This Kenya Governor is transforming his constituency using space technologies

Dr. Wilber Ottichilo; CBS Governor of Vihiga Country

Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. It has the youngest amongst all the continents and hosts a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages and all of these features made the continent face the hardest challenges in the world. However, 80% of the problems Africa face can be addressed with better information- and space adds an important dimension to this.

In Kenya, a Governor is capitalizing on this to solve developmental issues in his constituency called Vihiga County – an administrative region in the former Western Province of Kenya whose capital is Mbale with a population of 554,622 and an area of 563 km². The Governor, Hon. Dr. Wilber Ottichilo, was sworn in on the 21st of August, 2017 and has since been making use of Earth Observation (EO) tools to transform the county.

Dr. Wilber Otichilo studied in Makerere University, Uganda, the University of Nairobi in Kenya, as well as Colorado State University. He obtained his doctorate in Natural Resource Management and Space Science from the University of Wageningen and International Institute for Earth Observation and Geoinformation, The Netherlands. Prior to joining politics, he was the Director General for Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD), an agency of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

In his presentations at the GMES & Africa forum in Libreville, Gabon titled “Unlocking Earth Observation Potential for Africa’s Sustainable Development” he highlighted Earth Observations applications at the Sub-national level with the case study of Emuhaya Constituency and Vihiga County, Kenya and the way forward in Africa.

The transformation was made visible in almost all the sectors as he highlighted the Vihiga County Development Information System Framework which comprises the following sub-systems:

  1. Land Information Management System (LIMS) – Mapping lands, mapping eucalyptus forest in Vihiga County (to be replaced by bamboo)
  2. County Agricultural Management Information System (CAMIS) – Production and delivery of goods to the market place. Knowledge to farmers, Empower research with real time big data, Science to actionable information for farmers.
  3. Transport Infrastructure Information System (TIIS)
  4. Health Services Information System (HSIS)
  5. Education Services Information System (ESIS) – New Infrastructural projects in Ebunwange school. The target is that no child should walk more than one kilometer to primary school.
  6. Environment Monitoring System (EMS)
  7. Public Amenities Management Information System (PAMIS) – Transformative inventions
  8. Businesses Information System (BIS) – Investment opportunities
  9. Spatial Planning Information System (SPIS)
  10. Housing and Buildings Information System (HaBIS)
  11. Early Warning and Response Information System (EWARIS)
  12. County Revenue Information Management System (CRIMS)
  13. County Accountability Tool (CAT) / Performance Monitoring System (PMS)
  14. Common Operating Picture (COP)
  15. Physical Address System (PAS)
  16. Utilities Management System (UMS)
  17. Water Information Management System (WIMS)

Each of the Earth Observation platforms presents advantages and limitations, for example:

  • Airborne platforms generally provide the best resolutions and are very adjustable to the users’ needs, but the high cost of chartering a plane and paying the related manpower (pilots and technicians) restricts use
  • Drones, also called Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), another form of airborne platforms – are a fast-growing technology that tackles the cost problem, but regulations and their low carrying capacity currently limit their range of activity.
  • Satellites allow for reliable, true global coverage even above the most remote locations enabling regular repeat observations and costs have reduced with some for free at higher spatial & temporal resolutiong. Sentinel-2 (10m), Landsat-8 (30 / 15m).
  • Growth in communication technologies, especially internet connectivity, has enabled growth in in-situ sensors allowing cheaper and more convenient remote data collection.

“EO has great application potential for sustainable development in Africa at continental, regional, national and sub-national levels, particularly in supporting successful implementation of sub-national/national blueprints, Agenda 2063 and the UN 2030 SDGs.

There is urgent need for a well thought implementation plan for the African Space Policy and Strategy that takes into account: Africa’s blueprints and priorities; political and socio-economic diversities and interests within the continent; and engagement strategies with the continent’s EO and related development partners that are based on Africa’s priorities.

The African Space Agency should be given the highest level of political and financial support to ensure successful delivery of its mandate.” – Dr. Wilber Ottichilo

Let’s not forget the words of the former South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena (2007), who said “Earth observation is no longer just a way to satisfy our curiosity, but has become crucial in ensuring the survival of humankind.” We hope other African leaders could take a lesson from this.


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