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Africa is ready to embrace NSDI: Seminar

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The regional seminar, National Spatial Data Infrastructures: which benefits for emerging countries?, observed that Africa is fully prepared to implement NSDI procedures. However, everyone agreed that the implementation of an NSDI is a comprehensive process that requires a series of progressive steps. While no unique spatial data infrastructure model exists, the participants agreed that the African model, while taking inspiration from the existing models and notably what has been done in Europe and in other countries that were precursors in the field, must now follow its own path.

The seminar was organised by IGN France International and the French IGN, in close collaboration with the Geographic Institute of Burkina (IGB), the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa (CEA) and Esri. More than 150 participants from twenty different African countries were present in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for this seminar. Many high level figures attended the event, including Burkina Faso’s Minister for Animal Resources as well as the Minister for the Promotion of Human Rights and Civic Education, the Chief of State General of the Army of Burkina Faso, representatives from embassies in Chad, Japan, Algeria and Morocco and technical counsellors from numerous African ministries.

The event’s official opening ceremony was marked by the presence of the Minister of Infrastructures and Access of Burkina Faso, ambassadors from the European Union and France, the president of IGN France International and the general manager of the IGB, setting the stage for the seminar and proving the level of importance that Burkina Faso grants to the establishment of a national spatial data infrastructure and to cartography in general.

“The implementation of NSDI is not a fad, it corresponds to the real needs of decision-makers, governments, business and civil society” observed Christophe DEKEYNE, Business Development Manager at IGN France International. Geographic information is truly a tool serving the economic and social development of countries. This explains why there were so many participants from so many different countries, both far and near. African countries are currently aware of what’s at stake but the real questions about how to develop these ambitious projects still arise. These questions are asked with even more acuteness because the financial and human resources needed are often limited.”

Many countries in Africa face various kinds of difficulties: lack of mapping knowledge of public decision-makers, ignorance of the existing data due mainly to their rarity and their dispersion, lack of standards applied to the produced data, resulting in their poor interoperability, lack of synergy and cooperation between the agencies that produce data, causing redundancies and additional costs that could be limited and finally the absence of financial and human resources that weaken mapping agencies and can hamper projects in progress.

“The spatial data infrastructure is not an end in itself,” André NONGUIERMA, GIS expert at the CEA, opined. “The goal of the CEA is that geomatics become involved in all sectors of development. Its role is obviously fundamental to the extent that its purpose is to meet the needs of numerous users, the government and its services but also representatives from the private sector or civil society.”

 “Beyond technical tools, the implementation of a spatial data infrastructure is truly a philosophy. Geographic information only acquires value when it is organised, structured and shared. That’s why it must come from high-level authorities. This strong commitment is absolutely necessary in order to successfully lead this type of project that benefit the entire community, improve the competitiveness of government and private sector services and facilitate decision-making. Infrastructure projects are thus better in line with the needs of the population and the reality of the field; the use of public finances is optimised and the good economic governing of the country is improved,” said Jean-Philippe GRELOT, president of IGN France International.

Moreover, the ignorance of existing data makes up another challenge that must be overcome by African countries, and often leads them to underestimate the data that they actually possess. “The cataloguing of available resources is a very important preliminary exercise,” Pascal Hameury, export manager for Esri France, said. “This exercise, that can at first seem tedious, is actually the starting block for the implementation of an NSDI because it allows the existing information to be highlighted and to begin to be structured and also initiates discussions of difficult questions about the production and sharing of data.”

Source: IGN France International