By Sharon Atieno

Unavailability of data and poor data have often times been faulted as hindrance to making good policy decisions in Africa. However, the trend is changing.

African countries are slowly embracing new technologies including geographic information systems (GIS) to enable them capture quality data which is in turn used to not only inform policies but also drive development.

In Kenya, Dr. Wilber Ottichilo, the Governor of Vihiga County, banking on his background as a GIS practitioner, has been at the forefront of using geospatial technologies in carrying out his administrative duties.

According to Dr. Ottichilo, rational decision making must be based on data and information, which he notes can only be achieved through the application of GIS.

“GIS has capabilities such as; data integration, analysis, modelling and management hose capability supports data integration and modelling for rational development planning and decision making,” he said, while giving a presentation at Esri’s  2019 Senior Executive Summit.

In his tenure as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Emuhaya Constituency (2007-2017), he set up a GIS center and mapped everything in his area. This helped him in the implementation of the constituency development fund to drive projects and activities.

It is during this period that the Constituency/County Development Information System (CDIS) concept of the use of geospatial technologies was conceived in collaboration with a local geo-information and communications technology company.

The CDIS supported various sectors including: education, health, water, energy, environment, security as well as addressing youth and gender issues in the constituency.

Kenya’s County Government Act of 2012 requires counties to establish GIS-based database systems for provision of data for the development of the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). To fulfill this obligation, the Vihiga Geospatial Technologies Services (GTS)/GIS directorate was established in 2019.

The Vihiga CDIS is an integrated platform that helps to interlink departmental data and information in an organization to help in effective planning and decision making as well as monitoring, Dr. Ottichilo explains.

At the county level, the CDIS simplifies and streamlines county development programmes using about 22 systems which have been developed, some include: Land Information Management System (LIMS), County Agriculture Management Information System (CAMIS) and Health Services Information System (HSIS), among others.

In the agriculture sector, GIS is used in provision of agricultural inputs for various farmers, therefore, the farms are mapped using high resolution satellite data at 0.5m to be able to the exact acreage and exact practices they have as well as farmers’ details among others.

From there, the county government is able to determine the soil type and therefore determine what type of fertilizer to give them as a subsidy. They also monitor how the crops grow till production and harvesting then they monitor the impact.

Under health, GIS has been used in mapping and classification of health facilities and table of details of the health facilities including disease prevalence-this helps in distribution of drugs and deployment of staff to various health facilities.

In addition, it has also helped in monitoring and evaluation of ongoing health programs. They also use gap analysis to help them find out which areas require them to build more health facilities.

At the national level, Dr. Ottichilo has been in the development of policies that directly relate to geospatial technologies such as the Geo-information policy and Space policy in Kenya.