financially worthwhile. Above all, that requires current and comprehensive data on the expected returns that investment in infrastructure in the developing world can yield. At present, investors lack this information, so they pass. If the United States wants to “build back better” in Africa—to expand access to business finance and encourage countries on the continent to choose sustainable and high-quality foreign investment over predatory lending from China and Russia—it needs to give investors access to better data…(More)”.

Randomized Regulation: The Impact of Minimum Quality Standards on Health Markets

Paper by Guadalupe Bedoya, Jishnu Das & Amy Dolinger: “We report results from the first randomization of a regulatory reform in the health sector. The reform established minimum quality standards for patient safety, an issue that has become increasingly salient following the Ebola and COVID-19 epidemics. In our experiment, all 1348 health facilities in three Kenyan counties were classified into 273 markets, and the markets were then randomly allocated to treatment and control groups. Government inspectors visited health facilities and, depending on the results of their inspection, recommended closure or a timeline for improvements. The intervention increased compliance with patient safety measures in both public and private facilities (more so in the latter) and reallocated patients from private to public facilities without increasing out-of-pocket payments or decreasing facility use. In treated markets, improvements were equally marked throughout the quality distribution, consistent with a simple model of vertical differentiation in oligopolies. Our paper thus establishes the use of experimental techniques to study regulatory reforms and, in doing so, shows that minimum standards can improve quality across the board without adversely affecting utilization…(More)”.

Africa fell in love with crypto. Now, it’s complicated

Article by Martin K.N Siele: “Chiamaka, a former product manager at a Nigerian cryptocurrency startup, has sworn off digital currencies. The 22-year-old has weathered a layoff and lost savings worth 4,603,500 naira ($9,900) after the collapse of FTX in November 2022. She now works for a corporate finance company in Lagos, earning a salary that is 45% lower than her previous job.

“I used to be bullish on crypto because I believed it could liberate Africans financially,” Chiamaka, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym as she was concerned about breaching her contract with her current employer, told Rest of World. “Instead, it has managed to do the opposite so far … at least to me and a few of my friends.”

Chiamaka is among the tens of millions of Africans who bought into the cryptocurrency frenzy over the last few years. According to one estimate in mid-2022, around 53 million Africans owned crypto — 16.5% of the total global crypto users. Nigeria led with over 22 million users, ranking fourth globally. Blockchain startups and businesses on the continent raised $474 million in 2022, a 429% increase from the previous year, according to the African Blockchain Report. Young African creatives also became major proponents of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), taking inspiration from pop culture and the continent’s history. Several decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), touted as the next big thing, emerged across Africa…(More)”.