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Kenya e-government move to have ripple effect

With World Bank help, Kenya is the first country in Africa to implement a real e-governance system

In a move that is likely to have a ripple effect in the region, the Kenyan government has offloaded government data to its citizens via the Internet.

The move makes Kenya the first country in Africa to implement a real e-governance system. The Kenyan government launched the opendata website last week and released several large data sets, including statistics on government spending at the national and county level, to enhance transparency in governance and access to information.

The information on the portal is from published government data available from the ministries of Finance, Planning, Local Government, Health and Education and the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics. Kenyans will now be able to directly communicate with government officials and query the government for any discrepancies in expenditure via the portal. The move helps end the bureaucracy involved with making appointments with government officials.

The Kenyan move has been hailed not just in Africa but across the world, with Kenyan government officials expected at the White House in Washington, D.C., next week to talk about the portal and the idea behind its creation.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said during the launch of the portal that the era of hiding information from the public is gone and that all government information, except that which touches on defense, will now be accessible through the website.

The Kenyan Web portal is being managed by the World Bank, Kenyan ICT Board and Socrata, a U.S.-based developer and provider of Open Data Services. The portal will constantly be updated with government spending records and other activities, allowing the public to compare the records with the projects on the ground. This makes it more difficult for senior government officials to misuse and divert funds as was the case in the past.

"The portal will be used by researchers, IT developers, journalists, students and the general public," said Kaburo Kobia, projects manager for local digital content at the Kenyan ICT Board, via e-mail.

Kenya's move will likely be replicated in many other African countries currently receiving funding from the World Bank for the implementation of e-governance programs.

The World Bank has been pushing for e-governance systems in the region as an important step in ending corruption by public institutions, especially in the procurement process. The bank has been providing funding to many African countries including Kenya for the implementation of e-governance systems over the past few years.

Last year, the World Bank approved more than US$44 million in additional funding for Ghana's e-governance project aimed at promoting transparency in the government process. The bank also provided about $424 million to countries in Eastern and Southern Africa including Rwanda, Burundi and Madagascar for the expansion of e-governance systems.

The World Bank announced its e-governance project fund in 2007 after calls by various countries in the region requesting funding from the bank for telecom infrastructure.

However, the Kenyan government becomes the first country in East and Southern Africa to offload government data via an open data portal, likely putting pressure on other countries in the region to do the same. As in many countries in Africa, much of Kenya's public data was in hard copy and other static formats that restricted the public from accessing them unless first getting permission from government officials responsible.

The e-governance project will also result in the creation of national digital centers in public administrations, designed to give citizens an opportunity to directly communicate with public institutions. The centers will provide services via the internet, fax machines and digital cameras in various parts of the countries.


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