Since 2013, the Kenyan government has adopted a system of governance in which there are 47 County Governments, along with the National Government. For a long time, the National Government could not devolve power to the grassroots. Most of the planning was done at the national level without the involvement of the local communities, and therefore, the implementation of most plans did not succeed due to lack of ownership and monitoring.
For the last 50 years, there have been so many plans on paper, but most of them have not been properly implemented. Consequently, most of the rural areas in Kenya remain underdeveloped to date. Therefore, the introduction of devolved system of governance aims to directly involve the local communities in planning and decision-making in their development agenda.
Rational decision-making requires credible and up to date data. Article 35 of our Constitution allows access and use of public data and information by any person on request to the relevant government office or institution.
Therefore, for communities at the county level to effectively participate in the planning process, the first thing is to ensure that they have access to the right information and data. The use of spatial data and information is very important as 80% of the data that we require is spatial or positional. That is why GIS is a crucial tool for planning and decision-making at the local or community level.
I was a Member of Parliament for Emuhaya constituency (2008 to 2017) prior to becoming the Governor for Vihiga county in 2017. During my tenure as a Member of Parliament, I established a GIS laboratory at the constituency office where local resource maps and socio-economic data was generated and used for planning and decision-making by the local communities. The use of GIS simplified maps and graphics, and enabled the local communities to directly participate in the development, planning and decision-making of their respective areas. Further, using GIS modeling capabilities, we were able to undertake GAP analysis to determine the appropriate locations of schools, health facilities and general infrastructure. This eliminated the general subjective decision-making, which is normally driven by selfish individual or political needs or motives.
Empowering different communities at county level
As a Governor, I resolved to undertake equitable and rational development in the county through the use of data and information. The first thing I did was to call for meetings in the different communities and to request the people to unite and focus on development.
Using GIS generated maps and socio-economic data, communities at ward level identified their prioritized development projects and programs for five years (2018-2022). With the use of GIS generated maps and graphics, we guided them in making rational decisions on the choice of priority projects and programs without resorting to political or personal consideration. We further empowered the communities to monitor the implementation of the projects and programs and report any malpractices and challenges using a dedicated toll-free number. This was achieved through formation of project implementation committees.
To facilitate the coordination and implementation of projects and programs, the county has established a fully-fledged GIS laboratory. We have further established County Development Information System (CDIS), where each sector has established its own information system. For example, County Health Information System, County Agricultural Information System, etc. Each sector has its own staff who manage and continually update its information system. The GIS staff ensure the integration and management of the entire CDIS.
The power of GIS in election mapping
Apart from using GIS in community empowerment, planning and decision-making, I used it very effectively in election campaign and mapping. First, we used the GIS in mapping all biophysical resources and development initiatives in the county. We further conducted opinion surveys to understand what development needs people wanted in their respective areas as well as the challenges they were experiencing. This information was needed to prepare my campaign manifesto.
The GIS generated maps were used in planning campaign strategy in terms of transport logistics and areas of focus based on population and voting patterns. We mapped all polling stations plus their previous voting patterns as regards to our political competitors. This information guided our decisions on our areas of focus. For instance, we focused on areas that were less visited by our competitors and where they were not popular. Further, we never held the conventional rallies, but instead we had household meetings where we built a personal rapport with attendees. In a nutshell, my campaign for the gubernatorial seat was knowledge based and as a result I was able to use very limited financial resources to win the election.
The role of GIS in governance
Good and consistent governance practices require credible and updated data and information. The easiest way to understand and use data and information is through the display of the same in map and graphic forms, and in an integrated manner. GIS is the only tool that can be used to effectively display and integrate data and information on maps and graphics. Further, it allows the analysis of the same data for applications other than those originally intended. It is therefore my belief that GIS should be part and parcel of all governance initiatives — from grassroots to the national level — to enhance transparency and accountability in leadership.
With the establishment of a well-managed GIS, I believe that the current challenge of corruption in our governance systems can be minimized, if not eliminated. I am happy that when I was the Member of Parliament, I was instrumental in the incorporation of the use of GIS in planning and decision-making in our county government’s legal and policy frameworks. It is therefore mandatory that all county governments create and maintain a GIS database for integrated planning. However, since the introduction of county governments six years ago, the implementation of GIS as a planning tool is yet to be achieved due to many challenges, mainly due to lack of capacity and realization of the power of technology.
Being a GIS professional, I have decided to promote its use in my county so that it serves as a model for the rest of the counties. In this regard, I have established an operational GIS laboratory in my county with the support of Esri, Airbus, FAO and LocateIT Ltd. Our GIS laboratory has in a short time become so popular that a number of counties are visiting us for benchmarking and with the help of FAO, they have embarked on establishment of their own GIS laboratories. Our county has been recognized nationally as a champion for GIS and has been appointed to spearhead the use of geospatial technologies in open governance partnerships (OGP) at the global level.
Taking GIS to grassroots
My goal as a Governor is to demonstrate how GIS can be used as a planning tool at the grassroots level. For many years, GIS technology has remained in the realm of technical experts who only promote its applications in national and international conferences and workshops with little evidence in practical application in resolving real socio-economic development challenges.
To date, there are very few practical examples on how geospatial technologies are being used to solve day-to-day socio-economic challenges and problems. It is therefore my conviction that I can effectively use my unique position to demonstrate and institutionalize the power of GIS in our development and governance initiatives. After all, GIS is about your geography or it is the science about location or ‘where’.