Last Friday, Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki inaugurated the Kenya Open Data Initiative, a free internet platform that catalogs and displays visually numerous government data sets. South Sudan’s independence overshadowed the debut of this important online resource. Nevertheless, the Open Data Initiative is an important step forward and will allow citizens to monitor Kenya’s public resources against the backdrop of endemic corruption. (Kenya ranked a dismal 154 out of 178 total countries in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.)
In the past, the Kenyan government’s statistics on health, infrastructure, poverty, water and sanitation, energy, and population trends were seldom publicly available, or they were often subject to delayed releases and/or hosted on outmoded websites. The same is true for many other African governments, and broadband access is still limited across the continent. But for those who do have Internet access in Kenya, the new platform represents an important milestone in government transparency, with highly practical applications for researchers, international development professionals, and local members of civil society alike. The Kenya ICT Board also plans to encourage new users: it will award as many as thirty grants this year to the groups and individuals who provide the most useful manipulations of the data. Huduma (Kiswahili for “service”), another offshoot from the developers of Ushahidi, has already begun to use the data in order to compare aid and the provision of services across different regions in Kenya, making way for open source monitoring and evaluation. Information communications (ICT) applications using the Open Data Initiative are also in development. The Kenya government has demonstrated a commitment to innovation and reform. It remains to be seen whether the ready availability of official information will result in popular pressure against corruption.