I was fortunate to be invited to the Ninth Meeting of the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management for Africa (UN-GGIM: Africa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as an observer. As I listed to the deliberations, a common thread emerged and recurring narrative echoing the challenges hampering Africa’s geospatial development. Across the continent, familiar hurdles loomed large: a lack of resources, capacity, and funding; and an absence of robust frameworks and legislation. Yet, amidst these obstacles, flickered pockets of progress and the hope of new opportunities in geospatial sector in Africa.
Reflecting on these deliberations, a pivotal query persisted in my mind – how can we chart a course to address these persistent issues? The delegate from Mozambique proposed a compelling solution — a centralized website housing comprehensive data on African countries. This resonated deeply with my recent involvement in the Marine and Coastal Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) project in South Africa. There, the global community emphasized the significance of a federated web portal as an initial stride toward developing geospatial data in marine and coastal environments. It struck me as a meaningful starting point toward tackling Africa’s challenges.
Amidst these discussions, it became evident that national mapping agencies and surveyors general wield significant influence in shaping Africa’s geospatial industry. Entrusted with fundamental datasets — geodetic frames, imagery, and vector data — they stand as custodians, wielding existing legislation and budgets. However, their expertise isn’t all-encompassing, prompting the necessity for collaborative ventures, such as partnering with National Statistics Office emerges as a crucial step. Further, the imperative to develop land cadastres in Africa looms large, bearing the potential for long-term revenue generation through rates and taxes.
A presentations on geocoding shed light on fundamental deficiencies in geospatial datasets across many African nations — data unavailability, inaccuracy, and inaccessibility. Notably absent were key datasets such as land cadastres, addresses, and administrative boundaries (like suburbs). It became evident that fostering Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and making fundamental geospatial datasets available through a federated web portal was imperative. Moreover, nurturing geospatial innovations within Africa surfaced as a critical need.
The private sector’s interest in investing in African countries hinges on acquiring geospatial data for informed decision-making. Crucial datasets provided by National Mapping Agencies and Statistics Offices — administrative boundaries and census data — are pivotal for these purposes. Proposing their availability through PPPs and dissemination via a recognized African institution like the UN ECA seems not just prudent but necessary. Without such provisions, the international community will continue developing this data independently, leaving Africa trailing behind other regions of the world.
Collaboration emerges as the cornerstone for progress. National Statistics Offices and Mapping Agencies could synergize efforts in developing dwelling frames using AI algorithms and remote-sensed imagery. This approach, paired with nationally representative household surveys, could accurately determine population size and socio-economic characteristics. Notably, African countries grappling with census implementation due to costs and funding shortages could find solace in these methodologies. Investing in such innovative approaches could catapult the continent ahead, positioning it as a pioneer in offering granular population statistics.
In conclusion, the path to enhancing Africa’s geospatial landscape demands collaborative efforts, leveraging technology, and fostering innovative partnerships. Addressing data disparities, nurturing collaborative frameworks, and embracing technological leaps can steer Africa toward a prosperous and competitive future on the global stage.