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Who would lead Africa’s data revolution?

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Some delegates at the conference
Some delegates at the conference

You can describe Africa as a model continent – for the good and the bad.

This is a continent rich in natural resources – accounting for three-quarters of the world’s platinum supply, and half of its diamonds and chromium.

Africa also has up to one-fifth of gold and uranium supplies and currently, the continent is the center of new oil and gas discoveries in about 30 of the countries.

But the continent is evidently lacking in accurate data on these resources and other resources, and as a result, statistical data from the continent is often questioned as being inaccurate, unreliable and sometimes there are allegations of the data being manipulated.

Is that why Africa needs a data revolution? And who would lead it?

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (AfDB) together with other stakeholders are holding the High Level Conference on Data Revolution in Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 27 to 29, 2015 on the sidelines of the Conference of Ministers of Finance and Economic Planning.

Describing data revolution, the ECA says, “data revolution means more demand, more data, more communities, more usage, more results and more engagement – an inspiring vision of a world of fast-flowing data deployed for the public good, and of citizens and governments excited and empowered by the possibilities this creates.”

On data revolution in Africa, the organisers argue that it is the process of bringing together diverse data communities to embrace a diverse range of data sources, tools, and innovative technologies, to provide disaggregated data for decision- making, service delivery and citizen engagement; and information for Africa to own its narrative.

A data community according to the ECA is a group of people who share a social, economic or professional interest in data production, management, dissemination and/or use.

There are about 18 data communities that have been identified and they are all well represented at this conference.

They include but not limited to the Business and Entrepreneurship, Development Data, Data Journalism, Education Data, and Gender communities, all of them poised and making contributions to shape the discussions and the final document to be presented to the Ministers of State.

Seeing that most of these communities share overlapping interests in calling for accurate, relevant and reliable data, they are also calling for the building of synergy within the data ecosystem in Africa.

They are calling for funding and asking national statistics offices around the continent to up their games and make a dent on statistical data, to make data on the continent simple, available, accessible and usable.

But there is need for a catalyst, a trigger to stir that important revolution. Even though Dr. Kiregyera, a former head of the Statistics Unit of the ECA has argued in his book ‘The Emerging Data Revolution in Africa’, that the revolution is already happening, like all revolutions, the continent and the rest of the world must feel its impact.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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