Oliver Chinganya, Director of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)’s African Centre for Statistics, has said that the ECA regards geospatial technology as a significant component that will help push Africa’s transformative development agenda even further.
In a keynote address at an event marking Digital Earth Africa Day, Mr. Chinganya said the ECA understood the need for every African country to deliver relevant information that can promote and sustain economic growth, and would, therefore, continue to work in partnership with organisations such as Digital Earth Africa, to ensure that nations develop their technical capacity.
“It is therefore of greater importance to have access to real-time and precise spatial information, given Africa’s size and complex biophysical environment, to support effective decision-making. For instance, while Africa’s demographic trends – including rapid urbanisation – represent economic opportunities, they also represent real challenges with regard to human welfare and infrastructure needs,” said Mr Chinganya.
“Key development information and indicators are at risk of quickly becoming out-dated and of limited value to understanding the scale, speed and locations of newly developing urban areas and informal settlements. It is therefore imperative for information with a geospatial component to inform the continents sustainable planning and development”, he added.
Chinganya further noted that it was great to see that African governments and other sectors of society had become increasingly aware of the importance of geospatial science and technology as a tool to facilitate spatial data collection, access and use in the decision-making processes, both nationally and regionally.
“Supported by the emergence of a community of experts, geospatial technologies are gradually becoming the driving force of many applications and services, from land administration to natural resource management to agriculture across countries like Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Rwanda, to mention just a few,” he quipped.
Mr. Chinganya, who is also Officer in Charge of the Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management Division at the ECA, further stated: “I believe that through Digital Earth Africa, Earth Observation can powerfully enhance the way we provide services to our communities, and I would like to take the opportunity to champion the use of space technology and information services to drive Africa to become more spatially enabled. The identification of ECA as a suitable institutional home for Digital Earth Africa highlights our positive alignment with its mission to meet the information needs, challenges and priorities of all African countries. We see our partnership with the programme as one that will be strong, effective and influential.
“I therefore wish to echo the idea for a geospatial data revolution which would require the constitution of authoritative repository of developmental data like a one-stop-shop, the adoption of data democracy values, wider and easier access to geospatial data, and maintenance of the accuracy as well as the consistency of geospatial data over its entire life cycle.”
Mr. Chinganya also noted that Digital Earth Africa had the potential of being a building block towards the continent’s efforts to harness information resources for a knowledge-led economy.
“The challenges we face, from climate change and over-exploitation of our natural resources to food security, can all be addressed through the insights, knowledge and analysis of changes across our land surface and coastline. This new understanding of our changing landscape gained will not only benefit policy-makers and public officials but will increase commercial efficiency and economic growth for businesses and entrepreneurs as we see new and innovative ways of using this much-needed information”, he said.
“Whilst Digital Earth Africa will develop appropriate responses to the growing demand from users for simple, convenient access to online information, products and services, we should not forget that to fully leverage the enabling capabilities of satellite data for development in Africa, there are some key challenges and issues to overcome, especially in the African context”, Chinganya opined, stressing that African space capabilities have long been dependent on foreign investment.
“For instance, there is a need for a coordinated continental framework with negotiating arrangements for the access to information to avoid the risk of fragmentation and inefficiency”.
Digital Earth Africa Day and other related activities were marked under the theme; “Earth Observation for Evidence-Based Decision Making”. The event offered important inputs and recommendations on how Africa could leverage geospatial technology to meet the continent’s priorities. It was held on the sidelines of the 3rd Regional Centre for Mapping and Resources Development (RCMRD) International Conference (RIC 2019) and the African Group on Earth Observations (AfriGEOSS) Symposium, in a series of planetary, technical and networking events taking place from August 12-16 in Nairobi, Kenya. These conferences are aimed to provide a platform for policymakers, development experts, academicians, scientists, industry leaders and young professionals to brainstorm and set the pace for data-driven decision making in Africa.
Jerry Chiemeke is an editor, writer and mental health advocate. His works have appeared in Bellanaija, True Nollywood Stories, Music In Africa and The Guardian, among others. Jerry is the winner of the 2017 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Reviews. He is a Senior Editor at Space in Africa.