mercredi 14 mars 2012

Feowl: data journalism for better electricity supply in Douala

Two months ago my boyfriend desperately tried to make a call to Douala, Cameroon. He was panicked because he had an appointment with his cousin on Skype and couldn't reach him. I told him there was probably a power cut, and advised him to wait. He replied that he was worried. The lack of electricity had just killed 6 people in a bar where his cousin works in the popular area of Bepanda. What happened : electricity was cut, and the owner of the bar turned on his generator. A few minutes later, power was back, and this caused the high voltage that created the fatal fire.

I thought: "This fire could have been avoided if the owner of the bar had known there would be a power cut, and the time when electricity would be back." Fortunately, my boyfriend's cousin wasn't working that night. An ordinary story.

Power cuts are a scourge in Cameroon, like in many other African countries. It goes to the point that only 20 % of the population have access to electricity, according to estimations by local civil society organizations, while the country has the 2nd hydroelectric potential of the continent.

This clearly has consequences on the economic vitality of the country and the social development of the people.

That's where our project comes in. 

What can be measured can be changed

Feowl is a platform that aims to provide data on the issue of electricity supply in Douala, Cameroon's economic capital : it will federate and give voice to those who are deprived of an essential service, and bring to the company in charge of electricity supply data related to real users' needs.

But to be implemented, Feowl needs your support. The project is now competing at the Knight News Challenge. Here is what you can do to show Feowl some love :-)

Click on this link, you will find a more detailed presentation of the project. If you have a Tumblr Account, you will just have to click on the heart icon:

If you don't, you will have to scroll down until you find this:

Just click on the Like button.
In any case, you can still have a look at the beautiful infographics designed by ppfffff-design. Thanks for your support.

vendredi 2 mars 2012

Why Cameroon Urgently Needs Open data

Recently I had to write an article, and needed to find a very specific piece of information: the budget dedicated in 2011 by the Cameroonian Government to anti-poaching policies. I thought it would take me 10 to 15 minutes maximum to find it on the web. I finally did, by pure chance, after three hours and a half of unsuccessful efforts. This is precisely one of those moments when I ask myself "When will the government of my country be touched by the holy spirit of open data?"

Wordle 4 Transparency Camp 2010 - From

What is open data?

According to the Wikipedia definition, open data is a concept based on " the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control." It is declined in various fields, but let's focus on governance. I strongly believe that every decision made, every action taken in the name of the people of a country should be freely and publicly available to that people. Data are the only tangible elements that the people has to judge, evaluate its satisfaction of the social contract signed with the government it elected to run the country for a defined period, i.e. hold its rulers accountable for their policies. The only limit to this assumption is national security, which should be strictly interpretated, in my opinion. When talking about open data in governance, one can directly relate it to the notion of transparency, which I believe is the key to political and economic development (fr) on the African continent.

The example of Intra African Trade

Dr Bitange Ndemo, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications in Kenya, makes in the following video the link between governance, open data and transparency. According to him, the continent could make 400 billion USD per year if it developped intra-trade. But such thing is not possible for the moment, because of a lack of public data in most African countries. Taking the example of maize, he explains:

"We need Africa to put their data out, so that we can eliminate the many middlemen that we have, [who] make the cost of maize impossible, and the trading within Africa impossible."

"There is no continent that needs Opendata more than Africa"

I completely share that vision. And this does not only apply to trade. In a world of transparency, Cameroonian citizens for example have the right to know the exact amount of revenues generated thanks to oil exploitation, or the exact budget invested by the Government to renovation of public hospitals (if such budget even exists), etc. So many questions we could answer thanks to data, thus so many problems we could solve.

Yes. But let's not put the cart before the horse: the concept of transparency needs real democracy to blossom. Whether Cameroon is a real democracy or not, that is another debate...