Addis Ababa — African communities want answers, not bare data, as to why, how and when their leaders make decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. And open data, is, therefore, only a means to this end. In a highly engaging agenda-setting workshop on rebooting open data in Africa, on the fringe of the on-going AUC-ECA Conference of Ministers in Addis Ababa, policy makers, activists and development professionals from across the continent said this perspective should underpin the brewing revolution on freely generating and using data for Africa’s transformation.
The participants of the workshop came together on the premise that open data can transform public policy in four areas: public budgeting, the ownership and behaviour of big business, public leadership and the attainment of human and peoples’ rights.
From their discussions, it came out clearly that open data is a critical means of rectifying the disconnect between policy makers and local communities. It was described as a two-way traffic, with inputs from the people supporting and defining outputs from their leaders.
According to Jessica Musila, co-founder of info.mzalendo.com, a web-based initiative that critically reviews the actions of Kenya’s parliament, “People need open data in other to exercise their rights of public participation in governance.
“Speaking truth to power is not very cultural in Africa, so if you are going to speak truth to power, you need to be very factual so that leaders don’t say you are disrespecting them,” she added.
Participants at the workshop reckoned that, to attain the state of an open data society, African countries need to enact freedom of information laws and invest in technology with a clear focus on how it can be useful to the end user. But most importantly, they noted, open data communities in Africa need to leverage the power of intermediaries in order to fully touch communities. These intermediaries include: journalists – especially those in community radio stations, Information Technology specialists, religious leaders and local chiefs.
“Open data should not just be seen as important for governments to make the right policy decisions and tax regulations but also for citizens to hold both governments and big corporations to account,” argued Savior Mwambwa of Tax Justice Network for Africa. In his view, citizens must know what profit margins big corporations are making in order to weight them against their actual contribution to development in the form of taxes and corporate social responsibility endeavours.
The concluding points from this agenda-setting workshop, will feed into the recommendations of the High Level Conference of Data Revolution, which in itself, is a side event of the Conference of Ministers.