The Politics and Lessons of the Africa Open Data Conference 2017

The Africa Open Data Conference which came up last week (17th to 21st of July) was here and gone, but to me, the conference was overrated. Aside from the fact that the conference was loosely planned as the final agenda was not up until after the first day of the event was out of sight.

The site visitation was unwelcoming with many events on Eventbrite and I end up struggling to register for the session as I have to open more than five tabs to check event and register for what will interest me while thinking of the Uber cost too. But well, that is by the way.

The five days event witness different data experts from various fields and walks of life while not leaving behind the pro and the pre data users.

One of the biggest takeaway from the event is the commitment by the government of Ghana with prominent comment from the minister of Communication who announces the interoperability plan to join data for development across government.

As good as this sounds, the Nigerian in me would not agree to that kind of commitment.  No No, I do not want to sound pessimistic, but I did have some point to backup my cynical argument.

Just on the 31st January 2017, the Vice President of Ghana, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia while talking about the Right to Information (RTI) bill and the government’s resolve to fight corruption at the Good Corporate Governance Initiative. He stated that “we are going to push the parliament to make necessary amendments, and if I had it my way, it should be passed within 100 days of this government”.

This is July, and the government is yet to pass the bill.

Furthermore, the Minister for Information on 3rd of May 2017 during the International Press Freedom Day made a declaration on behalf of the government. He said that “We have sent the Right to Information (RTI) Bill to the Parliament, it is in there that in Parliament Session of May to July 2017, the RTI bill will be before them for debate and passage. It is non-negotiable”  while it is public knowledge that the parliament is scheduled to rise on 2nd August 2017, it should be noted that the bill has been negotiated out as a non-priority draft bill.

It is exciting to see the president of Ghana HE Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo also joining his voice to the commitment of his cabinet as he said that Ghana is committed to making full use of#opendata. It must work in Ghana for the benefit of the citizens

While also noting that he said “The implementation of these recommendations is driving our open data initiative, as we work also towards achieving the SDGs. It is the intention of government also to ensure the long overdue passage of the Right to Information Bill by Parliament” he said.

He said the government was strengthening the data ecosystem, establishing strategic partnerships, and creating a harmonized policy and enabling environment for Open Data.Africa’s advancement and sustainable development would materialize when the Continent leverages on the vast and integrated opportunities offered by the employment of information and data, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has noted.

But, as much as I would have loved to be excited by the promises of the moon by these politicians, the Nigerian in me tells me that these guys cannot be trusted and hence, the only major takeaway from the conference which is the government commitment is overrated.

Even if I should distrust the Nigerian in me which would leave me with the optimistic option that the government of Ghana would be passing the bill, it should be noted that the Nigerian Freedom of Information  Act which was passed in 2011, is still suffering from numerous challenges.

Most access to information laws in the sub-Saharan region still have exemptions limiting implementation #AODC17

And also, in terms of the usage of the FOI bill for transparency and accountability, it should be noted that citizens are so busy trying to survive that they don’t have time to follow their money.

As a data for development users, Follow the money isn’t only about government funds, grants and debts should also be followed. #AODC17 #AODC2017 #ATI #OPENCONTRACTING

Although I will rate the conference below average, I learned some fundamental lessons which I will love to share with readers, and they are;

  • The revolution of data is that citizens have the power to speak.
  • When a community has data, they have power.
  • Collaboration in data collections and use of data must be oriented with the citizens and not the government.
  • Many decisions have been made by the government, like “where do government build public health care” and these are usually political decisions and not decisions backup by data.
  • We have inefficient use of resources in Africa because decisions are not made based on data.
  • Questions like, how can we make government more responsible and efficient in the distribution of fertilizers is a question which can be answered by data, and that is if the government takes data seriously.
  • Duplication of data collection effort should be mitigated with the use of central database and
  • Data must be shared with within data players for active collaborations.

As a Follow the Money enthusiast, I am glad to be a part of this event as networking was made to build the followership and adaptability of follow the money model as a tool for transparency and accountability in and outside of Africa.