Namibia's "hidden" data: The new gold rush

By Kelvin Chiringa
July 2016
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With innovative minds coming on board more than ever before, and the corporate world having a greater need for new ideas, the demand for the centralisation of information has taken a new high in the business innovation corridors of Namibia.

While it has become the norm in first world  to put public information in one place with free access from the citizenry, a few countries in Africa like Kenya are already taking infant steps towards this, with Namibia trailing close behind.

Open data is information that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.

The data must be available as a whole at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably by downloading over the internet in a convenient and modifiable form.
Speaking to Prime Focus Magazine, Parliamentarian and member of the parliamentary standing committee on ICT, Steve Bezuidenhout, reiterated that government had been engaged on the need to have a centralised data-sharing portal, and was making strides towards this endeavor.

 “Unfortunately data was not that freely available. Hence, we had two open data sessions to have dialogue on this topic and government is in the process of coming up with a data sharing bill which we are sure will help open up more data sets,” said Bezuidenhout.
“For instance, Honorable [Sophia] Shaningwa specifically said the newly constructed houses in the Mass Housing Project would be for first time buyers only, but how do we prove if individuals were getting these houses for the first time?” the parliamentarian queried.

“If we had access to the information on people who own properties then we could put it on a central data storage, which can be accessed by the public and this is one of the many reasons we need to embrace the open data concept,” he said.

He further explained that open data would allow for more transparency in political and business deals, and in addition expose corruption, a subset of the accountability pillar of the Harambe Prosperity Plan, which was unveiled by the Presidency earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Business Intelligence Analyst at Telecom Namibia, Lameck Mbangula Amugongo, said developments in collecting public information were at an advanced stage and by the end of this year, Namibia, like other countries in the first world would have its first national open data portal.

“Although about five countries in Africa have already started collecting data sets for their own people with Kenya having made significant progress, Namibia cannot be said to be trailing far behind and by the end of this year, we will be having our own open data,” he said.

Amugongo posited that the desire for access to vital information in the sectors of agriculture, health, economy, architecture and other industries by people in order to come up with new ideas has grown tremendously over the years.

“Data is a commodity in the 21st century just like how gold was in the old time and this useful information is not supposed to be locked up in books, pamphlets, newspapers and financial reports.”

“It must be brought out in one place where people can get innovative ideas to improve services, and in our case, to improve e-governance, as well as health services in this country,” he said.

The benefits of access to vital information is so huge to the point that people are able to bring out business ideas and contribute to the GDP, as well as reducing the unemployment rate that currently stands at above 20%.

The ability for the Namibian citizenry to have access to public information is a fundamental right that defines any democracy as possession of vital data thus becomes the catalyst to making informed economic and political decisions.

 It is only in a backward, dictatorial state that information about government expenditure is concealed in every way, with underground deals, nepotism and corruption weaving the fabric of a society all enshrouded in utmost secrecy.

Open data’s necessity and practical importance notwithstanding, a prolific writer of open data, Carl Snowden, cautioned that simply declaring data sets to be open does not, in itself, make it of any practical use to the public.

“When released in its raw form, data is not open to the public in any meaningful sense, it is only open to a small elite of technical specialists who know how to interpret and use it, as well as to those that can afford to employ them. Providing open data uncritically in this way is therefore likely only to further advantage already privileged groups,” he said.