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Kenya Government Open Data to expand accountability and governance

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Open Kenya

On  8th of July 2011 the Government of Kenya launched  the Open Government Data Portal, the only government data portal in Sub-Saharan Africa.  It has over 160 data sets including the complete 2009 Kenyan national census, national budget data,  national and county expenditure, information on healthcare,  schools and much more. Simply put, the Kenyan Government Open Data portal is a goldmine of information for everyone in Kenya and across the border. That is why  researchers, policymakers, ICT developers and the general public are all dancing with joy at the dawn of what would have been unthinkable some years back.

Open Kenya


Believe it or not, for many years data and information was considered “secret” by the political ruling class in Kenya and was used as an instrument to further their agenda. This makes sense when you consider the long history of ineffectiveness and widespread corruption in the public sector. With the Open Data portal, it is expected that openness will be the guiding principle for all. Open data expands accountability and governance. The following is one of the reasons listed on the site for making government data available:

“It’s the foundation for improving transparency and accountability: the data includes detailed, timely information on the operations of government, the results of the work it does and the opportunities that exist for improving the country.”

For ordinary Kenyans who expect better work from the people managing government affairs, this marks the beginning of an exciting time for them.  The process started with the passing of  a new constitution last year.  Since then it has been what one could call ‘open everything’: open vetting of the new Chief Justice, open vetting of the Judges, the Military Chiefs  with much more to come.


Users of the open data portal can do many things: use maps to explore, consult interactive charts and tables to gain a deeper understanding, and via an API developers can download raw data to build applications for mobile devices and the web.

Management of the data portal is in the hands of the hard working people at Kenya’s ICT Board in partnership with the World Bank. “For the first time ever, people in our communities will be empowered to choose the best schools for their children, locate the nearest health facility that meets their needs, and use regional statistics to lobby their constituency representative for better infrastructure and services in their county,” said Paul Kubuko, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board.

The site is powered by Socrata, the leading developer and provider of open data services according to their website.

The over 160 datasets are organised in six subheadings: education, energy, health, population, poverty and water and sanitation. I took some time to explore the portal, keenly following each subheading:


One issue which is widely talked about in Kenya is what it takes to have a knowledge-based economy. With the information available in the portal’s Education category, it is easy to tell whether the country is heading in the right direction.

You can get the percentage distribution of the population (15+years) in terms of reading and writing skills, further broken down by gender and region (for each district of Kenya). More important for this discussion is  the percentage distribution of the population (3+ years) in terms of the high school level completed.


You want to know what Kenyans use to light their homes? The dataset in the Energy category gives you the low-down. In urban areas most people use electricity but as you move to the rural areas you come across  pressure lamps, tin lamps, lanterns, gas lamps, fire wood, solar panels and other light sources.  The dangers of fire wood which is the most commonly used light source in rural areas are highlighted by a graph showing the incidence of respiratory illness vis-à-vis use of fire wood.


I think a working nation needs to be healthy all the time.  The data about this is now available, headed by the number of health facilities in the country, followed by health spending per capita, per county.  Actually I am impressed by the depth of information given in the Health category; you can get information about population distribution per incidence of sickness over the last four weeks in each part of the county and more. Cool.


The Kenyan population as per the 2009 census was officially recorded as  38, 610,097. Since then there have been many changes, taking into account the newborns and the people who have died in between. Well, officially the population is still at the same level according to the data portal.  Leaving that aside, the portal still gives clear documentation of Kenyan population history dating back to 1990. Better still you get it with rural, urban, gender and county estimates.


This is hard to define and measure. According to the Kenyan Government Poverty Reduction Paper for the Period 2001-2004 ,poverty is defined to include inadequacy of income and deprivation of basic needs and rights, and lack of access to productive assets, social infrastructure and markets. The 1997 Welfare Monitoring Survey estimated the absolute poverty line at Kshs 1,239 ($14) per person per month and Kshs 2,648 ($30) respectively for rural and urban areas. The phrase with the widest currency is “people living below a dollar a day” (Kshs.89). With the current food shortage in Somalia and the larger Horn of Africa region, this could well be absolutely zero dollars a day.

The good news is: the portal has all the information about poor people in Kenya per county based on KIHBS (Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey) data for constituencies in 2005/2006.  Now it is up to the policy makers and all Kenyans to work hard and remove the unnecessary barriers to human and economic development.

Water and Sanitation

It’s true that  the number of people with access to a cell phone  in Kenya is higher than the number of people with a clean toilet or even clean drinking water. The Ministry of Water has been the target of numerous  accusations that corruption  has hindered the drilling of boreholes in different parts of the country. Now the public can see for themselves the progress being made on the much talked about boreholes project.

There you have it but before I sign off…

The big debate many Kenyans had before launch of the portal was about just how open the open data was going to be.  From what we’ve seen sofar it’s pretty open but there is still room for improvement.

During Live Chat  with Dr. Ndemo (Perment Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication), streamed by World Bank Africa, the PS was asked whether there is a legal framework in the government to ensure that the ministries actually provide the data. And the answer was straight forward: “Our new constitution has a provision for freedom of information“.

You can watch that here #opendataKE

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