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April 5th, 2016
Technology • Justice

The Kenya Open Data Initiative

In 2010, Kenya revised its constitution, which included a section giving citizens a right to government information. This was made available online through the 2011 Kenya Open Data Initiative, the first such programme in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 800 datasets have so far been made available on government sectors such as health, education and infrastructure.

The initiative

In 2010, a new Kenyan constitution was codified. It included access to information obligations, which required the government to publish and publicise any important information affecting the country. The citizens' rights to information are set out in Article 35, Access to information. “35.(1) Every citizen has the right of access to — (a) information held by the State; and (b) information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom ... (3) The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.”

In 2011, Mzalendo, a civil society group that aimed to increase public participation in government, advocated for the release of financial data to allow citizens to scrutinise the government's management of public resources. In a response to increasing pressure, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), making key government data freely available to the public through a single online portal. Under the programme, the 2009 census, national and regional expenditure, and information on key public services were some of the first datasets released on the portal. Kenya was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa, and second on the continent after Morocco, to undertake such an initiative.

The challenge

Since the turn of the century, civil society in Kenya had been trying to get data held in government ministries made available to citizens. “In Kenya, government institutions are charged with collecting and storing data that relates to their mandates. Unfortunately ... most of this information was ‘siloed’ ... and was rarely shared, even with other government institutions. Corrupt networks in public institutions benefited greatly from this culture of monopolizing access to information, and used this power to advance their personal interest, usually at the expense of the citizens. ... These corrupt networks put up a spirited fight against any and all attempts to release data that would have made them accountable.”

The public impact

The KODI helped citizens to acquire information about government job vacancies, government tenders, and other government procedures. There were over 200 datasets released at the time of launch. As of June 2016, there were 849 datasets that had been uploaded to the site. The portal received approximately 1.1 million unique visits in 2013, while more than 5,500 datasets were downloaded and embedded into various websites and blogs.

Stakeholder engagement

The Kenya ICT Board acted on behalf of the national government to carry out the initiative. The Board played a crucial role in setting up and implementing the KODI. Within the government, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) assisted in collecting statistics in the country for and from various ministries and making them available.

The Kenyan office of the World Bank provided financial help for the initiative. A strategic technology partnership was developed between the Kenyan government and the Seattle-based company, Socrata, to deliver the KODI to the public through a user-friendly platform. Google provided a team of managers and visualisation tools that helped represent the available data in more readable formats. Microsoft helped sponsor the training and development of tools.

Political commitment

The Kenyan government was put under pressure by civil society groups to set up the KODI. “Writing for the East African, Charles Onyango-Obbo, Nation Media Group's executive editor for Africa and digital media, suggests that Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki's acceptance of the open data initiative is linked to the ‘enlightened malice’ of an outgoing leader putting measures in place ‘that make it harder for their predecessors to govern with as free a hand as they did’. Kenya currently ranks 154 out of the 178 countries listed in Transparency International's annual corruption index.

Public confidence

President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity was re-elected for a second term in the 2007 elections with 46.42% of the vote in a two-horse race. The revised Kenyan Constitution of 2010, which included the reforms on Access to Information, the citizens’ right to information, was approved by 67% of Kenyan voters in a referendum. These two polls give a modest indication of public confidence in the government’s use of an open data portal to satisfy the public’s right to information.

Clarity of objectives

Objectives stated at the outset were clear although not measurable. The objective was to increase transparency and deliver on the citizens' right to information.

In July 2011, when it went live, the KODI “held more than 160 datasets organised under six subheadings: education, energy, health, population, poverty and water and sanitation. The platform included newly created geospatial boundaries for Kenya's 47 counties and geocoded datasets ... Data was pulled in from the national census and government ministries as well as from the World Bank.”

In 2015, this had grown to over 500 datasets while infrastructure, among other topics, was added to the portal, which shows that the objectives were maintained throughout.

Strength of evidence

There was similar existing initiative in Morocco, however there was no information whether policy makers in Kenya had derived inspiration from this initiative of Morocco. Hence this has been rated fair. 1. Kenya is the first developing country to have an open government data portal, the first in sub-Saharan Africa and second on the continent after Morocco.


The initiative was financially feasible through the funding of the World Bank.

The technical feasibility was demonstrated by Socrata, the platform provider, through its previous open data projects in American cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. They were supported by Google and Microsoft (see Stakeholder engagement above).


The Kenya ICT Board of the Government was responsible for formulating administering, managing and developing the KODI in collaboration with Socrata. Thus, the initiative has skilled managers who understood the delivery context and ensured the progress of the initiative. In addition to this, the ICT Board had a communications office which promoted public awareness. Public companies like Google and Microsoft also provided sponsorships for training programme.


The KODI lists the number of available datasets (849) and the number of page views (over 164 million). However, measurement does not appear to be a key component of the KODI’s strategy.


The Kenya ICT Board played a crucial role in setting up and implementing the KODI in partnership with Socrata. It collaborated efficiently with Ministry of Information and Communications, the ICT authority, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to provide automated data updates and necessary platform for the initiative. “However, three years after the open data platform's launch, the initiative still faced a major barrier; public institutions refused to post their information while claiming ownership. While access to information may be enshrined in the bill of rights it is not institutionalised in law.”

The World Bank Kenya office is also a key development partner as it not only helped with finances but also with manpower and the required knowledge. The private sector (Google and Microsoft) also supported the initiative. However, government inefficiency of enforcing the ""Access to information"" law supported by the fact that draft bill supporting the law is still pending in parliament, makes this a good case of alignment.

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