50 African orgs call for continent-wide open data initiative

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A workshop in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa today saw the first meeting of a group of organisations and civil society activists come together in the beginnings of a movement to help promote for open data across the continent.

The initiative is being headed by the World Wide Web Foundation, which was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 2009, and involves the World Bank as well as local an international NGOs. ActionAid, Africa Freedom of Information Centre and our own Code4SA are all involved, alonf with the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Social Justice Coalition.

The movement will seek to influence government and investors to adopt transparency guidelines and move towards publishing public data sets, which “could help beat corruption, spark innovation and improve government services”.

Specifically, it aims to encourage full disclosure of public budgets, procurement and contracting, as well as company records for private companies and the ownership status of natural resources.

In a press statement ahead of the conference, Jose M Alonso, open data programme manager at the World Wide Web Foundation said:

“We’re working to open up government data in Africa to deliver real improvements to the day-to-day lives of African people through improved government services, and greater accountability and transparency. Home-grown solutions to thorny challenges such as appropriate models of innovation, education and capacity building that can support community and government-led initiatives must be developed. Sustained leadership and investment are additional key success factors.”

Or, as one attendee today put it:

In January, the WWWF released a report rating South Africa as the highest ranking African country in its Open Data Barometer index, although the country was number 43 in the global list of countries with government-led open data initiatives. The City of Cape Town became the first African city to adopt a formal open data policy (albeit a flawed one) in December.

Today’s event highlighted the role of open data in good governance, freedom of expression and commercial innovation. Some might view Ethiopia as an ironic choice for the launch, as it is one of the more restrictive regimes in Africa where a group of nine journalists and bloggers have inexplicably been detained with trial on charges of terrorism and association with banned groups for nearly a year now.

[Main image – CC The Open Data Barometer, WWWF]

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