African data hubs have a sustainability issue

Many data hubs have been launched in the past two months.
Many data hubs have been launched in the past two months.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There’s been a flurry of activity around African data in the past two months.

The UK-Nigeria Tech Hub launched an open-source platform for information about the Nigerian tech sector. The Africa CDC announced a partnership with the pan-African Co-Creation Hub supporting startups providing key Covid-19-related information. The African Union launched an Africa Migration Data Network. And financial data firm Refinitiv announced it was expanding its economic data coverage to Africa.

Quartz Africa has been covering the issue of data availability on the continent for some time, from the way a lack of quality data prevents citizens from holding governments accountable, to the way it limits the ability of governments themselves to make informed policy decisions and combat food security and poverty.

Linet Kwamboka, founder of DataScience, a Nairobi-based data analytics and information systems company, says the recent launch of multiple data hubs points to the demand for African data. But she is also cautious about the fact that some have been developed outside the continent, which raises questions about their long-term sustainability.

Typically, institutions that fund government and civil society organizations in the continent require them to collect and aggregate data, creating this demand.

“For these guys to make fiscal policy, even just financing, just any investment really, they want the data,” she tells Quartz. “And how do you get that? If you finance the organizations to collect the data.”

Kwamboka was a project coordinator on the Kenya Open Data initiative, which was launched in 2011 to make government datasets freely accessible in easy reusable formats. She believes the sustainability of the data hubs hinges on African demand.

“If the demand for this portal has been initiated locally, then, these organizations can justify putting these things on budget and financing them,” she says. “Unfortunately sometimes it comes as an external push.”

Odanga Madung, co-founder of Odipo Dev, a Nairobi-based data consultancy, appreciates the goals and purposes of organizations in setting up the data hubs. “You’ve got the trend that is there, you’ve got the funding that is available, and then of course you’ve got the purpose,” he says.

However, he worries that the supply side factors may be much stronger than the demand-side factors. To combat this, hub creators have to put in resources to create a community of people who will use these resources, he says. “It’s not something they woke up thinking that they needed.”

Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox.