Open Data in Kenya - Setting the Pace for Africa

Google's mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We believe that the Internet can be a transformational force for societies and for empowering individuals.

That is why we were so excited to hear that Kenya has become the first country in Africa to publish a huge collection of government data with no restrictions. The Kenyan government has now set a precedent for Africa in allowing users to access such important information. The story below from Google's African blog outlines this exciting development for open government.

Cross-posted from the Google Africa Blog:

The Kenya government’s recent launch of an open data web portal has both local and international pundits buzzing. By making this step, Kenya is the first country in Africa to publish over 290 datasets with no restrictions on access and use. Released datasets include a variety from the ministries of Finance, Planning, Local Government, Health and Education and the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics. This, in our humble opinion, is HUGE.

Minister of Information Hon. Samuel Poghisio & President of Kenya, H.E. Mwai Kibaki, getting a glimpse of Google Tools for Government

In the past, most Kenyan government information has been treated by default as a state secret. One had to be physically present at the respective ministry, with a letter of support, to access it. Now, all one needs is an internet connection and a search query. The launch marks a turning point as far as how citizens can engage with government, and will result in new ways through which Kenyans can hold their leaders accountable and amplify their voice on complex issues. For the government, this is a great foundation for fact-based policy making. For the local content landscape, it means new opportunities to analyze rich historical archives and new jobs to apply a stream of usable data: developers, statisticians, teachers and students alike will benefit. For Africa, the Open Data initiative could become the blueprint for how to move into the knowledge economy.

To be clear, this didn’t all happen overnight - it is the outcome of several years of prodding by the local ICT community. Google is proud to have played a small but crucial role in supporting the initiative's main aim: to make core government development, demographic, statistical and expenditure data available in a useful digital format for anyone to access.

The Ministry of Information invited Google to join the Open Data Taskforce and help guide the technology and policy work leading up to the launch. In our role, we advocated for use of open standards, APIs for developers and local language support for the datasets. In addition, many of the apps and visualizations showcased at the launch by local developers - like Msema Kweli and Eduweb - made use of the Google Maps APIs & Charting APIs.

Finally, we were involved in helping bring several datasets to life using the Google Public Data Explorer. In the live example below, based on data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, users can easily see and interact with the Social, Physical Infrastructure and other Government expenditure trends from 2002-2008. Questions like “ How much capital expenditure was spent on Schools & Health in 2007” can be answered by simply pressing play.

Other advances in government transparency highlighted at the launch were the Kenya Gazettes and Parliamentary Hansards archives, which are now online via Google Books through a partnership with the Kenya National Assembly and the National Council for Law Reporting.

It is extremely rewarding to see an African government adopting values that are so deeply espoused by Google and development community at large - democratizing access to information. In his speech, the President of Kenya recognized that “information is power and an informed citizenry is an empowered citizenry” and promised to continue to work towards access to information and free flow of information. We look forward to working with other countries to helping make the ideal of an informed citizenry a reality.

Posted by Denis Gikunda, Local Content Programs and Ory Okolloh, Government Relations & Public Policy, Google Africa