The State of Land Data: Transforming Africa Into a Powerhouse of the Future" took place on June 22 and featured five speakers. The event was organized by the Land Portal Foundation, NELGA, GIZ and German Cooperation.
The webinar highlighted the importance of good land data governance in improving property rights and enabling more efficient government services. Participants learned how improved data governance can help individuals, communities, businesses, and government agencies conduct their land-related activities ethically and with integrity. The webinar presented examples of SOLI research in Southern African countries conducted by the Land Portal Foundation in collaboration with NELGA researchers.
Laura Meggiolaro, Managing Director of the Land Portal Foundation, moderated the event, which featured the following speakers
Nanny Wiechert, GIZ
Charl-Thom Bayer, Land Portal Foundation
Dr. Mahmoud Solomon, Liberia Land Authority
Seydina Mouhamed Mbaye, GIZ
Kenneth Kasera, User Engagement Lead, RCMRD
Please see a brief summary of each of the three main perspectives and watch the replay below for the full, engaging conversation.
Access to Information Across Africa and in Liberia
Charl-Thom Bayer: In 2000, only South Africa had an access to information law in Africa. Since then, the situation has changed dramatically. By 2023, 27 out of 54 African countries will have enacted access to information laws, with legislation pending in eight more. This represents significant progress, as more than half of African countries have now adopted a unified legal framework to ensure the right to access information. Equally important, 36 countries have also enacted data protection laws during this period.
Dr. Mahmoud Solomon: Liberia enacted the Freedom of Information Act on September 16, 2010, giving every individual the right to request public information. As the Liberia Land Authority, we have been diligently implementing this law since its inception. With the renewal of our institution in 2016 and the development of the Land Rights Act in 2018, which we are currently implementing with the invaluable support of the government and our institutional partners, our commitment continues to grow. Ensuring public access to land information has been our primary objective.
Seydina Mouhamed Mbaye: The majority of citizens in Senegal do not have access to information, including educational materials, and the lack of a law on access to information is a common difficulty. Issues such as the use of budget information, the protection of whistleblowers, and mechanisms for informing citizens are the subject of intense debate.
Challenges and lessons learned
Charl-Thom Bayer: It's important to note that access to information does not mean unrestricted access, as privacy and ethical considerations must be taken into account. Governments must balance the need for transparency with the protection of sensitive information. While no single tool can be credited for this progress, modern access to information laws have played an important role. However, some countries without such laws have implemented alternative mechanisms, such as spatial data infrastructure policies, to facilitate the availability of information. The implementation of these laws and policies sends a strong political message and creates momentum for further discussion and capacity building in neighboring countries. It is encouraging to see that open data and access to information are now widely discussed, with more countries either having legislation in place or in the pipeline. In addition, African institutions such as development banks have also implemented open access policies, driven by internal mandates to improve service delivery.
Dr. Mahmoud Solomon: Recognizing that land constitutes a significant investment, it is crucial to manage it effectively. To this end, we are actively collaborating with our Swedish partner to develop a modular system. In the upcoming year, this system will transform our previously paper-based land-related information into a digital platform, accessible through our website. Through this platform, we aim to showcase the land across the country and provide landowners with comprehensive information. By offering easy access to relevant details before engaging in transactions, we can contribute to resolving pricing issues.
Seydina Mouhamed Mbaye: Efforts have been made to draft a law on access to information, but progress has stalled. In practice, limited access to information is influenced by factors such as inadequate formats and under-use of national languages and the Internet. The Open Government Partnership offers an opportunity for cooperation, but more needs to be done, especially in the area of land administration. Marginalized voices need to be heard to effectively shape public policy. The lack of a legal framework hampers access, particularly in the land sector. Advocacy with the government is needed to address these challenges.
Benchmarking access to data
Charl-Thom Bayer: Overall, the increasing number of African countries with access to information laws and data protection measures reflects significant progress in ensuring transparency while respecting privacy concerns. The emergence of continental leadership in this regard underscores the importance and impact of such initiatives.
Dr. Mahmoud Solomon: It is important to emphasize that the 30-year civil war in Liberia was in part a result of deficiencies in the land system. Therefore, ensuring the availability of land information to the public is of paramount importance. By promoting transparency in transactions, we seek to bring much-needed stability to the land sector.
Kenneth Kasera: We have supported the development of open data hubs and provided training on digital data transformation, collection, processing and management. Our work has spanned different countries and regions, with the goal of making information accessible to different types of users. We have worked with organizations such as GIZ, the Africa Land Policy Center (ALPC), and GCI to build platforms such as NELGA. Our focus is to create a NELGA data hub that facilitates data availability for universities and allows others to contribute data as well. This unique data hub will accept both spatial and non-spatial data, including publications, articles, and documents. Our goal is to make data readily available to universities and users in Africa and beyond. In addition, we have established data help desks in four African countries - Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, and Namibia - with plans to expand to other countries. We are working with the World Bank and the Ministry of Lands in Malawi to establish a land information system to provide access to cadastral and other relevant data. Through partnerships with the European Union, UN Habitat, the African Union Commission and UN Habitat, we have developed regional resource hubs, observatories and monitoring platforms to facilitate data sharing and decision-making in forestry, environmental security, wetlands and land administration. We advocate a fit-for-purpose approach to land administration that involves local communities in data development. We are also working on the Data Inventory Initiative to make data discoverable by cataloging and documenting institutional data sources. We are also planning an international conference to bring together stakeholders and explore the nexus between foreign policy, land policy and data. We welcome institutions to participate and share their expertise. Our collaborations typically involve ministries responsible for land, environment, and energy, as they recognize the importance of data hubs in supporting information access initiatives.
Nanny Wiechart: There is great interest in having data available not only for specific research projects, but also to conduct specific research on the accessibility of land data in a particular country. There are still many gaps in the availability of this kind of information. When we look at more sensitive data, such as geospatial data, this can have certain implications when it is released. We looked at the principle of subsidiarity and collaborated with regional nodes so they start to collect the necessary data. In Morocco, for example, they have a strong focus on geospatial data and we are trying to set up a temporary repository. At the regional level, the idea is to have all of this informtion available. We see that there needs to be a very strong commitment when it comes to the mandate and the resources that are provided to the institutions that are responsible for the data. There is a need to take a whole of government approach.
As an advocate for open land data, the Land Portal Foundation aims to improve access to land data, engage stakeholders, and support actions that promote data openness. I recently had the opportunity to introduce the State of Land Information Index (SOLIndex) and talk about the Open Up Guide at the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) Partners’ Meeting in Nairobi and show how these tools play a vital role in improving access to land information.
The State of Land Information (SOLI) research and reports seek to provide an overview of publicly available data and information on key land issues. The aim of the research is to uncover the many different sources of land data and information at the country-level and help to identify actual data and information gaps, with a view to establishing a baseline for targeted interventions to improve the information ecosystem.
Our robust methodology demonstrates not only trends and gaps in land data collection, but functions as a practical guide in support of improved visibility and usability of land data and information. SOLI reports serve as the first step in the implementation of the Open Up Guide for Land Governance.
In 2021, we kicked off SOLI research in five countries in Africa. We aim to develop SOLI reports for a dozen countries in Africa by 2024.