Access to information is paramount in an era dominated by information and digital technology. It is the cornerstone of informed decision-making, democratic governance, and socio-economic development.
Recognizing the importance of this fundamental right, the United Nations declared September 28, as the International Day of Universal Access to Information. This year’s commemoration theme is “The importance of the online space for Access to Information”.
Leveraging Technology for Access to Information
In Kenya, technology has played a pivotal role in enhancing access to information. The widespread adoption of mobile phones and the growth of the internet have opened up new avenues for citizens to access information, bridging geographical and social divides.
One notable achievement is the Huduma Kenya platform, which provides a one-stop shop for government services and information. This digital portal has simplified access to essential public information and services, making them readily available to Kenyan citizens.
Moreover, the Kenya government has embraced open data initiatives, making a wealth of information available to the public.
The Kenya Open Data Portal, launched in 2011, is a prime example. It provides access to datasets on various sectors, from healthcare and education to agriculture and finance. Such investment fosters transparency and accountability and empowers citizens to monitor and evaluate government activities actively.
Furthermore, Kenya has seen a surge in the use of social media and online platforms for disseminating information. Public institutions, civil society organisations, and individuals have taken to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to share information and engage with the public.
This has facilitated real-time communication, enabling Kenyans to access information rapidly and engage in meaningful dialogues.
Challenges in Advancing Access to Information
While technology has opened doors to greater access to information in Kenya, several challenges persist.
First and foremost is the issue of the digital divide. Despite the increasing penetration of mobile phones and the internet, access remains uneven across regions. Rural areas, in particular, face limited connectivity and access to information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. Bridging this digital gap is essential to ensure universal access to information.
Cybersecurity concerns also loom large. The growing reliance on digital platforms has escalated the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches. Protecting sensitive information and ensuring the integrity of online data is an ongoing challenge that requires robust cybersecurity measures and policies.
Another challenge is the quality of information available online.
While the internet offers a vast repository of information, it is also rife with misinformation and fake news. Ensuring citizens have access to accurate and reliable information is a pressing concern, as spreading false information can have far-reaching consequences.
Opportunities for Progress
Despite these challenges, Kenya has many opportunities to advance access to information further.
Embracing the principles of open government can enhance transparency and accountability. Implementing open contracting and open budgeting practices can make government processes more accessible to citizens, enabling them to track public spending and hold officials accountable for their actions.
Additionally, investments in ICT infrastructure, particularly in underserved rural areas, can bridge the digital divide. Expanding access to affordable and reliable internet services is essential to ensure that all Kenyan citizens can fully participate in the digital age.
Furthermore, digital literacy programs should be prioritised. Equipping citizens with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the digital landscape effectively is crucial. Schools, libraries, and community centres can play pivotal roles in providing digital literacy training.
Collaboration between government, civil society organisations, and the private sector is also vital. Joint efforts can result in innovative solutions and policies that enhance access to information while addressing the challenges of the digital age.
As Kenya observes the International Day of Universal Access to Information, it is essential to reflect on the strides made in leveraging technology to advance access to information. While significant progress has been achieved, challenges like the digital divide, cybersecurity and data protection, and misinformation persist.
However, the opportunities for improvement are abundant. With concerted efforts and collaboration, Kenya can continue to expand access to information and empower its citizens to make informed decisions, foster democratic governance, and drive socio-economic development. In an increasingly digital world, universal access to information is not just a right but a cornerstone of progress and prosperity.
Geoffrey Ochieng is a Programme Officer Land,Environment and Climate Justice at ICJ Kenya.
DISCLAMER! Views expressed in this articles do not necessarily represent those of the Corporation.