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GDEST 2008 Conference Sessions

Theme 3 - The African Data Stream
Brokerages and Networks: An Approach to Making Geoinformation More Available in Africa
Craig Schwabe, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

In Africa the availability of and access to geo-information is a greater issue than the lack of such information. Several projects have been undertaken in recent years that show the wealth of information that has been generated in Africa countries. These projects include an inventory of fundamental geospatial datasets in Africa and a review of the geospatial data produced in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These projects clearly indicate that despite the fact that much geo-information exist, there are still gaps. This indicates the need for projects to capture the missing geo-information, and also the need to prioritize such datasets based on a defined set of needs emanating from international or continental strategies and protocols, such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
The unavailability of geo-information is mainly a consequence of outdated national policies that control access to information, the lack of policies to make information freely available, the lack of funding to develop datasets which are in the national interest and the lack of knowledge about existing data sources. The lack of geo-information and entrepreneurial skills, institutional structures and a vibrant private sector all act as constraints to geo-information being made more readily available. The establishing of national spatial data infrastructure and committees that oversee the implementation thereof can seen as an important step in trying to address the lack of geo-information and making it more available. However, much has been written on the failure of national spatial data infrastructures in accomplishing this task.
It is proposed that through the existence of some form of network and brokerage, easier access to geo-information in formats that are suitable to the variety of users that need it can be facilitated. The African Geo Information Research Network (AGIRN) is such a network, which looks at informing geo-information practitioners about new developments in the industry and about projects in the African continent which are developing fundamental geospatial datasets. AGIRN was developed by the HSRC and EIS-AFRICA in response to a need expressed by practitioners on the continent. However, more needs to be done and a network of geo-information practitioners at regional and national levels needs to be connected to enable users to get access to relevant information. It is proposed that a brokerage that facilitates access to geo-information at a national and regional level be established in association with AGIRN. Furthermore, new technologies (e.g. Geography Networks, Google Earth, MicroSoft’s Virtual Earth) need to be harnessed in making geo-information more generally available and accessible in Africa.