I’d like to take a break from covering electoral politics and religious conflict and post something positive. Via IRIN, I read last week about Map Kibera, a project to map one of the largest district in Nairobi, Kenya.
Here’s an excerpt from IRIN’s report:
It is one of the most densely populated districts of Kenya’s capital and one of the most researched urban areas in Africa. Hundreds, if not thousands, of NGOs work there, serving a community estimated to number anywhere between 100,000 and a million. Yet, until recently, the sprawling slum of Kibera barely featured on any detailed maps.
As a result, basic information, such as the location and number of schools, churches, health centres, water points and other amenities was simply not available except to people living or working in their immediate vicinity.
The Map Kibera project, launched just over a year ago, has filled in many of these gaps.
Nine Kibera residents were trained to use hand-held global positioning system (GPS) devices and to collect geographic information in the dozen “villages” that make up the slum. The information they collected is now freely available on Open StreetMap, a map of the entire world that anyone can edit.
The Map Kibera project is now in a second phase, which involves more detailed mapping of four categories: health, security, education and water/sanitation, and includes information such as a health centre’s opening hours and services offered.
It’s exciting to see what technology can help people accomplish, and I’m especially struck by the fact that so much of the first phase was carried out by just nine residents. The applications and potential benefits of projects like this are endless, whether in terms of development, health, community-building, politics, or any other area.
Map Kibera’s success reinforces Kenya’s reputation as a center for internet innovation in Africa. In December, Google hired Kenyan activist Ory Okolloh, founder of Ushahidi, as Policy Manager for Africa. Reuters writes that “as Google’s presence grows everywhere, it isn’t neglecting Africa and is betting on the power the internet will bring to transform business and society on the continent – even if it remains one of the least connected parts of the world.” Web technologies will drive a lot of change in Africa in the years to come, it seems.