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International Open Data Day

9 Mins read

Open data

Today is International Open Data Day! It is a day to celebrate, promote, and spread the use of open data around the world. Open data is data that anyone can access, use, and share. Today is a day to learn more about open data and perhaps to contribute to a project or start your own. Find out more below…

Information has been key to human progress for as long as there have been humans. When we figured out how to write, we started writing things down. And from that moment forward, the struggle to access and control information has defined our lives. From the rise of libraries and the invention of the printing press to the internet and data science, information is power—and whoever controls it controls the world.

Today is Open data day let’s dive into what it is and how it affects us as humans, especially Africans. I will be taking you through the following.

  • History and the act of Data hoarding
  • What is Open Data?
  • History of Open Data
  • Restriction on Open data
  • Milestones achieved
  • Open Data in journalism
  • Open Data in Africa tech space
  • How to leverage on Open data to innovate African solutions to African problems

The history and activities of data hoarding

The term “open data” came about because of the fundamental role that data plays in the development of humanity. From the very beginning, man has sought information to better his livelihood, and as such sought to collect and hoard it.

The invention of the body known as “government” served only to worsen this practice, as they themselves imbibed and continue the practice (Many governments used their power arbitrarily to hide information from the public and prevent scrutiny of what they were doing. The most common reasons for this were corruption—the misappropriation of funds, embezzlement, abuse of power, election rigging, and so on— and it has been widely noted that only succeeding governments expose the corrupt practices of their predecessors – provided they have a different political affiliation).

This act of data hoarding makes the government a powerful entity. By its very nature, it controls various aspects of our lives and has access to information that others don’t. But this also puts it in a position to use that power for good or ill, now this makes open data more important than ever before. Without it, we would have no way to know if our leaders are truly acting in our best interests or pursuing their own selfish desires and agendas.

What is Open Data?

The World Bank defines open data as any data or content made open for anyone to use for free, re-use, or redistribute subject at most to measures that preserve provenance and openness

There are two dimensions of data openness:

  1. The data must be legally open, which means they must be placed in the public domain or under liberal terms of use with minimal restrictions. Data must also be publicly available and accessible on a public server without password or firewall restrictions.
  2. The data must be technically open, which means they must be published in electronic formats that are readable so that anyone can access and use the data using common, freely available software tools.

The history of open data

The term “Open Data” was coined by the World Bank in 2006 to describe a specific practice of posting government-generated data online for public use.

Citizens need access to information in order to hold their governments accountable—or as former President Barrack Obama put it: “Government should be transparent.” And some time ago, the former Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago stressed the importance of open data, especially in governance’s drive towards greater transparency and accountability. “What is the government hiding? We compel the government to release all data to the public. Where’s my database?”

Now, The movement for open data originated in the early 2000s as part of a broader trend toward electronic democracy and transparency of government. In 2007, the United Kingdom passed a law requiring all public bodies to release their non-personal information in an open and machine-readable format.

In 2009, the United States launched its own official Open Government Initiative. Transparency advocates hoped that this would encourage other countries to follow suit and create a global culture of openness and accountability. However, according to the Open Government Partnership’s 2014 report on progress since 2009, there has been little global impact overall.

This is how open data came into being: a movement dedicated to making government-created data available and usable by anyone, anywhere. It’s designed so that people can understand what their government is doing, hold it accountable for its actions, and create innovative solutions that serve society on a global scale.

Restrictions on Open Data

However, there’s a lot of debate around how much information should be made available to people, but one thing is clear: governments were created to serve the needs of the people. And they can’t do that effectively without operating transparently and making data available to the people they serve.

Data is a valuable resource, and governments, organizations, and companies use open data licenses to clearly explain the conditions under which their data may be used. There’s a lot of debate around how much information should be made available to people, but for now, most of these licenses fall into one of two categories:

  • A license that allows the data to be freely accessed, used, modified, or shared for any purpose (subject to certain restrictions relating to liability, warranty, and trademark). An example of this would be the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL)
  • A license that requires the data to be shared on the same terms it was received. This kind of license is often used by governments and other public bodies. An example of this would be the UK Open Government License

Africa is worse hit by this endemic pestilence of zero information, no available data, they do have the data but they care less about providing the data to the public to achieve their mischievous aim, I remember one that happened in Nigeria during the 2006 national population census, there was a dispute about the population of Lagos state, the then federal government said Lagos has a population of 9,113,605 while the then-governor said Lagos has a population of over 17.5. The conflict happened because Census figures affect the sharing of oil revenues and political representation among Nigeria’s 36 states and 300 ethnic groups. Judge yourself, No need to say more……

African leaders are dictators, they veil life-threatening information from their citizens, Africans only get a glimpse of government decisions and policies through journalism reports, even journalist has no direct access to most reported information, they lobby through life-threatening situations, striking risky deals just to unveil government corruption. Journalists are tired of prying information out through various sources.

Now ask yourself

  • Do you have access to vital government information?
  • Does your country have the wherewithal to make vital data available for its citizens?
  • How can you improve it?

Milestones achieved

Despite the restrictions on valuable information around the world, The U.S., however, has made significant strides towards greater accountability since passing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1963. This act gives American citizens the right to request access to records from any federal agency and receive a response within 20 business days. This is a milestone achieved, going to a government-controlled agency to request access to records is a big deal I will admit, and I don’t think it happens anywhere in the world except the US. I think that is why they are the bastion of democracy.

Open data in African journalism

Today, African journalists are using technology like never before. Nowadays, African journalists are using data from different sources to expose government corruption and other injustices across the continent. As matter-of-fact, investigative journalism is on the rise in Africa as journalists are sourcing for data to expose corruption in their respective countries.

Open data in Africa tech space

Now, while African journalists are busy sourcing for data to expose government corruption, I think Africa techies should refocus our aim at sourcing data to better the continent. The problem with Africa right now is that everybody wants to go into tech because they hear there’s a lot of money in it. They hear about the success stories of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Jack Ma, they hear about all the hard work, sacrifice, and trial-and-error that goes into starting a successful business. People also consider the potential cost of failure—not just in terms of financial loss, but also in terms of time spent working on something that may never see the light of day, that is why Africans just want to get a tech skill and start looking for employment opportunities from western nations, not knowing there is a huge ROI in making something indigenous to the continent – if they can persevere.

I know there is limited availability of data and resources like funds, and manpower but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to succeed at building a tech company from scratch; you just have to be prepared for the challenge and ready to put in an enormous amount of effort for what could be very little reward (at least at first).

I have been an advocate of African solutions to African problems, no one will solve Africa problem for her, and all the west can do is add to the existing problems, African countries are regarded as 3rd world countries because of their poor economic status, But there is another way to boost the economy: focusing on local solutions rather than trying to emulate solutions from overseas companies like Google or Facebook. The world has changed.

How to leverage Open Data to innovate African solutions for African problems.

It’s easy to get lost in the hype of tech and reduce it to just a means of making money. But that’s not any different from what’s happening in other industries—there are people who go into medicine because they want to heal people, and there are others who go into medicine because they want to make money.

The same holds true for tech. It is an industry that has more than monetary opportunities: it can be used to solve problems and to help people. In the case of open data in Africa, tech can be used to help expose corruption, raise awareness of issues, and move African countries forward. As African journalists are using open data to expose government corruption and make it easier for their citizens to access information that can empower them, African techies should consider how their work too can have a positive impact on the continent by providing this data or creating applications that make it easier for people to access.

After all, what is industry if not its people? What is a skill if not its application?

There is a common saying that, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” But we have to understand that in Africa, the only way to move forward is as a unit. Africans must stop blaming other people and countries for their problems; blaming others adds to the existing problems. Africa is regarded as a developing continent because of its poor economic status and its weak currency leads to a weak economy.

However, I think African techies should also refocus their aim at sourcing data to better our continent. Yes! We all know that everyone wants to go into tech because of the huge monetary opportunities it possesses nonetheless, With open data, we can create local solutions that will be unique in solving our problems and make money while doing so. Even though these problems are local, they are still solving problems around the world which gives us a global appeal. Open data is an opportunity for African techies to develop solutions that fit our society without having to wait for foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost our economy.

You can build Open Data Applications on any industry of your choice either Agriculture, budgets and public finance, E-commerce, education, energy & extractive industries, environment, Geospatial, health, information and communication technologies (ICT), transport, water. just make sure you are solving a real problem.

Some applications built by our colleagues solving african problems the african way little access to Open Data

EnvironmentEco-friendly appProvides information about energy consumption and climate change and how their effects on the environment can be influenced by citizens and communities 
Budget and spendingFollow the money Tracks each government agency, revenue, budget, spending, and financial transactions nationwide and presents them in useful, engaging formats that appeal to a variety of users.Active.  
Education  ULesson  Online school lesson for children and teensActive
 Daba school  an online education platform where individuals and organizations gain relevant strategies and in-demand global skills for scaling, wealth creationActive
 Alt schoola school for individuals looking to gain technical skills and kickstart a career in Software Engineering.Active
 Side hustleEmpower people in tech-related skills and offer internships in a fast-growing startupActive
HealthKangpehealthkangpehealth started as a telemedicine provider that allows patients to ask doctors who never go on strike their health questions and get answers in less than 10 minutes.Active
 SafermomIt leverages the power of cost-effective technologies to provide accessible, scalable, and affordable mobile health services to pregnant and nursing mothers through SMS and voice calls in the preferred languages of the user.Active
 Mobidocis a mobile wellness platform that aids doctors-patients consultations, allowing users to connect with doctors wherever they are via their mobile devices. Active
E-commerce  Jumia, konga , jiji, etc.Online retail.  Active
TransportUber, Taxify, etc.Connecting drivers with riders.Active

It’s time to source data for invention and innovative use I hope yours will join the list soon.

Remember, I am rooting for you, my friend!

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There's this unexplainable joy I get whenever I write, knowing fully well that my copy will transform people's life and destiny. This rare feeling elates me and encourages me to write more value-packed pieces. I think a divine being has possessed me to write, that is why I write, Therefore, I will advise every of my piece should be regarded as a divine message.
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